I have learned so many things during my Equip missionary training program this year. There have been a number of “paradigm shifts” I have experienced in my understanding of evangelism, church, and the world as a whole. One idea in particular relates to discipleship and obedience to God’s Word. Coming into this program last summer, if I asked myself, “What is discipleship?” I always thought of it in terms of me encouraging other believers and helping them grow into maturity in Christ.
I never thought of discipleship occurring with unbelievers! In the West, we tend to focus on “discipling AFTER conversion” rather than “discipling TO conversion”. Certainly, it is good for us to disciple our fellow believers, helping them to follow closely after Jesus and abide in Him.
But have we minimized or neglected the idea of teaching unbelievers to follow and obey Jesus, in hopes that they would commit to giving their lives to Him? I believe that true discipleship is teaching others to follow and obey Jesus, and this can occur even before an individual gives his or her life to Him.
I do not think this blog is the appropriate place to dive deep into the theology behind the regeneration of the Holy Spirit and how His indwelling us enables us to effectively obey God’s Word and become transformed. I simply want to say that we should seek to get unbelievers into a situation where they can have an encounter with God’s Word.
When an unbeliever is given an opportunity to hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice (regardless of his or her motive or capacity to understand Jesus), he or she will have an opportunity to experience the power and practicality of God’s Word, wisdom, and blessings that follow.
Have you ever wondered when Jesus’ original disciples were “converted”? When did Peter, John & Company actually get saved? We could answer this in different ways, but what is clear is that from their very first interaction with Jesus, the disciples were given the opportunity to obey Jesus’ commands: “Follow me…”.
Surely these fishermen were not believers when they first heard this command from Christ! And yet they obeyed what they heard. As a result, they were given the opportunity to hear and obey God more as they spent time with Jesus! They learned more about God’s character, God’s kingdom, and God’s Christ.
Eventually, they understood the identity and true mission of Jesus and the fact that He alone had the words of eternal life (see John 6:68). However, this did not happen right away. It was a painfully slow process, and plenty of blunders occurred along the way! The important thing to note is that the original disciples kept coming back! They did not cease to follow after Jesus like those in John 6:66.
I am employing this method with a number of Muslims in New York City, using the Discovery Bible Study (DBS) model. They are not yet believers, yet they are reading about Jesus, discussing His wisdom, and taking small steps in obeying and applying His wisdom on a weekly basis.
My hope is that they, like the original disciples, will begin to see that Jesus is more than a prophet or great teacher, and that by putting His commands into practice, their lives will become transformed, and they will eventually conclude that there is no one else like Him. He is God, and they should follow Him for the rest of their lives!
Who has God put in your life to hear about Jesus? Rather than waiting to study the Bible with them, have you considered beginning with this? You can begin discipling them TODAY, even before they have trusted in Christ for salvation. God’s Word and the commands of Christ have the power to transform, regardless of who is tapping into this power.
Let us say to our unbelieving friends and family members, “Come and see!” Let us answer the question, “What is discipleship?” as simply helping others to begin following Jesus and helping them to obey. Hopefully, in time they will say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”