In our last lesson, we discussed 12 truths that mark historic, orthodox Christianity. That is what all Christians believe. That’s the Christian story. But for you, as an individual, how can you become part of that story? What does it mean to be a Christian, to actually follow Christ and be His disciple? That’s what we’re going to talk about together in this lesson.
In early Christianity, in the first years of the church, society didn’t really know what to do with this crazy group of people who followed Jesus. The term “Christian” was originally a sarcastic nickname; it meant “little Christ.” It was meant to be an insult to all those “little Christs” who were trying to follow and imitate Jesus Christ in every area of their lives. The church’s name for itself, we find in the book of Acts, was “the Way” (e.g., Acts 9:2, 19:9, 19:23). What people noticed first about Christians was that their lives took on a distinctive shape. They lived in a certain way, the way marked out by Jesus Christ.
So what it means to be a Christian is to be saved by God’s grace, and then to have your life transformed to progressively look more and more Jesus—to live your life the way Christ himself lived and taught us to live. That is what it means to be His disciple. So let’s talk through the discipleship process and what is involved in it.
The first step to being a disciple is calling on Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, in full reliance on His grace to save you. As Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
This is where everything starts for a disciple. You must humble yourself. You must admit that you cannot save yourself from your sin, that you cannot earn your salvation or work your way up to God. That means admitting that you’re a sinner. As Romans 3:10–12 says, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”
But the good news is that although “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” anyone can be “justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). You can be justified and accept God’s gift of grace by calling on him. Paul tells us in Romans 10:9-10, “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” Jesus took the punishment we deserved for our sin on the cross. And when we call out to Him in faith, we receive the righteousness He displayed as our own. We become reconciled, redeemed, adopted, justified in God’s sight.
This first step is called “conversion.” You fundamentally give up on going down the path you were going on, you give up on the person that you were before. You convert to a new mode of existence, one in which you are reconciled to God through Christ. By admitting your sin and simply praying to receive God’s forgiveness, you can become His disciple.
If you have never prayed to receive God’s free gift of forgiveness, then just pray a simple prayer like this: “God, I know I’ve failed You in so many ways, and I’m truly sorry for the sins in my life. But I believe what Your Word says, that you loved me so much that you sent your Son Jesus to die on the cross for me. So I am trusting in what Jesus did for me—not in my good works, but in what Jesus did for me—to save me from my sins. Help me to follow you for the rest of my life.”
The way that you announce this decision to follow Christ publicly is through baptism. Baptism symbolizes your conversion, putting it on full display for everyone to see. This is how you show everyone what Christ did in His death and resurrection and how you have now become part of His body, the church.
Baptism also symbolizes the change that God is going to do in your life as the Holy Spirit begins to work in you. In baptism, you are “buried with Christ in the likeness of His death” as you go under the water, and then you’re “raised to walk in a new way of life” as you emerge out of it (Romans 6:3-4). When we go into the water, we are declaring that by God’s power the old “me” is dead. The old me, which was marked by a life given over to sinful passions and under Satan’s power, is no more (Ephesians 2:1-3). Now, through Christ, I am made a “new creation” in which “the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We declare this in faith at the beginning of our journey as a disciple because we know, like Paul told the Philippians, that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
So if you are a Christian who has prayed to receive Christ, but you have not yet been baptized, I want to encourage you to get baptized right away! It will be such a meaningful experience for you, and it is an essential step of obedience as you follow Christ.
- Lord’s Supper / Membership
As you can tell—baptism isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning! As the First Dallas Doctrinal statement explains, baptism is the pre-requisite for membership in the church and for taking the Lord’s Supper (Article VII). So let’s talk about each of these things and why they follow naturally from baptism.
Baptism symbolizes that you have become part of Christ’s body. And church membership and the Lord’s Supper symbolize that you remain part of Christ’s body. Paul explains it like this in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.” So Paul says when we become a Christian, we become joined to Christ and to the other members of the church. Just like the human body has many different parts that all contribute to the functioning of the whole, so the church has many different members who are all necessary to the proper functioning of the whole church. As Paul says, because of the Holy Spirit we are all “baptized into” the body of Christ. All the markers that the outside world uses to divide people up are superseded by our membership in the church and Spirit that we share. Membership in the church puts you under the care and shepherding of gifted pastors and teachers; it connects you with a local body of believers who can encourage you and live life with you.
The Lord’s Supper is the ordained and ultimate way that we reaffirm our belonging to Christ and His body. We remember and proclaim Christ’s death by taking the bread and the cup, representing the body and blood of Christ, together as an assembled congregation (1 Corinthians 11:26). Taking the Lord’s Supper is a way to be reminded of what Christ has done for you on the cross. It is a way to reconnect with the Lord. It is also a way to renew your relationships with others in the church.
So, as a growing disciple of Jesus Christ, you need to belong to a local church and regularly take the Lord’s Supper. Please find a Bible-believing church near you and get involved right away. If you’re anywhere near Dallas, please come and join us here at First Baptist Dallas. There is a place for you here and a whole team of people who would love to help you and minister to you!
