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The Difference Between Converts and Disciples


I want to share my thoughts about the Great Commission and the Great Commandments.

To be honest, the evangelism I’ve seen (and that I’ve been a part of in the past) bothers me. I’ve counseled at huge evangelical crusades and I’ve been part of leading numerous campers to Christ each summer. What I’ve seen through this type of evangelism is the idea of making converts — just ask Jesus into your heart and you’ll be set! Where on earth did we get this idea? I don’t think it’s biblical at all. Take a look:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

So, what do we have here? First of all, Jesus never says to make converts — He says to make disciples. Unfortunately, we modern-day Americans have no clue what discipleship really looks like. To be a disciple meant trying your best, every single moment, to be like your rabbi. Jesus asked us to go show people how to live as He did, how to walk as He walked.

Now, the first step to becoming a disciple is obviously believing that Jesus is worth following — that He is God’s son, sent to save us from our sins. But in the evangelism I’ve seen, we often make belief the only crucial step, and I think that is a grave mistake. (By the way, you can learn more about biblical discipleship through the teachings of Ray Vanderlaan. Good stuff.)

Secondly, Jesus says to make disciples and teach them “to obey everything I have commanded you.” What did Jesus command? He told us to love the Lord with all we are and love our neighbor as ourselves. These are the greatest commandments — the things we should be striving for every day. 1 John talks about this over and over again:

“We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands” (1 John 2:3).

“This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another” (1 John 3:11).

“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them” (1 John 3:23-24a).

“This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands” (1 John 5:2-3a).

So, those who love Jesus will obey His commands — the commands to love God and our neighbor. As we strive to live these things out, we should desire to bring others along with us on this journey — on this road of discipleship. Our evangelism should be entirely entwined in showing our love to God by obeying His command to love others.

I do think we are called to evangelize — I believe we have the Truth and should share it with others. I just hope that we go about it in the most biblical way. We need to show non-believers that following Christ requires belief, action and love — and the only way to effectively show them this truth is to live it out in front of them.


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