Friday, April 8, 2011

What Is Biblical Discipleship And Growth (Part 3)

Mark Dever, in his book "Nine Marks Of A Healthy Church", outlines the key factors in biblical discipleship and growth. Today, continuing from part 2, we'll look at the third and fourth components of biblical discipleship and growth.

3. A Biblical Understanding of the Gospel

I have already said so much about this subject on this very blog that I will mention some things just briefly.

We must get the Gospel right. Paul pronounces damnation on anyone who changes it in any way:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)

The gospels we hear and the gospels we preach – how do they stand up? Is God presented as someone Who is outside in the rain wishing we would invite Him inside? Or is He so holy that He cannot come near sinners without destroying them?

Is man presented as a victim who needs a lot of therapy and self esteem? Or is man presented as a guilty criminal with no other hope than the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Is it about happiness or righteousness? Therapy or atonement?

Is it a Gospel where God ignores our sin and forgives us because we tell Him we are sorry? Or is it a Gospel where God's demands of righteousness must be met and His wrath must be satisfied.

Is it a Gospel where that righteousness is fulfilled and that wrath is satisfied in the Penal Substitutionary work of Jesus Christ alone? Or is the cross only about Jesus feeling our pain and giving us an example?

Is it a gospel where we only have to say a prayer to be saved or is it a Gospel that calls on all men everywhere to repent from their sinful ways and put all their trust in Christ?

Discipleship and growth happens in churches where the Gospel is rightly preached – and nowhere else.

4. A Biblical Understanding of Conversion

To understand growth better we also need to understand conversion rightly. Something needs to be said with regard to the relationship between conversion and discipleship because there is a lot of confusion on this issue. I was involved in a large church in Australia where the thinking was that conversion is all about getting people to walk to the front and pray the prayer. It is then that the hard and frustrating work of “discipleship” begins where Pastors spend endless hours trying to get these “converts” to start behaving like “disciples”. But the Bible paints a very different picture.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

Ok, Ezekiel 36, Cameron's back on his hobby horse! Maybe your right but you have to admit that it's a fantastic hobby horse. Here we see that conversion is a miraculous transforming work of God from a creature dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1) to a new creation that loves God. Paul says that “if any man be in Christ he is a new creature”. And how does this miraculous work of conversion manifest? God will cause us to walk in obedience to His ways – that is a disciple. When you are truly converted you become a true disciple. Discipleship should be the joyous experience of guiding someone who loves God so much that he is hungry to learn every way to please Him and serve Him.
As an extra note – what about repentance? Let's go back to Ezekiel 36:

Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. "Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, 'This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited. 'Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the LORD; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it. (Ezekiel 36:31-36)

Even true repentance is a work of God. So that we might be a living testimony to the transforming work of God. Jesus said that:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

This love does not make us a disciple, it shows that we are disciples. If a church is full of people that hate each other then is the answer that the Pastor should tell them that they should start loving each other because they are a church? Or should he use it as an indicator that maybe they aren't truly converted? Paul Washer said:

We hear from experts that there is just as much immorality in the church as there is in the world. I am here to tell you that angers me because it is a lie. The experts do not even know what the church is. The church today is absolutely beautiful, and I will have words for anyone who says anything else. Because we are talking about Christ’s bride.

The church is in a process of sanctification. Yes she has her weaknesses; yes she has failings. Our bride is broken and humble and believing her master, and she is following him and being changed by him in a way that exalts the power of God in salvation. We are calling Christian that which is not Christian, and it has led to the slandering of the bride of Jesus Christ. Because of our watered-down view of the gospel, our superficial views of regeneration and conversion, because we believe that God is enough to save from the condemnation of sin but not enough to save from the power of sin.

A biblical understanding of the Gospel and conversion will go a long way towards reforming and biblically informing our understanding of the church - both visible and invisible. This series will continue next week where a biblical understanding of evangelism will be discussed. More to come . . .

Go On To Part 4
Go Back To Part 2
Go Back To Part 1


Michael Lawmaster said...

Amen! Excellent message.

David Ford said...

Ticks every box Cameron. I must reflect however on the process of discipleship. I have asked the question in the past of pastors as to what they do in this regard and they pull out little study books and say that discipline and study is important. In all cases where I have asked this there has also been a keen concern, wrestling and frustration with the inactivity of others. I'd have to disagree with this approach because the flesh is weak with all people and are either too distracted with other things, or for those that can easily discipline themselves, their own fleshly determination can also carry them away into ecclesiastical and theological study where there is no life and personal transformation whatsoever. I have sat in a number of pastor's offices over the years and just about all of them have an entire wall plastered with books which I'm sure never really did much to enhance their Godliness or Repentance. (As for some of them it never did anything for their correct theology either - this is therefore not a good example to be setting). I really do believe that it is not possible to manufacture acceptable discipleship qualities, as the substance of it comes from (as you have rightly pointed out from Ezekiel) self loathing, self fear, Godly fear, remorse, and an overwhelming God given desire and determintion to take the Kingdom by force because of a vision of the perfection available in Jesus Christ (in this life) which is infused in us by the hearing of the Word of God. Forget the commentaries and the study guides - we need to get audio bibles and just hear it (as if direct from the horses mouth) rather than read how someone else interprets it. In the NT, disciples spent time listening to their apostles and reading publically their letters from beginning to end - not cherry picking texts or hearing what Mary's fourth cousin twice removed had to say which is what so many do in preference. The only way a man will submit to the hearing of the Word with determination is by first having their Spirit Broken - which (as Paul Washer advocates) is the prayer that we should pray in behalf of my children. This is the way to biblical discipleship - in God's timing, by brokenness, and transformation by the washing of the word.