What’s the best method for discipling a goat to become a sheep? What’s the best strategy for discipling a pig to behave like a man? What book should we use in discipling the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear? What is the key, the blueprint, the secret, to discipling a dead man to come alive?
When stated in such a way, these questions are admittedly ridiculous – yet this is often what much of the discipleship discussion and effort amounts to in many of our churches in Thailand, where I live and minister, and likely where you live and minister as well. Our failings in discipleship are often built on fundamental problems of un-Bibical views on salvation & methods of evangelism, and a general disregard of the doctrine of regeneration, and its impact on the way we “disciple.” We often spend ten minutes guiding a goat to pray a prayer, or say yes to some other Christian ritual or membership program – and then spend years of frustration trying to disciple that goat into behaving like a sheep. We invest years trying to disciple the blind to see the glories of God, the lame to run for Him in service, the deaf to hear His Word, and the dead to love Him and love people with Christ’s love – all the while wondering why our works are not more fruitful.
It doesn’t seem to square with the Words of Scripture concerning what happens at salvation, does it?… Words such as “born again,” “new creation,” “new life,” “in Christ,” “Christ in you,” seem to have little meaning in the lives of many of our church goers. It just doesn’t seem to add up, when we look to what God says happens when He works to bring the dead to life… “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27 – NKJV)
Is the problem with God? Scripture? Of course not. Our problem with “discipling” is that we have forgotten the Gospel. We have forgotten the doctrine of regeneration. And perhaps, we have even forgotten to look at Jesus as our model for disciple-making.
What does Biblical, healthy, God-exalting, disciple-making built on a solid foundation of the Gospel and the doctrine of regeneration look like? What do we teach? How do we live? Furthermore, in the context of Southeast Asia in particular, what does it actually mean for most respondents to hear the Gospel, and “pray” to “accept” Christ? How can we best “disciple” those who “acceptance” of the Gospel is simply a first step to learn about God, but not yet a born-again step of a true disciple who follows Christ?
How can we “disciple” these yet unregenerate? By showing them who God is – His holiness, His justice, His love – teaching them His Law to reveal their sin, expounding on His impending judgment, pointing them to the cross of Christ as their only hope, & calling on them to repent and believe? How can we do all this – “discipling” them, so that they actually become true disciples? And, when God regenerates them and gives them new life as a true disciple of Christ, how can we walk beside them, and continue to “disciple” them so that they “become what God has made them” – a true, maturing disciple of Christ who in turn also makes disciples?
In this year’s Southeast Asia Reformed Conference, we’ll have a chance to discuss these vital issues, and to look for answers together from God’s Word. In our time together at the conference and afterwards, I hope by God’s grace that we can grow together in taking men & women, beginning at whatever point in their road of life they may be, and “discipling them” into true disciples of Jesus Christ. I look forward to our discussion, and to learning from each other as we seek to grow as “disciples who make disciples.”