In a sentence, making disciples is the mission of the church. There are no alternatives. In fact, the key Scripture on that is in Matthew 28:19-20, also known as “The Great Commission.”
‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
These verses tell us that discipleship is more than saving souls. It is about helping people make the transformational journey to Christlikeness. It is in the power of Jesus’ name that this is even possible. Verse 18 makes that clear: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This is followed by “Go therefore and make disciples…” So discipleship happens under the absolute, sovereign authority of Jesus. Not only does Jesus empower those to make other disciples, but He teaches how it is done through His spiritual practices, His relationships, and His serving.
Speaking of spiritual practices, let’s take Jesus’ prayer life. He prayed frequently (Luke 18:1); He prayed privately (Luke 5:16); He prayed publicly (Luke 11:2); He prayed long (Luke 6:12); He prayed short (Luke 23:34); He prayed passionately (Luke 22:44). He also prayed before decisions (Luke 6:12-13); after significant achievements (Matthew 14:22-23); when life was unusually busy (Mark 1:35); when He was overwhelmed with need (Matthew 9:35-38; 26:8-39).
In His relationships, Jesus cherished His disciples. In fact, He demonstrated His love for them in numerous ways. By the way, it is no accident that “love” is listed first in the fruit of the Spirit—which are Christlike characteristics and godly attitudes produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). In John’s gospel, chapter 13 we see that played out in Jesus’ modeling of discipleship. Speaking of love—verse 1 says, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Even though someone may read that and think it means He loved them to the end of His life, the more accurate interpretation is that He loved them “to perfection,” meaning He loved them with perfect love. One commentator said, “He loved them to the uttermost degree of which He was capable.” It stands to reason, that His concluding instructions to His disciples were these: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Not only did Jesus demonstrate love in His relationships, but He also modeled service to others. He was the definitive example of servant leadership: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Again, Chapter 13 of John’s gospel wonderfully captures Jesus’ servant heart— namely, the washing of His disciples’ feet. “Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (13:5). This is such an insightful picture of what Jesus was showing His disciples. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (13:14-15).
We don’t have to look very far as to what the marks are of a true disciple of Christ. As making disciples is the mission of the church, it is also its job to equip and train the saints (Ephesians 4:12). Indeed, by becoming imitators of Christ in our spiritual practices, in our relationships and in our service, we showcase our Lord to others in helping them know Jesus and then to be more like Him. Those are the marks of a true disciple!
-Pastor Joe Garofalo