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We Must Do the Impossible

20 November 2012 by Neil

Do we have a part in sanctification? Absolutely we do. Here is a part that you may, nay must play:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -- Matthew 28:18-20
You play an essential role... in the sanctification of others. Because that is what it means to make disciples. Now the Great Commission urges us to make disciples everywhere, but it doesn't really tell us how to do the job does it? Maybe the ability to make disciples is perhaps a gift that not all good Christians possess. Perhaps your calling is different.

Bosh. Piffle. You must make disciples, Disciples of Christ. The King of the universe, the one with all authority has commanded you to do so. And yes, he does tell you how to do it.

Becoming a disciple of Christ means that one is baptized and that one learns and observes all the commandments and teachings of Christ. A lightning fast read through the four Gospels reveals that Christ taught a number of things. You're gonna have to study and know and teach your charge all that stuff. Jesus quoted from the Old Testament a lot, so you'll likely have to know that too. Jesus gave direct revelation to Paul, so you also have to teach his stuff. And you know that the dry facts are not the point: we need to teach the meaning and the warp and the woof. We need to help our brother or sister understand what it means to serve the only God, to turn our backs on our things, to be reviled, and yes to be prepared even to die for Christ if it comes to that. There's a lot to learn, and there's a lot for the heart to embrace, and it's not going to happen all at once. It seems that making a disciple of Christ is not a singular event, but rather a dogged journey.

So whatcha call a disciple-in-training? Let's call him an apprentice. You have been commanded by your God to teach your apprentice to observe (that is, live, breathe, speak, and act out) all that Jesus commanded. So how you gonna do it? Stand behind a lectern and hold forth? Write occasional posts for a calvinist blog? Quote the meanings and cognates of Hebrew and koine Greek words? Of course there is a place for those things, and the place might even be in the discipleship process of your apprentice. But if imparting your fancy book learning is as much as you dare, then you are not making disciples, and you are flouting the command of Jesus.

Let's look at how Paul did discipling:
For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. -- 1 Corinthans 4:15-18
The discipler loves like a father. The apprentice is a beloved follower. The discipler sets an example, and lives with the confidence that the apprentice will do well to watch and learn. The discipler urges the apprentice to imitate him. The apprentice is faithful and grows to become a discipler himself. The discipler holds the apprentice accountable. The discipler does not grow weary; he is in this until the end.

And let's see how Jesus did it:
And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. -- Luke 9:1-6
Here, the God with all power and authority gives his apprentices some awesome bits of power and authority, and then almost paradoxically sends them out vulnerable, with no safety net. You have the clothes on your back and that's it. No cash, no chocolate bars, no nuthin'. He commanded them to go, and told them to rely upon the hospitality of others. And oh yeah, he told them that some of the others would be “unwelcoming”. Would they have some cold nights and hungry days? I think so. Would they get discouraged? Be unsafe? Oh yes. Jesus didn't shy away from difficult lessons, and he didn't cut the crusts off of their PBJ sandwiches. And what did the Master Discipler do with his apprentices when they returned separately from their difficult adventures?
On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. -- Luke 9:10.
They reported and they talked and they learned. They talked about highs and lows. This must have taken considerable time. Then they went somewhere alone, the discipler and his apprentices, and it's a safe conjecture that they talked some more. The Discipler gave his all to his apprentices. He gave his heart. He was their friend. Another question... were the theologies of these apprentices fully baked when they set out? No they were not!

We know from later in the Gospel that these guys did not yet grasp the purpose of Jesus' incarnation. They were loopy about a lot of stuff (as are you and me, truth be told). And yet Jesus sent them and gave them responsibility for what they did know. And yet another thing, wasn't one of those twelve going to betray him? But not matter; Jesus went ahead and discipled Judas. That should knock the wind from any notion that we should assess the suitability or discipleship potential of our potential apprentices. Listen, we are none of us suitable! Every one of us is limited, both apprentice and discipler. We are incorrigible, yet God gives us grace to become his disciples. We are weak, but God decrees that we must do the impossible, and make disciples. We were not a people, but God sets us apart to be a people bearing his name. Finally, remember this: Jesus did not command you to make disciples because he's short of just the kind of help that you can offer. The God who holds everything together and has all power and authority is not thinking how lucky he is to have you on his ministry team. Instead, count yourself blessed that he chooses to use a wobbly, failing goof like you to be an instrument in the sanctification of his children.

Now go and make disciples.