- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2007

The following are excerpts of a sermon given recently at Church of the Apostles by the Rev. David Harper:

In “The Great Omission,” Dallas Willard challenges the American church’s evangelical focus to get people “saved.” We have wonderful baptisms for them, and they come up out of the water with their faces beaming with the light of Christ.

But will these people who’ve just received the gift of life now become disciples of Jesus? Maybe. But maybe not. Unfortunately, the American church is pretty poor at discipling people. We somehow don’t think it’s important. It’s an optional thing. The notion that I should apply myself, and make fresh decisions in my life, is icing on the cake. We want the benefits of being followers of Jesus, but we aren’t always up to meeting the requirements of being His disciples.

The result is that American churches tend to be rather anemic, lacking the power of the Holy Spirit, and pretty worldly. I’d like to think we’re an exception at Church of the Apostles. But whether we are or not, most churches are pretty self-actuated. The programs come out of people’s brilliance and creativity, and if Jesus doesn’t show up, it really doesn’t matter because we do things so nicely. We’re sophisticated. We know what works. We don’t need Jesus to tell us what to do or how to do it. We have good minds to figure it out for ourselves.

For the individual believer, the lack of discipleship becomes a lack of confidence in the Lord Jesus. When life gets hard — and it will — they feel that God has gone away from them, and begin to pull back themselves. Because they’ve never developed the strong habits of a disciple, they don’t know how to press into God and discover that perhaps His will is being worked out even in unwelcome circumstances.

While we love to make converts, that’s not the word Jesus uses. He doesn’t talk about conversion, He talks about discipleship. “Go and make disciples.” Don’t just make people who can say, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior.” That’s wonderful; but it’s only a start. Discipleship is a journey. Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples. The word disciple occurs in the New Testament 294 times. The word Christian occurs two or three times, and only then as an adjective describing disciple. Christians are disciples. In the New Testament, there’s no other possible kind.

So, what do disciples look like?

Disciples are apprentices. Apprentices spend years studying directly under a master craftsman. They not only want to learn the skills; they want to learn how to do it in the same manner as the master. Jesus apprenticed His disciples. He did ministry while they watched. Then they’d go out by themselves, and Jesus would watch them. When they came back, they’d talk about how it went and learn from their mistakes. The disciples weren’t just watching how Jesus did ministry; they were watching how He did life. They learned about prayer and how to hear God. They learned about fasting, worship, studying Scripture and serving others.

Disciples are obedient. Unfortunately, we don’t do obedience very well. Not well at all. We have designer morals, picking and choosing what “works” for us. We don’t forgive one another. We don’t tithe, most of us. We make up excuses about giving 10 percent of our income being Old Testament to cover for our pathetic giving. You can do that if you like, but it’s not obedience. And sadly, polls show that most people don’t think Christians behave any differently from anybody else. Obedience is a big word. But it’s something we need to pay a lot of attention to if we want to be like Jesus.

Disciples apply themselves. It won’t happen because we hope it will. We train ourselves through spiritual disciplines. Most charismatic, evangelical Christians don’t like that word very much. We want to enjoy the freedom and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We’ll pray when we feel moved. We’ll fast when inspired. But most of our lives aren’t inspired; they’re struggles. Certainly inspiration comes, but don’t rely on feelings or emotions. We learn the disciplines best from Jesus. Though He was the Son of God, it was His custom to pray. He told His disciples to fast and to regularly take part in worship. Even when they didn’t feel like it, He instructed them to do it anyway.

When we undertake the formation of our unruly, undisciplined lives, Jesus takes hold and shifts it into transformation. When we allow ourselves to be shaped by Him, suddenly we see things happening in our lives that we have absolutely no control over. We find that our thinking, our behavior, and our attitudes are different. We can’t do this transformation ourselves, and He won’t do the formation for us. We have to dedicate ourselves to the discipline. God will transform us if we pay attention to the formation.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide