Jesus commissioned His church to make disciples of all nations, but what is a disciple? Once a person experiences welcome by the church, whether as a young child born and raised in the church or a youth or adult with no church experience who has found acceptance here, what’s next?
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this question. Churches tend to use service attendance as a measure of effectiveness, and while we can learn from those numbers, determining whether we’re making disciples requires understanding what a disciple is. Literally a “learner,” discipleship is more than learning a series of facts. Jesus commissioned us to make disciples of all nations, then He told us how to do that: “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Discipleship is an ongoing change in perception, recognizing that God has brought His eternal kingdom to us through Jesus Christ and does so every day in every situation, growing in our realization and confidence that Jesus is “…with you always, to the end of the age” and recognizing the effects of that. The more we see the world through the eyes of God’s love, the more it changes how we think, live, and interact with others, our goals, our desires, how we see ourselves, and more. That’s spiritual growth, and unlike physical growth, it’s a lifelong process.
We also need to remember that God’s will is that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth (1 Timothy 2:4), not that all would behave according to our expectations. That’s great, since none of us do! God desires that we be His children. Expressing that relationship through our words and actions is the result of faith, but growing in faith is the goal. Faith, hope, and love will produce visible fruit, and we persevere with those who struggle and celebrate with those who triumph, knowing our triumph is not in our actions, but in and through Christ, the source and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
When God sows the seeds of His Word in us, it sometimes produces fruit and sometimes gets choked by the worries of this world. Constantly under attack by the devil, our culture, and our own sinful flesh, our perception of God’s kingdom often gets clouded, and when we can’t see where we are, it’s easy to stumble, but since the essence of God’s kingdom is love and forgiveness, God uses us to call each other to the cross to find that love and forgiveness again, to soak in our Baptismal blessings, to savor His ongoing presence with us through the Lord’s Supper, and to again walk as those that God has freed from the chains of sin.