As we have said, being a disciple means modeling your life after your teacher, Jesus Christ. We want to live lives marked by obedience to Christ, lives “worthy of the gospel” that has saved us (Philippians 1:27). So in every area of your life, your question needs to be: what would Christ have me do here?
A good starting point for answering that question is looking at the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are split into two “tables.” The first table includes the commands that relate to how we love God: worship no other gods before Him, do not worship idols, do not take the Lord’s name in vain, and remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. The second table includes the commands that involve how we love others: honor your father and mother, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie, and do not covet. These commands are reaffirmed throughout Scripture and by Jesus Himself. So when you look at your life, ask yourself questions like this:
- Am I loving or worshipping anything more than God?
- Am I representing Christ well in the sight of others?
- Am I setting aside a day for worship with God’s people?
- Am I properly honoring my parents and those in authority over me?
- Am I properly respecting the lives of others?
- Am I engaged in any sexual conduct outside of Christian marriage, like pornography or fornication or adultery or homosexual acts?
- Am I properly respecting the property of others?
- Am I habitually telling the truth?
- Am I content with what God has chosen to give me?
We know that we will often fail to love God and love others. We are both saints and sinners at the same time. Holiness is a process; it doesn’t just happen overnight. But look at the trajectory of your life. It should be trending, slowly but surely, toward Christ. In every one of these areas, if you are experiencing failure, you should not be content with that. Failures should be followed by repentance, search for accountability, and an eagerness to change. That’s what it means to be a true disciple.
As we seek to obey the Lord, paired with that pursuit is spiritual growth through the disciplines of the Christian life. In order to obey, we need the spiritual disciplines to help us grow closer to God and have our hearts and minds shaped by His Word. And in order for the disciplines to be effective, we need to be following Christ and not be in open, unrepentant sin. So the two go hand in hand, obedience in our lives and growth in the spiritual disciplines.
The spiritual disciplines of the Christian life include things like reading and memorizing Scripture each day, prayer, corporate and private worship, spiritual counsel and accountability, giving, and service. Richard Foster, in his classic book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, explains the disciplines like this: “God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us.” So the disciplines are not an attempt to earn God’s grace, but a means of opening ourselves up to receive His grace. We don’t change ourselves—it is God at work in us who can transform our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. This brings us closer to Him, and in His presence there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11)! It doesn’t mean our lives will be easy or pain-free, but they can be marked by a genuine joy as we abide in Him and experience peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
So as a disciple, you are constantly growing in your obedience to the Lord and in your relationship with the Lord. And then as these things happen in you, they can’t stay in you. God wants to work in you, but He also intends to work through you to bless others and bring more people into His Kingdom. As we’ve spoken about, when we come to Christ we become a member of His body, we gain a certain function within the whole. And the mission that the body has been given to pursue together is the Great Commission, which the resurrected Christ gave to His disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19–20). God wants us to be His disciples, but part of being His disciple means making more disciples! We get to participate in this joyful work of going throughout the world, to all peoples, and proclaiming the good news of what God has done for us through Christ. We get to invite people to place their faith in Him. So we are to be disciples who are on a mission, one that God is constantly empowering us to pursue. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing in life, you can always be pursuing this mission! God wants to use you in your workplace, in your family, in your neighborhood, in your community, to bring people to Himself.
The strategy for how we can pursue the Great Commission can be found in Acts 1:8, which is a very important verse for our church: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” This verse outlines a geographical strategy for fulfilling the Great Commission that the church can pursue. We start with our Jerusalem, our local ministries and partnerships. Then we go to Judea and Samaria, our national ministry partnerships. And then to the ends of the earth, our international ministries and influence. These are all things that the church should be pursuing all the time, but I would encourage you to find your place to serve within this larger mission. Look for places within the church that need extra help. Look for ministries that share a particular passion or calling God has placed on you to pursue. Find your way to contribute to the mission. When you’re serving Him, you’ll experience joy and a sense of purpose as you see God at work in the lives of others!
We are just scratching the surface of all that it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, but I hope that this video is helpful for you. Wherever you are in your walk with the Lord, I want to encourage you: take the next step. Whether that looks like coming to truly place your faith in Christ for the first time, whether that means seeking out baptism or membership in the local church, I hope you’ll take those steps right away. If there’s an area of your life where the Lord is convicting you of sin, or if you’ve been neglecting spiritual habits, then take a small step today by calling a pastor or trusted friend or by simply going to your knees in prayer and repentance before a loving God. If you realize that you’ve been walking with the Lord but you haven’t really gotten on mission for Him, then take a step this week by reaching out to someone in a ministry area you enjoy or asking how you can serve.
I don’t know what your next step is, but I want to encourage you: keep going. Following Christ is the great adventure and the greatest joy of our lives!