When we think about discipleship, we often think of it in terms of pop-culture rather than true biblical discipleship. We develop a model based more on the relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker than the relationship that Jesus had with His disciples. Because of this trend in the church, we have developed this environment where Christians who imagine themselves to be mature in the faith are no longer learning and where new believers do not feel empowered to do the work of ministry. We have created an environment for ourselves in which older generations almost always see younger generations as inferior and unable to do things rightly. The negative result is that popular Christianity becomes this really shallow organism that, like with Anakin, feels so oppressive that people leave churches that are so wrapped up in the Christian subculture we have developed in favor of a “lone-wolf” type of Christian faith, which is just as unbiblical. We surely create a multitude of problems for ourselves when we approach discipleship with this sort-of top-down hierarchical model, where the ‘teachers’ or ‘mentors’ are concerned more with their authority than with living as Jesus lives. We produce condemning preachers and Small Group atmospheres where people are not free to ask questions or share their thoughts on a certain theological topic. Even in the home, children are afraid to be open and honest with parents (who are their primary disciplers). We become more devoted to our own religious dogmas than to a genuine exploration of God’s word, which was breathed out by Him and not following the mere convictions of its human authors.
Is it possible for us to actually become genuine disciple-makers in the likeness of Christ?
Luke 6:43-49 HCSB
“A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.
“Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say? I will show you what someone is like who comes to Me, hears My words, and acts on them: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. When the flood came, the river crashed against that house and couldn’t shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The river crashed against it, and immediately it collapsed. And the destruction of that house was great!”
Before we arrive at this passage in Scripture, Jesus is teaching about how those who lack will receive and about how those who are self-righteous or self-satisfied have received their reward on this earth. He gives instruction for people to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them and instruction for people not to be judgmental or condemning regarding the moral inadequacies of others, but to always forgive. With all of this instruction, we realize that Christ is ushering in a kingdom of humility and of people who put others first. If I am to follow Christ, then, I realize that I must decrease and I must consider others to be more important than myself. After teaching these things, Luke records Jesus also teaching that this sort of good fruit can only come from a good tree. It is not the sort of action that we can simply will for ourselves. If we are not humble trees, we simply will not produce humble fruit. This means that the conversation regarding the manner in which we make disciples must begin with the heart condition of the disciple-maker. In verse 44, we read Jesus teaching that a tree is actually known by its fruit. Sadly, it also reveals that if we hold to a sort-of top-down hierarchical model of discipleship, this prideful fruit reveals that we are not humble trees cultivated by Christ.
Here, we might ask how this humble character or heart condition is produced within the genuine disciple maker, making him able to bear genuine good fruit in any discipling relationship. This question is precisely why we had to begin with repentance last week. If you did not get to listen to or read that, I want to encourage you to do so. What we noticed as we looked at Luke 3 together was that when John the Baptist (and Jesus) taught, when they did discipleship, the goal was the repentance of those being discipled. John particularly taught that people should bear fruit that is consistent with repentance (Luke 3:8). As we examined the ministry of Elijah (in whose likeness John preached), we also discovered that God is the one who gives repentance to each person by grace (1 Kings 18:37, supported by Acts 5:31, 2 Timothy 2:25). To become a good tree, then, one must be cultivated into a good tree being given a repentant heart by Christ. It has always been this way (sola gratia even presenting in the Old Testament). Even Adam and Eve were preserved from death by grace alone, having earned for themselves condemnation and eternal death. This is the only way that anyone can bear good fruit, fruit that is consistent with repentance; especially when it comes to discipleship in the church.
So, we have many people who will try and do discipleship, serving as teachers (in the church and in schools), pastors (elders), evangelists, deacons, parents, grandparents, wellness trainers, trade mentors, etc… who haven’t been given a repentant heart by Christ. So, instead of producing good fruit in discipleship, we see much bad fruit produced in the world. What does it look like for someone to have a been given a repentant heart even though he or she is teaching and training others?
