I want to begin by asking two questions: “Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?” Hopefully, that one was easy. If you answered, “Yes,” the second, more intimidating, question is, “Are you discipling others?”
To define my terms: A disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ. No one follows Him perfectly, of course. But as a disciple, the direction and aim of your life is to be obedient to Jesus Christ and His teachings as revealed in the Bible. To disciple others is to help them follow Jesus. Mark Dever defines it (Discipling [Crossway], p. 13), “Discipling is deliberately doing spiritual good to someone so that he or she will be more like Christ.”
In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded His followers (Matt. 28:19-20), “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; …” The command to make disciples applies to all who follow Jesus, not just to pastors and missionaries. Every Christian has received a spiritual gift which he or she is to use in serving Jesus Christ (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-31; Eph. 4:7-12; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). Part of the command to love one another involves helping others be what God wants them to be. That’s discipleship. So if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, God wants you to use your gifts to help others become more like Christ.
Discipleship should not be so much a program in the local church that some sign up for, but rather the culture of the church, where every member aims at helping others become more like Christ. It begins in our homes, with parents evangelizing and discipling their children. It should ripple out through the entire church, where we all are helping one another grow in godliness. In our text, Paul reveals three crucial ingredients for effective discipleship:
The godly message is the gospel; the godly manner is evident love for others; and, the godly motive is to please God from the heart. If you’re clear on the gospel, evident in your love for others, and doing everything to please God who examines your heart, God will use you to help others grow to be more like Christ.
1. Effective discipleship is built on a godly message: the gospel of God.
I’ll say more about this, but for now I point out that in 1 Thessalonians 2 & 3, Paul is defending himself against vicious opponents, perhaps the Jews who drove him out of Thessalonica (1 Thess. 2:14-16). They were trying to discredit Paul so that his gospel would be discredited. Paul mentions the gospel in verses 2, 4, 8, and 9 (as well as in 1:5 & 3:2). In verses 2, 8, & 9 he refers to it as “the gospel of God.” Paul didn’t make up the gospel. Rather, it came directly from God, who revealed it to Paul. To reject the gospel is to reject the living and true God who gave it to us.
The gospel stands against every other system of religion in the world, including some religions that go under the banner of Christianity. All these false “gospels” teach that the way you go to heaven is by some program of good works. Sometimes, as in the Roman Catholic Church, faith in Christ and good works are combined, just as the Judaizers in Paul’s day combined faith in Christ with keeping the Jewish law. By doing penance for your sins, going to church, moral behavior, helping the poor, and giving to the church, you accumulate merits to qualify for heaven.
But the gospel is that we are saved from God’s judgment by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, resulting in good works. Ephesians 2:8-10 states it clearly:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
The gospel is good news for sinners because it promises freely to forgive all the sins of those who believe. As Paul states (Rom. 4:5), “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Jesus illustrated the same truth in His parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The proud Pharisee thought that he was right with God through his religious practices, whereas the tax collector could only cry out (Luke 18:13), “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” Jesus said that the tax collector went to his house justified, whereas the Pharisee did not. The best news in the world is that if you come to Jesus with all of your sin and cry out to Him for mercy through Jesus’ shed blood, He freely gives it!
So why does the gospel result in opposition? Why would anyone have a problem with such good news? The Bible is clear that self-righteous people hate the gospel because it confronts their pride. It takes away all grounds for boasting in our good deeds. The gospel requires that we acknowledge that we are sinners without any claim for heaven. The gospel reveals that my heart is as desperately wicked as that of the worst of sinners. So proud people oppose the humbling message of the gospel.
Also, unbelievers don’t like to hear about God’s wrath and judgment against all sinners. As a result they often oppose the messengers of the gospel. But even if they oppose us, we shouldn’t back off or apologize for the message. Paul was mistreated in Philippi for preaching the gospel, but when he came to Thessalonica, he preached the same message boldly in spite of the opposition (1 Thess. 2:2). We can’t compromise the message to win converts.
Effective discipleship rests on the foundation of the gospel revealed to us in God’s Word. False teachers don’t tell people about sin and the judgment to come. Rather, they build people’s self-esteem and tell them how Jesus can help them have their best life now. To build godly disciples we must build on the foundation of the gospel that comes from God.
The article Lesson 5: Effective Discipleship (1 Thessalonians 2:1-8) first appeared at Bible.org. To continue reading about effective discipleship click here.