A Biblical Theology of Discipleship: Foundations

20 Mar

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  These were Jesus’ instructions to the eleven men who gathered on the mountain to hear from their resurrected King.  But what did He mean by “make disciples”, how do we see this fleshed out in Scripture, and what is its significance?  Furthermore, what does this look like in the context of the local church?  To rightly practice discipleship, we must have a Biblical understanding of what it is, thus the title: A Biblical Theology for Discipleship.  And to gain such an understanding, we begin in the Old Testament, in Psalm 78:

He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, 
which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children, 
so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments (Psalm 78:5-7).

These words of Asaph do well to lay a foundation for what discipleship is, and its implications for God’s people.  Most simply put, discipleship is the process of lovingly leading and enabling others to follow the Word.  This is includes both the living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the written Word of Scripture, chronicling God’s works and ways to us.

In Psalm 78, we find the psalmist reminding the people of Israel to do just this: make disciples.  Teach your children of God’s works and His commands to His people (v. 5).  Pass these things on to the next generation, and to the next (v. 6).  And the reason for this is so that they will set their hope and trust in the Lord, rightly understanding who He is, what He has done, and what He is calling them to do in light of these truths (v. 7).  Discipleship is the means by which God sanctifies His people so that they will progressively image Him and glorify His name.

Returning to the words of Jesus, we see the same thing taking place:

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 (Matthew 28:19-20).

God’s appointed means of sanctifying His people has not changed.  And if we look to the New Testament church, we find that the methods have not changed either: One generation is to teach the next of God’s great works and ways so that they will trust in the Lord, rightly understanding who He is, what He has done, and what He is calling them to do in light of these truths.  In these ways, by God’s grace, in the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s people will progressively image Him and glorify His name.

[Tomorrow we will look at the methods for discipleship presented to us in Scripture.]

Worth thinking about and discussing below: Does your church seek to actively make disciples and what does discipleship look like in your context?

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