- Always learning
- I often meet people in every age-group who have stopped learning. We reach a certain point and, for some reason, we believe that we have it figured out. We know how things ought to be done, we have our theology figured out, and we know enough to tell others the exact right way to do things. We hold so rigidly to what we think we know that we no longer learn from Christ. When we read Philippians 3, we recognize that not even the Apostle Paul, in the depth of his knowledge, considered himself to have already attained even knowledge of God (Philippians 3:10-12). If God is infinite in His being, having always existed, then no matter how deep our knowledge there is always more to learn. A repentant heart recognizes that it cannot attain all knowledge. If the substance of my knowledge is incomplete, I will always be learning and always be trying to understand deeper theology, different ways of doing things, cultural changes, and so on. In a fallen context, I must also recognize that I may be wrong in what I think to know. A repentant heart causes me to realize that my way is not the only way, but that every way of doing things must be measured according to God’s. This repentant heart, I think, will even carry over into eternity, where we will be honest about what knowledge we have learned is factual and what is theoretical or philosophical.
- Always growing
- If we are always learning and the purpose of discipleship is repentance, then we are always growing, particularly in our humility and in the exaltation of Christ alone. If we find that repentance and exaltation of Christ are not increasing in our lives, we are not good trees being cultivated by Christ and our discipleship will actually bear bad fruit.
- Always reforming
- If we are always growing in our humility and in the exaltation of Christ alone, then we are always changing. Our theology is ever being reformed. We don’t get stuck in our ways. There is an ebb and flow in our lives because the relationship that we get to have with Christ is dynamic. This is for God’s glory and for our good. If I am always reforming, it means I have not fallen into the trap of thinking too highly of myself. God is the only one who is unchanging, the uncaused cause. Since our existence is contingent upon His, then we are ever changing in response to Him. If I ever refuse change, in response to God not people, I insinuate that I am in the position of God. As soon as we try to hold on to our comfort, our way of doing things, or what is familiar, we become the greatest hindrance to ourselves; especially regarding our role in discipleship.
- Always learning
God cultivates my heart for repentance and humility.
A repentant heart causes the teacher, mentor, pastor, deacon, parent, boss, trainer, etc… to become humble, even treating students, children, and congregation members as more important than him or herself. After all, is this not the example that Christ set for us with His own disciples? Let’s examine Luke 22:24-30 as Jesus even taught His disciples:
Then a dispute also arose among them about who should be considered the greatest. But He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles dominate them, and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and whoever leads, like the one serving. For who is greater, the one at the table or the one serving? Isn’t it the one at the table? But I am among you as the One who serves. You are the ones who stood by Me in My trials. I bestow on you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one on Me, so that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom. And you will sit on thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel.
First, I want to notice that the giving of the kingdom did not depend upon the faithfulness of the disciples. Christ gave because He chose to give for God’s glory and the good of His people. Second, notice the disciples’ focus. Who would be greater? I hear this type of conversation more than I would like in the modern-day church. Pastors assume that they are greater because of their position, members because of how long they have been at a certain church, deacons because they have been selected, etc… Christ taught and exemplified plainly and explicitly that the greatest must become like the youngest, and those who lead must serve. Thus, service, humility, and the considering of others to be more important than ourselves (even to the point of becoming like the youngest person in a relationship), is the fruit of a repentant heart cultivated by Christ.
Luke 6:45 tells us that a good person produces good fruit out of the good stored up in his heart. The good stored up in the heart is given by Christ and the overflow of Christ’s goodness comes out in our humility and servanthood; especially as we disciple others.
This is why I can’t listen to preachers like Joel Osteen, Craig Groeschel, Steven Furtick, T.D. Jakes, or any other prosperity (or borderline prosperity) preacher. They always teach people how people might become great. God teaches that we must, by the repentant hearts produced by Him, become humble servants. For discipleship, this means simply that the teacher cannot be concerned with his own greatness or recognition. He considers the one being taught to be more important than himself. Fathers consider their sons to be more important. Employers and managers consider their employees to be more important. Pastors consider others to be more important. As we reflect upon this idea, we begin to recognize a beauty in genuine Christian community, especially through discipleship, that is not present with any other group in the world. The sad reality is most organizations that dare refer to themselves as churches have not been cultivated by Christ into such a community.
