It’s often been said the world is in trouble and the Church is in need. Look at global warming. Look at the economic meltdown. Look at this viral infection. Look at the earthquakes, the forest fires, the calamities and catastrophes.
In the same breath, we say: “The Church is in need.” In need of more manpower, more pastors, more missionaries, more facilities, more resources, more finances…
But we’ve got it upside down; we have to look at it in reverse: The world is in need and the Church is in trouble.
The world is in need of a Saviour. The world is in need of salvation.
The world has a virus infection that is far greater than all the viruses we’ve ever known throughout its history: that virus is sin.
And with this virus, there is absolutely no immunity, no survivors and no hope. And it infects 100% of all humanity. No one is spared from this.
But in that hopelessness and desperation of eternal damnation because of the virus of sin, God sent His Son Jesus Christ and in the blood of Jesus, we have hope.
That is why following Jesus – and discipleship is essentially following Jesus – is so crucial because in Him we have life.
THE WORLD’S GREATEST NEED
Someone once said: “Oh, Edmund Chan is very excited and interested in discipleship. It’s all about discipleship.”
That’s a misnomer. I’m excited about Jesus Christ. Because left to myself, I messed up my life. But Jesus specialises in “unmessing” the mess of my life. He gave me hope, gave me life, gave me meaning, gave me mission.
Jesus gave me a whole glorious redemption under the shadow of the Cross and the transforming power of the gospel. That’s why discipleship is so important.
I did not say the greatest need of the Church is discipleship. The greatest need of the Church is Jesus.
The world is in need of that gospel desperately. And the Church must live that life to proclaim the gospel. If we don’t have that life, the understanding of the power of the gospel and the move of the Holy Spirit, nothing happens.
Every other technological advance, every other piece of research, every other thing that informs us – and it’s vital to be informed – cannot transform us.
But when we are touched by the gospel, moved by the gospel, transformed by the gospel because of the centrality of the Cross, everything changes.
That’s why discipleship is important.
Without that, we’re not just losing our faith. We’re not just losing ground. We’re not just losing a moral compass. We’re not just a Church in trouble over our divisiveness, or the loss of our sense of foundation – in our spiritual, biblical or moral grounding.
We’re losing our next generation. That’s why the greatest need of the Church is Jesus.
Now please listen carefully, I did not say the greatest need of the Church is discipleship. The greatest need of the Church is Jesus because the greatest need of the world and humanity is Jesus.
So, the logical conclusion is following Jesus is critical to the life of the Church.
What does it mean to follow Jesus? It means to know Jesus, to love Jesus, to serve Jesus, and to become more and more like Jesus.
THE REAL CHALLENGE IS OBEDIENCE
But why is discipleship so difficult? That’s because we have misconceived the Great Commission.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:18-20)
It’s not “teach them all things” but “teach them to obey all things”. There is a day-and-night difference between the two, just as there is a great difference between bleeding and a blood transfusion.
“I am your Creator, I am your God. I own you – authority. I love you – redemption. Obey me.”
It’s already hard to teach them all the things Jesus has commanded us. It’s even harder to teach them to obey.
So how do I teach my children to obey? By showing them loving authority. I tell them: “I’m your father, I love you. Obey me.”
“I’m your father” is authority, “I love you” is the nature of that authority and therefore, “obey me”.
Isn’t that what God has said to us? “I am your Creator, I am your God. I own you – authority. I love you – redemption. Obey me.”
This obedience comes out of love, flows out of love, flows out of gratitude. So we must humbly say: “Lord, change us so that we can obey You.”
THE HARD TRUTHS ABOUT CHANGE
But we must determine to change, you see, that’s the starting point. That out of gratitude for the redemption of the gospel, we must be ready to change.
Otherwise, it’s like a politician asking the people: “Who wants change?” To that, everybody will raise their hands.
But if he then asks, “Who wants to change?” Nobody will raise their hands.
There’s a huge difference between “wanting change” and “wanting to change”.
Here are 5 truths about change:
Truth #1: People should change. We don’t grow by chance but by change.
Truth #2: People can change – because God helps us to change.
Truth #3: People don’t change.
Truth #4: People won’t change – to change is a matter of the will.
Truth #5: People shortchange change. They change, then they change back from their change.
God knows the human heart. That’s why in Jeremiah 4:1, He says: “If you were to return, O Israel, to me, you should return.”
He is saying something qualitatively important: “To me you should return and do not waver.”
Think about it: Return and don’t return from your returning. Change and don’t shortchange your change.
To teach discipleship, we must teach a deep, radical change. So radical, you’re planting a stake deep in the ground, one you will not move from.
There are people around the world who are planting a stake so deep in the ground, they will not move from it even in the midst of persecution or the threat of death. They would rather lose their lives than deny Christ.
THIS IS A PICTURE OF DISCIPLESHIP
I want to close with a true story.
There was a 56-year-old widow from Surrey, England. She had three sons. One day, the church was calling for missionaries to the West Solomon Islands. Among all the young people, they selected her eldest son. The mother gave her blessing, so the church commissioned and sent him.
But when he got to the island, the chief came with his warriors, drew a line in the sand and said, “Go back. If you dare cross this line, I will kill you.”
The young man, standing by his mission, crossed that line bravely – and he was killed.
News returned to the church of his death, and many other young people rose up to go in his stead. The young person selected to go was the second son of this woman. Again, she gave her blessing, and he left for the West Solomon Islands.
However, the same thing happened when he reached – the chief drew a line in the sand and threatened to kill him. He bravely stepped across, intent on sharing the love of God with the tribe, and was killed.
When the church received news of this, there was great grief. They looked for another replacement, and out of the young people who arose to the challenge, the third son was chosen. And the widow gave her blessing.
The chief of the West Solomon Islands had not changed his mind. He told her third son the same thing, challenging him to cross the line and face death.
But the young man stood there and said, “My older brother came and crossed the line, and so did my second brother. My mother has blessed me, my church has sent me and my God has called me to share with you the love of Jesus.” And he crossed that line.
Bringing news of her youngest son’s death, the pastor found the widow crying. “I am so sorry that you have lost your husband and now your sons,” he said. “I can understand your tears.”
But she replied: “Pastor, you misunderstand. I’m not crying because my sons are gone. I’m crying because I have no more sons to give for the Kingdom of Christ.”
- How has your journey of discipleship been?
- What areas of discipleship do you struggle with most?
- How can we grow in obedience to all God has commanded?