Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20)
This Great Commission is central to Christians all over the world ever since it was issued by the Lord Jesus just prior to His ascension back to heaven after “He had by Himself purged our sins” and “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). Most churches cite this passage from Matthew 28 in their doctrinal statements or bylaws as fundamental to their responsibility to serve the One who is Head of the church (see Ephesians 1:22).
“Make disciples” is the translator’s choice for the Greek verb matheteuo, which is simply the verb form of the noun mathetes, “disciple.” Together, the words for disciple and its companion term manthano, “to learn,” are used nearly 300 times in the New Testament. Hence, the obvious application for the commission to “make disciples” is to “make learners” of those who would embrace the person and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A parallel Greek term, akoloutheo, is used by the Lord Jesus to describe what would characterize His disciples. “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me’” (Matthew 16:24). On another occasion, Jesus noted, “If anyone serves me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor” (John 12:26). The rather specialized term that Jesus chose on those occasions—and used some 90 other times in the New Testament—describes one who “walks on the same road.”
Clearly, a disciple is a “learner” who “follows” what Jesus taught and did.
There are, however, three key action verbs in this commission. After conversion, disciples are then to baptize new disciples as a public sign and demonstration that they have been born into the fellowship and family of Jesus Christ. Even though there is debate on the mode, efficacy, and administration of baptism today, no biblically based church would disagree that this baptismal sign replaces the old covenant sign of circumcision, since there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).The third action requirement is to teach the baptized disciple “all things” that the Lord Jesus has commanded. That, by any standard, is a lifelong and never-ending process.
Basic Requirements for Disciples of Jesus
Although one could easily make the case that the entire Bible holds the requirements for the disciples of the Lord Jesus, there are several key passages that provide summaries of the responsibilities of those who claim to be disciple-learner-followers of the Creator.
- Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed” (John 8:31).
- “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
- “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:8).
- “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).
Simply put—stay in the Word because it has great power in it (Colossians 3:16); demonstrate godly love especially for the brethren (1 John 4:11-12); produce godly fruit in your life (Ephesians 5:8-9); and love the Lord Jesus more than anything in this world (Mark 12:30-33).
Being a disciple of the Lord Jesus is much more than merely being “saved.”
Thinking Like a Disciple of Jesus
The apostle Paul wrote a large portion of the New Testament. Many of his letters were written to specific churches and addressed various aspects of living as a disciple of the Lord Jesus. The letter to the church at Philippi was especially poignant and personal since Paul had been instrumental in starting that church, and he had developed a lasting friendship and fellowship with many of those folks. He loved them. As Paul wrapped up that letter, he summarized most of the instructions with a concise command to “think” on the things that they had “learned” (the disciple’s responsibility), “received” (taken to yourself), “heard” (paid attention to), and “seen in me” (watched me)—we are to “do” (practice) them!
Notice that disciples are supposed to think about the things that will enable them to do what they have learned from an “older” brother or sister:
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
Obviously, being a disciple of the Lord Jesus is a lifelong and seriously conscious activity of paying attention to the truth of God’s Word, submitting to those who are responsible for teaching us about that Word, and conducting our lives so that we are continually participating in the work of the Kingdom.
ICR as a Discipleship Ministry
Although ICR is not a church, and we do not see ourselves as substituting for a church, we are compelled to minister to churches as a resource to help disciple the Lord’s people.
Surely it is beyond biblical argument that Jesus Christ is the Creator (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2), and as such, His work as Creator is the foundational premise upon which all faith rests (Hebrews 11:3). Perhaps it is necessary to point out that one cannot be a disciple of Christ unless one believes who He is as well as what He has done. The authority and power to save us is inextricably bound up in the omnipotent and omniscient Being who spoke everything into existence (Psalm 33:6-9; Psalm 148:5).
The holy, loving, and merciful God revealed to us in the Scriptures is hardly consistent with the awful eons of death and chaos of evolutionary naturalism. If the Creator misled us when He spoke of how He created the heavens and the earth, then it makes absolutely no sense to trust Him for our eternal destiny! In fact, if the evolutionary scenario is accurate and death and chaos are the “facts” of science, then sin is not the cause of death (Romans 5:12) and Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was a totally wasted and unnecessary martyrdom that has absolutely no efficacy for salvation. If evolution is true, then the gospel message of the Bible is false and Christian disciples are of “all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
More than that, if we cannot trust the historical accuracy of the book of beginnings, then there is little reason to trust the rest of biblical teachings. Discipleship becomes a false learning process, rather than a fundamental liberty through the truth of God’s Word.
Surely, part of the “all things that I have commanded” includes the great Ten Commandments that were written with the very finger of the Creator Himself (Exodus 31:18). All Scripture is inspired, but the Ten Commandments were inscribed by God (see 2 Timothy 3:16). The fourth commandment insists that we are to remember the rest day and keep it holy: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day” (Exodus 20:11).
Without a confidence in the beginnings, a disciple can be troubled and doubtful about the rest of Scripture. When Jesus proclaimed His deity to the wavering crowd, He told them that if they couldn’t believe what He said, they should “believe Me for the sake of the works themselves” (John 14:11). Those works were the great creation miracles that Christ demonstrated for all to see. Even the “invisible things” of our Creator are “clearly seen” by the wonders written in His created universe (Romans 1:20).
That’s what ICR is all about. We are entrusted with impeccably trained godly men and women who can uncover and display the marvelous evidence of God’s creation—confirming the words of Scripture. Our purpose is to provide teaching about the things that God has done, so that His disciples can grow and gain confidence in the accuracy and authority of God’s Word.
* Dr. Morris is Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Creation Research.
Cite this article: Morris III, H. 2013. Determined to Disciple. Acts & Facts. 42 (9): 5-7.