In verses 46-49, Jesus states that there are some who call Him Lord who are bad trees producing bad fruit. The one who comes to Christ, hears His words, and acts on them is like a man who builds his house upon a firm foundation. The one who merely calls Jesus lord but does not abide in His word is like a man who builds his house on the sand; the destruction of his house is great. So, we can choose to build a house, or do discipleship for the purpose of our application here, by our own means, being stuck in our ways, never humbly growing in our own knowledge, never admitting that we can be wrong, and not having a repentant heart that can only be given by Christ. The result, though, is destruction. If we are humble and repentant, especially in discipling relationships (whether we are mentoring others in the church or our own children), the house we build as we abide in Christ cannot be shaken. The house in Jesus’ parable represents the life of the person even while we live on this earth. Of myself, I suffer every infirmity. In Christ, my life is secure and I am not shaken by the storm. The storm still comes, but Christ keeps me secure because He has cultivated my heart and uses the storm to cultivate my heart still.
A repentant heart produces good fruit.
Thus, we arrive at this idea that is almost entirely absent in the Christian subculture that people have created for themselves in our day. The one teaching is a servant to the one he or she teaches. This does not mean that he is there at every beckoning call. It does mean that he is, at every opportunity, doing what he thinks is best for another. He is to consider himself to be less important or younger. Those who have more experience in life do not horde their experiential authority, but rather humble themselves as servants to those on whom they are pouring their wisdom. This is the fruit coming from a disciple maker who is genuinely following Christ. If anyone approaches discipleship any other way, he is not teaching as Christ taught or as Christ leads us to teach. Indeed, this is the attitude we all ought to strive for. Woe to those who peddle influence like so many politicians or who care only about their teaching authority and their own methodology.
In his letter to the Philippian believers, Paul wrote this:
“Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,
who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage.
Instead He emptied Himself
by assuming the form of a slave,
taking on the likeness of men.
And when He had come as a man
in His external form,
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death —
even to death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted Him
and gave Him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow —
of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth —
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11)
The genuine Christian develops an attitude like that of Christ, who emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. Jesus, Himself, condescended so that people might repent and receive life. He, being one with God, made Himself the son of man. He humbled Himself even to death on a cross. As Jesus was in our lowly estate, He taught in such a way that His disciples were encouraged and not condemned. He did not complain to them about all of their imperfections or about all of the things that they were not doing correctly. Instead, He spoke words of life, teaching about God, and called them to a life of genuine repentance. Christ even taught this way to large crowds of people, where most would choose not to follow Him. We see this in Luke 8:4-8:
As a large crowd was gathering, and people were flocking to Him from every town, He said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. As he was sowing, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the sky ate it up. Other seed fell on the rock; when it sprang up, it withered, since it lacked moisture. Other seed fell among thorns; the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. Still other seed fell on good ground; when it sprang up, it produced a crop: 100 times what was sown.” As He said this, He called out, “Anyone who has ears to hear should listen!”
Who are we to disciple? Who are we to serve? The answer is everyone unconditionally. Many will reject the promise, but we still serve. How are we to disciple, and how are we to serve? By abiding in and proclaiming God’s word, which is the seed in this parable (Luke 8:11). Jesus did not say, “Go and share your testimony alone.” Our testimony may be a good tool, but with only our testimony we use the gospel to elevate self. God’s word is the seed and we spread it everywhere as we serve everyone. Jesus did not say, “Go and share a moral story.” He did not say, “Go and speak motivationally.” He did not say, “Go and tell people that they can rise above the negativity in their life.” He did not say, “Go and teach people that I am a crutch and that I want them to be rich or famous.” No. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples (Matthew 28), and do so as a servant to all, considering yourselves to be less important (even younger) than those who are learning from you. What a beautiful picture that we don’t see in any other place, secular or sacred, only in Christ. Sadly, much of Christian subculture is full of people who teach, but do not serve. This means, just as Jesus stated in His parable, that there are many people who have been exposed to His word, who have not genuinely surrendered to Christ and received a repentant heart from Him. If you are one of those people who are dissatisfied with the church, I want to encourage you on this point. Ask God to give you a heart of repentance that you might serve. Are you one of those who feels like others aren’t doing enough? Ask God to give you a repentant heart that you might serve. Are you not visited enough, is the music not your style, are the messages too convicting, are there not enough programs for you? Let us all ask God to give us repentant hearts that we might serve and disciple according to His ways. When God produces this attitude within us, then we get to stand on the firm foundation and benefit greatly on a deeper level than we could ever imagine.
A heart of repentance means serving those I teach.
God cultivates my heart for repentance and humility.
A repentant heart produces good fruit.
A heart of repentance means serving those I teach.