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Making Disciples the Jesus Way

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On average, 100 churches are closed each week in America. Thousands more are unhealthy and not functioning as Christ designed. Jesus gave us the blueprint for church life—ordinary Christians involved in making disciples who in turn make disciples.

Typically, when people hear about disciplemaking they think about helping new converts take their first steps in living the Christian life. Churches often include in their curriculum such things as:

  • How to study the Bible
  • How to pray
  • How to share your faith with others
  • How to participate in the life of a local church

All of these are good and necessary things to teach. But, may I suggest a paradigm shift that begins making disciples where Jesus began—with the Beatitudes.

A disciple is a follower, a learner, an apprentice in training, and a disciple-maker. The command to “make disciples” was given to disciples. Jesus left us an example of disciplemaking that all believers should follow—not just the “clergy.” This was and is the basic methodology of His ministry in the building of His Church.

Since what we call “The Sermon on the Mount” is so fundamental to the mission of Jesus, I’m assuming He repeated this message many times and in many different settings throughout His earthly ministry, without reading from a manuscript. Compare Matthew 5:1–7:29 with Luke 6:17–49. Matthew’s account may have been one of the first times Jesus preached this message. He writes, “From that time on Jesus began to preach” (4:17), and only 4 of the 12 who were eventually called apostles were named by this time (4:18-21). The first thing Jesus taught in this sermon was the Beatitudes. Matthew ends his Gospel by quoting Jesus as saying, “Go and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (28:19–20). How can we neglect what He taught first?

What’s a “Beatitude”?

The word “beatitude” is not found in the inspired text of Scripture. Research reveals that Cicero coined the Latin word “beatitudo” to describe a state of blessedness, and it was incorporated as a heading in the first authorized edition of the English Bible, which King Henry VIII sanctioned in 1539. Understanding this perspective gives us the freedom to study the subject as the BE-attitudes—a helpful insight for me.

From God’s perspective, being comes before doing. Who we are is more important than what we do. Good fruit comes from a good tree. What you say flows from what is in your heart (Lk. 6:43–45). God’s primary purpose for us is to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). In what we call the Beatitudes, Christ gave us an introductory snapshot of what it means to be like Jesus. When He lives His life in us, we begin to look like that snapshot.

“What Would Jesus Think”?

We are what we think. “As he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7; also see Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23-24; and Phil. 2:5). This thinking is not simply processing intellectual knowledge but wholeheartedly internalizing truth with a surrendered will. Righteous actions are intentional and premeditated. A Christ-like lifestyle comes from Christ-like thought patterns. “What would Jesus think?” (WWJT) should take precedence over “what would Jesus do?” (WWJD). If we are thinking correctly, correct actions will follow. How can we improve on the mindset found in the Beatitudes?

Jesus did not teach that we should do “salt things” and “light things.” He said, “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world.” How better can we be winsome witnesses for Christ in this corrupt and dark world than by living out the Beatitudes?

When Should We Disciple?

Ignatius of Loyola has been credited with saying, “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.” Who would dispute the importance of early childhood training? The same is true for the born-again child of God. The sooner we start to train a new believer about the character of Christ and living the Christ-life, the better. We don’t need to train a child how to steal or lie or have a temper tantrum. We don’t need to train born-again children of God how to be carnal or try to become perfect by their own human effort (Gal. 3:3). If we start discipling a “babe in Christ” with the Beatitudes, there is a good possibility that he or she will become mature in Christ.

The Beatitudes are so basic to living the Christian life that they need to be center stage in our spiritual formation. As we experience advanced phases of spiritual growth, we require deeper understanding of the Beatitudes. Call it exhorting, counseling, mentoring, coaching, tutoring, training, “equipping the saints for ministry,” or discipling, I believe this ministry is best built on the foundation of the Beatitudes.

How Are We Changed?

Becoming a Christian is infinitely more than just converting to a new religion. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17, NKJV). When we are born again, we become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). When we partake of a meal at the dinner table, we take in food that, through a digestive process, becomes energy which sustains life. So it is when Christ comes into our hearts by faith. He gives us His strength to live the Beatitudes. In the strictest use of the word, Christianity is not a religion; it is a life as described by the Beatitudes. Both the discipler and disciple need to be aware of this transformation.

Compare the Beatitudes with other lists of basic qualities in the New Testament—characteristics of love (1 Cor. 13); the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23); requirements for church leaders (1 Tim. 3 and Ti. 1); wisdom that comes from heaven (Jas. 3:17); intrinsic virtues to be added to our lives (2 Pet. 1:5-7). These verses describe attitudes that set the believer apart from the world. Obviously, there is overlap but I think it is possible to fit all of them under the eight-sided picture that Jesus gave us in the Beatitudes. 

Why Ask “Why”?

Think about all the problems we face today in our churches and culture. Instead of trying to fix them with “self-help” programs let’s begin with the Beatitudes—as Jesus did. So many of these problems are caused by an attitude of rebellion against proper authority that can be changed by the attitude of submission which Jesus had when He was here on earth. How about the attitude of demanding our personal rights rather than learning the meekness of Jesus? As opposed to the bitterness which is so prevalent today, let’s have a forgiving spirit when we are wronged—as Jesus had, and still has. As an alternative to being troublemakers, let’s be peacemakers. The sooner we start down this path, the better.

Even in a good vocational school or technical college, the training begins with the “why,” not just the “how.” They teach the theory and then go to the lab. The goal is for graduates to think for themselves and not just do their work robotically. The fitness instructor emphasizes the “core” muscles. We have more than 400 muscles in our bodies, and they are all somehow tied to the core. If the core is weak, the whole body will be weak. It is foolish to work on the extremities and ignore the core. If the core of an apple is rotten, the rest of the apple is rotten. The Beatitudes are the “core” of the Christian life.

So, what do the Beatitudes look like? In a quick, boiled-down summary, they are about:

  • Demonstrating dependent and submissive humility, not self-sufficient and rebellious pride
  • Being tender-hearted, not hard-hearted
  • Yielding personal rights and expectations to God rather than being self-assertive or having a demanding spirit
  • Having an insatiable, spiritual appetite for righteousness, not complacency or desiring lesser things
  • Maintaining a forgiving spirit, not a bitter spirit
  • Living a pure life on the inside rather than just being outwardly clean
  • Making peace, not being a quarrelsome trouble-maker
  • Rejoicing courageously when persecuted, not cowering in fear

These BE-attitudes are unnatural, radical, countercultural, counterintuitive, and far-reaching. They are impossible to live out apart from the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. The secret is not I, but Christ living in me (Gal. 2:20).

When we make disciples as Jesus did, we are joining God’s process of born-again believers being “conformed to the likeness of His Son”—which is His purpose for our lives. This is more important than anything else we do. Paul expressed his deepest desire in Galatians 4:19 when he wrote, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you . . .” We cannot form Christ in ourselves. Only Christ, by the Holy Spirit, can do that work in us. That is the message God has entrusted to us as disciple-makers.

For these reasons (and many more) I encourage you to consider making the Beatitudes a major part of your discipleship ministry—from the beginning through every stage of spiritual development. These are the character qualities that distinguish those who follow Christ from those who don’t. Don’t take any shortcuts. Jesus didn’t. After three and a half years of ministry there were only 120 disciples in the Upper Room. But look at what happened when they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and the exponential multiplication of disciples began to happen! 

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