Go and make disciples is the commission of Christ. Notice He does not say converts. The distance between a convert and a disciple is a vast gap between mere believer and devoted follower of Jesus Christ. In too many congregations, at too many neighborhood outreaches, in too many streets being “evangelized,” the goal is to win souls and not to make disciples. The gospel message has been perverted into some sort of sales pitch to enable the meeting salvation sales quota. Discipleship, not conversion is the ambition of those hoping to walk in Christ’s footsteps.
At the Des Moines Farmers market this past weekend, men were seen on boxes warning of the torments of hell for those who have broken the commandments and the horror of standing before a Holy God without redemption from Christ. There is a grave reality in their words, and the urgency and boldness in these men’s hearts is no doubt admirable, but what fruit is borne from distant shouting on a soap box? These are desperate attempts to force converts from fear.
Jesus, however, beckoned followers, and created disciples. Jesus was delicate and deliberate with His outreach. However brief in His encounters, He strived to know the person He sought, and those He intended to shape into followers He invested in heavily. He uncovered the hidden secrets of the woman at the well and struck a blow to her heart where it was tender and ready for the hit. In the case of His followers, Jesus walked with, dined with, relaxed with, had fun with, and lived life with them. He stayed close and available to mold them into a likeness of Himself. Those who have believed the gospel of grace, need imitators of Christ to come alongside them and do the same.
A contributing factor to the many conversions with little fruit is the limited view of what the gospel message entails. So often the gospel message is whittled down to a mere three point statement. Jesus lived a perfect life, died on a cross to atone for the sins of the world, and was raised on the third day. The gospel is absolutely hinged on this magnificent truth, but the gospel does not end at the message. The gospel is proclamation of freedom to the captives of sin, it is healing to the broken, it is rebuke to the proud, it is humiliation to the haughty, it is redemption to the shattered. The message of the gospel is also a life well lived walking in Christ’s footsteps. The gospel swallows the life of the follower whole; this must be understood to fulfill the call to make disciples.
Perhaps the church should stop trying so hard to win souls, and focus on making disciples with deliberate and careful and tedious strife. People accurately imitating Christ, is how faith will penetrate the darkness of the surrounding world without Christ. Followers, not believers are needed to begin to heal a broken world, and disciples not converts are the fruit of the gospel of grace.