As a kid growing up my dad was ferocious in making sure my siblings and I were walking the right path and heading toward the right educational direction. Amongst my cousins and closest friends my father was the overbearing dad who hindered us from having the kind of fun we always wanted to have. As kids that can be frustrating and a bit daunting but, in hindsight, it produced discipline, discernment, and direction. Even to this day my dad will hardly ever veer from communicating his perspective or heart’s desire as it pertains to my brothers and I’s life direction. As a teenager that kind of pressure and oversight can be deafening, but as an adult it communicates stability, support, intentionality, and love. Growing up my father’s word was final.
In our Christian context God’s Word is authoritative meaning that it has prime oversight in the functionality of our life. God’s commands and decrees are not designed to steal from us or hinder from us joy, but rather that God’s “joy may be in [us], and that [our] joy may be full” (John 15:11 ESV). As believers in Christ our “pursuit of true virtue includes the pursuit of the joy because joy is an essential component of true virtue.”1 “ The mission that flows out of our loving fellowship, our spiritual growth, and our praise is that of being God’s faithful and obedient instruments in His divine plan to redeem the world.”2 These two ideologies, joy and virtue, are not at odds, but are intertwined to produce in us an affection that is meant to be directed to the Creator God. “God is not worshipped where He is not treasured and enjoyed. Praise is not an alternative to joy, but the expression of joy.”3
As the Gospel proclamation establishes the church of Christ, God has called us — the church — to “go . . . and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19 ESV). This command is not a suggestion or advise given to the church to consider or ponder upon, but rather a decree that is meant to be followed and embraced through the overjoy of God’s redeeming work in Christ. The church’s submission to the “absolute sovereignty of Jesus Christ is not a believer’s option but is his supreme obligation. It is not negotiable or adjustable to one’s own particular inclinations and plans. It is rather the attitude that says with absolute sincerity, ‘Whatever the Lord commands, I will do.’”4 And yet as much as God’s Word is precedent in our life, the pursuit of discipleship and discipling is near to non-existent. If God’s commands are to lead us to ultimate joy in Christ then we must pursue the Great Commission in hopes that through discipleship we will encounter the living God continuously. My assumption is that our lack of experiencing God is in effect with our inability to engage in a discipleship oriented relationship — the very relationship God summoned us to employ.
Jesus clearly indicates that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [Him]” (Matthew 28:18 ESV). This authority, or exousia, is “the freedom and right to speak and act as one pleases. In relation to God, that freedom and right are absolute and unlimited.”5 Jesus exercises this authority throughout His earthly ministry. In situations where the storm rose and the winds blew fervently Jesus commanded creation to refrain and the winds obeyed (Mark 4:35 – 41). Instances where body parts ceased to function according to their design Christ called them to return to duty and be restored (Mark 1:40 – 46; 2:1 – 12; 3:1 – 6; 5:21 – 43; 8:22 – 26). Christ communicated His “authority to lay [down His life” in to which He exemplified the “authority to take it [back] up again” (John 10:18 ESV). This authority was given to Christ by God the Father to restore and redeem creation from the fall of Adam. This same authority has been granted onto the church in pressing forward the Gospel for the glory of God.
This authority will not be mocked nor will it be manipulated for selfish gain. This capability, through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, finds its chief end in magnifying and making visible the glory of God in Christ Jesus. God the Father “governs the world with glory precisely that He might be admired, marveled at, exalted, and praised.”6 It is not the church that has a mission but rather the mission that has a church. “God has chosen to use His Word to bring life.”7 Therefore, it is the Gospel message that gives birth to the church which finds its authority in the work and person of Jesus Christ.
Matthew 28:19 ESV, “19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”
Make . . . I Am With You Always:
It is apparent that the decrees of God does not call for His church to make converts who fill seats, but rather disciples who continue the process out of the joy found in their salvation through Christ Jesus. This multiplication is birthed through an effectual awakening to the truth that humanity is “dead in [their] trespasses” (Ephesians 2:1 ESV), and God has offered free redemption through His infinite grace, mercy, and kindness in Christ Jesus. Regenerate believers are individuals “who own the Gospel themselves [who] don’t want to be the only ones who own the Gospel.”8 Discipleship “will rise to the level that the people in our churches understand the bigger story and realize they have a part in it.”9
Too many people in the church today become idle to the realization of discipleship. They examine the daunting task and become overwhelmed by the reality of their responsibility. They shrink at the weight pressed upon their shoulders and busy themselves with selfish gain. Yet the reality of the task is meant to feel heavy and overbearing. It is meant to crush and decimate any self reliability within ourselves, in order to birth in us a dependance upon God. God has given the church an impossible feat. However, Jesus has given the church a promise of being “with us” which becomes a beacon of hope and empowerment to engage in the call He has for us.
