A few years ago, we rewrote the constitution and bylaws of the congregation. After prayerful consideration, we decided we didn’t need to create a new mission statement for Living Water.
Jesus’ mission for His Church, His great commission, appears explicitly in all four gospels and in the book of Acts. The most famous of these appearances occurs in Matthew 28:19-20. There, the crucified and risen Jesus, just before ascending into heaven, tells the Church: “...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.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
We adopted these verses as the mission statement of Living Water Lutheran Church.
Distilling Jesus’ commission even further, we can say that the mission of this congregation and every Christian is to be and to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
Anything we do as a church that doesn’t reflect or advance this single mission is a waste of time and a waste of life on this earth.
As a church and as individual members of this church, our call–our mission–is to be disciples and to make disciples. Period.
Over time, we’ve identified a pathway, which we believe to be Biblical by which this happens. While and after God reaches down to us in Jesus Christ through His Word and His Sacraments, disciples reach up in worship and prayer, reach in to worship together as a church body and to live in relationships of mutual support and accountability, and reach out to our neighbors with the love and good news of Jesus. Later in this series, we’ll talk about each of these components in detail.
But tonight, I want to talk with you about two questions.
The first is what is a disciple?
The second is what does the life of a disciple look like?
A disciple, quite simply, is a sinner who has been found by God and saved by the grace God gives through the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.
It is God’s Word about Jesus, whether proclaimed to us in Word or through the visible Word of the Sacraments–Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, that make us disciples. Those are the three methods God uses to make disciples.
Nobody ever really decides to follow Jesus.
Jesus tells His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you…” (John 15:16)
This means that Jesus’ choice is to save anyone who will turn to Him in repentance and faith at the prompting of God’s Word.
John the Baptizer had evidently heard the Word about Jesus while still in his mother’s womb and so, leapt for joy inside his mother when he heard the greeting of Mary, then bearing Jesus in her womb. (Luke 1:41)
Others may not come to faith as quickly as that. They’re more resistant to Christ’s Gospel. The thief on the cross, for example, finally received the gift faith, of discipleship, as he and Christ were being executed. He prayed, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)
God’s Word assures us that we become Christ’s disciples when we are baptized. Even though John and the thief believed without being baptized, in Baptism, God’s Word connected with the water comes to us and we are crucified and raised with Christ. We are saved, made Christ’s disciples.
The apostle Peter said that the worldwide flood that happened during the time of Noah was a bitty symbol of the big thing that happens in Christian baptism: “baptism…now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:21)
The disciple then is that person who, because God’s Word has been given to them, is able to confess Jesus as Lord.
“Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ,” Romans 10:17 tells us.
And we’re told elsewhere in the Bible, “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)
Discipleship, everlasting life with God through Jesus, is a gift for which we can take no credit.
Now, to address the second question I mentioned earlier–What does the life of a disciple look like?--I want to go back to why Jesus chooses to make those who believe in Him His disciples.
You see, Jesus doesn’t just save us from sin and death for our own sakes. He has bigger plans than that for His disciples. God doesn’t bring us into some exclusive club to ignore the world around us!
In that passage from John’s gospel I mentioned a moment ago, Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you [and then Jesus says] so that you might go and bear fruit” (John 15:16)
Not only did Jesus die on the cross and rise from the dead to save us from sin, death, condemnation, and hell, He also did that so that our lives, transformed by His love, forgiveness, and grace, would bear fruit, would tell the world about Jesus, God the Son!
Now, some Christians hear this and think it means they need to get busy. People like this second-guess their salvation, wondering whether they’re good enough for God and whether by their perceived failure to bear fruit, they ever had Jesus’ salvation or not. They’ll ask, “If I’m a Christian, why am I tempted? Why do I sin? Why do I have doubts? Why do I forget about the needs of others? Why don’t I witness to others about Jesus?” These thoughts come to us because though we are saints, we’re also still sinners. But the more important question for us is to Whom do we turn when assailed by doubt or temptation, when we have sinned, when we fail bear fruit? We turn to the One Who gives new life to us in the first place: Jesus Christ!
When he was dying, Fred Rogers, famously known as Misterrogers and an ordained Presbyterian minister, asked his wife whether she thought he was one of God’s lambs. Rogers questioned his eternal salvation because he thought he maybe hadn’t borne enough good fruit as a Christian. He worried about his good works.
But, friends, hear me on this: The same Savior who saves and justifies you by grace through faith in Christ also produces the fruit of holiness and growth in Christ within you. That’s not your job.
Your call is to turn to Jesus in repentance and faith each day, remaining open to where Christ leads you both within the Church and beyond the Church, and to know that God–and God alone–will cause you to bear fruit, even–and I might say, especially–when you don’t know about it! If you’re doing a thing and wondering, “Am I bearing good fruit for Christ?” you probably aren’t completely. According to Ephesians 2, whatever good works we do as disciples won’t be what we’ve planned, but “which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
When I was a child, I couldn’t feel my body growing, my voice changing, or the zits growing. My growth and change were beyond my capacity to decide on, control, or influence. I just kept coming to the dinner table where mom and dad prepared dinners to fuel my growth and the growth happened.
Your growth as a disciple of Jesus is all about what God does in you as you show up each day to receive His Word, worship with God’s people, receive the Sacraments. You just “come and get it” and the growth will happen.
You won’t sense growth happening.
You won’t see the fruit you’re bearing.
But it will be happening.
God uses people who gladly hear and receive His Word to be and make disciples.
A few years ago, we identified the process by which God makes and then uses people to be and to make disciples. We said discipleship begins with knowing Jesus Christ as our God, Savior, and Friend. It continues with growing in Christ. This is what God does to us and in us as we turn to Him through Jesus in daily repentance and faith. Then comes showing Christ. Knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior, being daily fortified by His Word, gives us the comfort and the courage to tell others to “Come and see our Savior Jesus. Come and see the One Who knows all about me and loves me anyway.”
Growing in Christ.
This is what God does in us so that we can be and make disciples. This is foundational for our journey this Lenten season.
The seed of God’s Word is planted in us. And it is that Word that makes us disciples and in turn, causes us to grow in faith that we might, in turn, make others Christ’s disciples. Amen