We all know the Great Commission. Jesus instructed the apostles—and therefore he instructed us—to make disciples by baptizing new believers and by teaching them to obey his commandments. This process is often referred to as discipleship—making disciples. Our mission is not simply to get converts, but to form mature followers of Jesus. This requires that we proclaim the gospel to unbelievers, but it also requires that we proclaim the gospel to believers. The gospel is not simply “how we get to heaven when we die”, but is the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord and is victorious over sin and death. This means all the pain and chaos and suffering of this present world will end one day, and we have a part to play in this by seeking his kingdom above all others. We ourselves must believe the good news of Jesus’ victory. We must recognize that his righteousness has been given to us through faith. We are accepted and beloved by God because of Jesus and what he has done. We are adopted into his family and given a new identity that is rooted in him. This is good news, and this gospel ought to permeate every area of our lives. The process of making disciples is really the process of helping one another see the truth of the gospel infiltrate our thinking.
We often have the idea that discipleship is one-on-one mentoring. Discipleship certainly involves mentoring. We all need that person with more wisdom and experience to walk along with us through the various seasons of life. Discipleship is much bigger than one-on-one mentoring. though. Consider Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.Romans 12:1–2 ESV
The Roman Christians are to give their whole lives to God as a living sacrifice, as their act of worship. Notice that worship comes before his instructions to not be conformed to the ways of this world, but to be transformed, and notice that this transformation comes through the renewal of their minds, their thought processes and ways of seeing the world. As we saw last Sunday, God calls us to worship and it is through our worship of God that we begin to see things from his perspective. As we worship God we begin to recognize true beauty and we become captivated by it. God is the only one who causes us to increase our desire for him and always satisfy that greater desire. Everything else we pursue, whether money or pleasure or fame and popularity will ultimately fail us. We seek more and more of and more and more from these things, yet these things will always fail us. They will leave us empty and never satisfied. However, when we seek more and more of God, we will always get more and more of God. This is because God is infinite. There is no limit to him. As we pursue him, he gives us more and more of himself. It’s like that scene in the Chronicles of Narnia where Lucy tells Aslan he is bigger. He corrects her and says that as she grows, she will find him bigger and bigger. So it is with God. As we worship him, we become more aware of him, and as we become more aware of him our desire for him grows and as our desire for him grows we worship him more. It’s a never-ending cycle that can never end, because we will never come to the end of God!
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul says this:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.Ephesians 4:17 ESV
They must no longer walk like the nations do, for they are now part of God’s holy nation which knows no borders. That nation exists wherever his people are. They should, therefore, act like citizens of his kingdom rather than like all those around them who are citizens of this world. The way the nations walk is “in the futility of their minds”. Their thoughts are corrupted. They don’t think correctly. Paul goes on to say their “understanding is darkened”—they don’t have the light of Jesus. Then he tells the church in Ephesus to put off their old way of life, for they, too, once walked in darkness, and he tells them,
…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.Ephesians 4:22–24 ESV
These are the things they were taught: put off your old self, be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self which is created in the likeness of God. Notice how central the renewing of the spirit of their minds is to this. This is what Paul told the Romans! They need to be renewed in their minds. He told the Colossians to set their minds on things above, not on things that are on the earth (Colossians 3:2). He doesn’t mean ignore what is going on the world. He means to see the world from God’s perspective. The writer of Hebrews reminds us one of the central promises of the new covenant is that God will put his laws into our minds and will write them on our hearts (Hebrews 10:16). We will be transformed in our thinking.
This is the essence of discipleship: helping one another see the world from God’s perspective. When we see him and we see things from his perspective, the entire world changes. When we see the world as God sees it, our minds are renewed. We can face our childhood traumas head-on. We can face our financial difficulties without flinching. We can await the medical tests without being overcome by fear. We can grieve and lament the loss of a loved one without despairing. We can overcome sin knowing the power of God to save us in this particular moment. We can face our own mortality knowing the power of his resurrection. We can apply for that new job or that promotion knowing that our identity is firmly rooted in who God is. We can live together in unity because love covers a multitude of sins. We can deal with that irritating family member because we recognize God’s incredible patience with us. We can take business risks knowing that God is the one who holds the future in his hands. We can face loneliness and marriage struggles and singleness struggles and parenting struggles and all the stresses of life because God in Christ through his Spirit has given us his church, and his church is the means he uses to renew our minds.
Phil Newton, in his book “The Mentoring Church”, quotes Matt Sliger (whom, he writes, attributes his thought to ideas he gleaned from Jeff Vanderstelt):
If the ultimate goal for a trainer [learner] is to become like his mentor, then one-on-one discipleship is sufficient. However, if the goal for a trainee [learner] is to become like Jesus, then he needs mentoring by Jesus’ body.Phil Newton, “The Mentoring Church”, p. 126
Discipleship is far bigger than a mere change in behavior. Discipleship is about learning to love what God loves and to hate what God hates. It’s about learning to be like Jesus, who—literally—embodies God. Not a single one of us does this, yet his church embodies Christ. We are the body of Christ and if we are to make disciples—to form fully mature followers of Jesus—we need the entire body. As we point one another the glorious gospel of Jesus, the one who is victorious over sin and death, the one in whom all the promises of God find their Yes, the one in whom we live and move and have our being, the very one who began a good work in us and will be faithful to complete that work, our minds are being renewed. As our minds are renewed for seeing Jesus more clearly, we are transformed from one degree of glory to another—we become more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18). It really is about making disciples. Period.