One of the church’s biggest misconceptions is the glamorized version of discipleship. We have narrowed down discipleship to a stadium filled of thousands of people, and when our lives do not resemble that inner picture we cease to move toward our call. We have bought into cheap grace and pursue a Christian life filled of comfort and ease. Yet we forget God’s call on the Apostle Paul when He said, “Go, for [Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my Name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my Name” (Acts 9:15 – 16 ESV). Obedience, love, mercy, grace, patience, kindness, and so on are all difficult in relation to sinners saved by grace, but God has called us, in steadfast love and love suffering, to disciple for the sake of the Gospel. Discipleship is never easy, but will always lead us to great joy, fulfillment, and peace. “For faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.”10
Though baptism has no salvific power, the Christian sacrament embodies and depicts the salvific reality found in the work and person of Jesus Christ. Baptism is the external expression resulted from the internal work done by the Holy Spirit in regenerating the heart to magnify Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. Baptism comes from the Greek word baptizo, which means “to immerse.”11 Many scholars and theologians focus on the function and mode to which the church should practice this sacrament. I, too, am in agreement in saying that baptism, in an ideal situation, should be practiced by immersion. Yet the term “immersion” paints another word picture that embodies a union with Christ that, at the root, intertwines the believer to the Savior Jesus Christ.
Baptism is the union and fusion of the believer with the person of Christ. This historical sacrament communicates “the truth of our union with the crucified, buried, [and] resurrected Christ.”12 This reality is not merely a concept to which believers embrace, but rather a relational engagement to the person of Christ Himself. Scripture clearly indicates that God has called “us to newness of life not on the basis of the ‘notion’ that we have died and are resurrected with Christ, but on the basis that the power of Christ’s death and resurrection is an operative reality in our lives.”13 This infusion into Christ bares a great deal of depth and formation.
Baptism sways counter-culturally against the American society of individualism. In baptism not only are believers infused into the person of Christ, but they are united into the family of God — the church. Baptism is a public proclamation of personal commitment to Christ, but it is also “the means whereby a member is grafted on to the visible body of Christ.”14 This sacrament “constitutes a decisive judgment against individualistic notions of salvation, reminding us that salvation is a communal reality — communion with the Father through the Son in the Spirit, and communion with all the other defined by the same reality.”15
A disciple is a person who puts “their trust in Jesus Christ and follow Him in lives of continual learning and obedience.”16 The ability to learn and obey comes with the implied reality that there is more to learn and one to engage that learning. Our relationship with Christ “is more than knowing about Him; it is a matter of dealing with Him as He opens up to you, and being dealt with by Him as He takes knowledge of you.”17 A disciple’s learning is to live in accordance to how God has designed creation and understanding that all of creation finds its fullness in the glory and majesty of God. Being discipled to think biblically is embracing the joy and freedom Christ has come to give us in being the Word. This grace given by God in “thinking under the mighty hand of God, thinking socked in prayer, thinking carried by the Holy Spirit, thinking tethered to the Bible, thinking in pursuit of more reasons to praise and proclaim the glories of God, thinking in the service of love — such thinking is indispensable in a life of fullest praise to God.”18 Ultimately, the “response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus.”19
In God’s infinite wisdom He has placed us by His sovereign hand to make much of Him in all that we do. He has “determined [the] allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him” (Acts 17:26 – 27 ESV). The church must realize that God has placed us in our domain to press the community organically in hopes of heralding the Gospel and winning sinners to Christ. We must embrace that fact that a “Gospel-centered believer is a faithful presence, an all-the-time witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ — an ambassador of Jesus Christ.”20 Our allegiance is to His fame, His glory, and His great Name.
1 John Piper. Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2011), 26.
2 John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 24 – 28 (Chicago: Moody Publisher, 1989), 331.
3 Piper, 22.
4 MacArthur, 340.
5 Ibid., 338.
6 Piper, 45 – 46.
7 Mark Dever.Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 42.
8 Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger. Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church (Nashville: B&H Publisher, 2012), 91.
9 Ibid, 93.
10 Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 64.
11 Mark Dever. The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2012), 30.
12 Marcus Peter Johnson. One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 227.
13 Ibid., 228.
14 Bonhoeffer, 233.
15 Johnson, 230.
16 MacArthur, 340.
17 J. I. Packer. Knowing God (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 1993), 39.
18 John Piper. Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 27.
19 Bonhoeffer, 57.
20 Chandler, Patterson, and Geiger, 91.