By Wade Potts
Like many Christians I remember the day of my conversion well. Unlike most Christians I was led to Christ in High School by one of my teachers. It was August 24, 1999. I went to a Christian high school and it was after Bible class that I approached my teacher about conversion. I was saved that day but it was much later when I actually began to be discipled. I spent years cultivating terrible theology and living a purposeless existence. It was not until I went off for my final two years of college that I began to be discipled.
What made the difference in my life was that I was actually being taught the Scriptures. After my conversion in 1999 I was not taught the Bible, so I did not understand how I was supposed to live. I was taught easy believism and that my works do not matter. This only set me up for a lawless lifestyle. I was not taught the Bible because during my senior in high school when I was led to Christ, the entire Bible curriculum was consumed with a study of the book Revelation. We were more focused on newspaper headlines than God’s word. After I graduated I was not plugged in to a local church and it would be years until I would actually begin to realize the importance of biblical church membership. Thankfully, God led me to a situation in which I would be discipled biblically.
It seems many in the church ignore what the Bible actually says about discipleship and have forged new definitions of what discipleship should be. Many in the church want to downplay the importance of the Bible in discipleship and focus strictly on relationship building. Relationships are absolutely crucial for the health of the church but relationships are not the sum of discipleship. If the relationship is not structured around learning God’s Word then it is not discipleship.
In both the Old and the New Testament, discipleship simply means a continual learner. The Hebrew word disciple appears only one time in the Old Testament in Isaiah 8:16. The prophet says, “Bind up the testimony. Seal up the instruction among my disciples.” The context of this passage comes when Isaiah is warning the people about the coming invasion of the Assyrian army. In this particular section of the warning, Isaiah is discussing the believing remnant. The people of this remnant are called disciples. They make up the remnant because they obeyed the word of God and they obeyed the word of God because they were discipled – or taught the word of God.
In the New Testament, the word disciple is mainly found in the gospels and typically relates to the twelve disciples. However, there are two things interesting to note as it relates to discipleship and the gospels. The first is the nature of the gospels themselves. Two of them, Matthew and John, were written by those who were among the twelve. The tradition that was handed down to Matthew, which likely came from the disciples themselves, preserved the teaching of Christ and information regarding his person and work. John himself wrote, possibly from memory or possibly from another tradition altogether, a highly theological work dealing with the person and work of Christ. These men did not leave us funny anecdotes or information about what made Jesus smile or what his favorite color was. No, they left us his instruction. They gave us information that would make us disciples.
Secondly, Jesus’ final words to us are “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The word in the Greek, like the Hebrew, means a continual learner. D.A. Carson says it like this, “Disciples are those who hear, understand, and obey Jesus’ teaching.” When Jesus says go and make disciples he is saying go and make a people that want to study the Bible, learn the Bible, and most importantly obey the Bible. This is how we are a light to the nations. This is how we can multiply as a church. Lifestyle evangelism seems to be a popular form of witnessing, but if your lifestyle is more in conformity to the world than the Word, then your lifestyle is not evangelizing.
A practical way churches can begin to return to biblical discipleship is through Sunday School classes. I read recently a little book titled, Transformational Sunday School but David Francis. He makes an interesting point that Sunday Schools began as a missionary enterprise. He encourages us to begin to view each Sunday School class as a different people group and to begin to structure our Sunday School classes in order to disciple each particular people group in a way that is contextualized for each group. Sunday School ought to be an effective tool for making disciples. Whatever the method, though, I encourage you to make biblical disciples!