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What is Intentional Discipleship? for 2/20

Ron Ford January 12, 2023
intentional disciples

What is Intentional Discipleship?

“And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”  Matthew 4:19–22 ESV

When two sets of brothers, Peter, Andrew, James and John heard Jesus’ voice and realized He was calling them to leave everything behind to follow him, they did exactly that. 

We don’t know how much they understood of what was coming or what it would mean to follow Jesus, but what is clear by their actions was that they were serious and intentional about going with Jesus wherever He went; they were intentional disciples. As they stuck with Jesus, the journey changed their understanding, their relationship with God, and their purpose for life.

In this group, when we talk about Intentional Discipleship, this is what we mean: 

Focus on Jesus to learn from Him what only he can teach us about who God is, who we are, and how to live our lives as the creator intended.

That is a short statement, but if we unpack it, you will see why it is so important to focus our attention on Jesus if you intend to be intentional as a disciple and to learn how to live, love and serve as He did in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Let’s go through this definition phrase by phrase.

The first phrase is “To Learn from Him (Jesus).”

Learning from Jesus will be a new idea for some people. They haven’t thought of him in that way before. For many Christians, Jesus is their hope of salvation and the main subject of the songs they sing and sermons they endure. But in truth, to their loss, Jesus isn’t relevant to how they live their everyday lives. 

Jesus, the man who lived in first-century Palestine, who taught about the Kingdom of God and healed the sick, doesn’t seem to have anything to do with life in the real world. That is not how the early followers of Jesus saw him at all. Consider how the book of Hebrews, chapter 12 begins: 

“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…”  Hebrews 12:1b ESV

Then see how Jesus’ directed his early disciples to keep their attention on himself. He said, 

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29

Our goal in this group is to help you make the mental shift, as needed, from Jesus on the periphery of your life to Jesus at the center, as the true source of your life. Jesus isn’t an option; he is a necessity. He provides the only way for you to become what you were created to be and to be empowered and equipped to do what you were created to do.

Because of the gift of Jesus’ indwelling Spirit, coupled with the resources of the scriptures and the community of Jesus’ body, every disciple of Jesus has the same opportunity to be discipled by Jesus, to hear from him, and to learn from him, as did the first disciples.

What was said about Peter and John in Acts 4 could be said of you as well if you set your heart to learn from Jesus as they did: 

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common [people], they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13 ESV

The second phrase is “About Who God Is.”

Everyone has some idea or mental picture in mind when they hear the word “God,” but it isn’t necessarily what the Bible means by that word. According to the bible, this isn’t a surprise. All of humanity is aware of God, but that doesn’t mean they know him or what he is really like.

For example, in his letter to the young church in Rome, Paul said, 

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” Romans 1:19,20 ESV

Paul referred to this universal human awareness of God when he spoke to the philosophers and city leaders gathered in the famous Areopagus in Athens, Greece. Paul said God had 

“made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Acts 17:26,27 ESV

However, Paul’s speech wasn’t intended to point out that everyone has an awareness or reverence for the divine. He went on to say, 

“What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”  Acts 17:23 ESV

What did Paul proclaim to them? Did he lecture them about a new philosophy? No, he told them about Jesus. 

The audacious claim of the Bible in the face of past and present religious pluralism is the claim that the most accurate revelation of the true God is a person, and his name is Jesus. 

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Hebrews 1:1,2 ESV

Consider Jesus’ own words, passed along to us by one of his disciples, John:

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’” John 14:6 ESV

“Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’”? John 14:8 ESV

I don’t know what ideas about God are in your mind as you come to this Open Table group, but you will better understand who God is after looking more closely at his Son, Jesus.

The third phrase “About Who We Are.”

Another mystery most people struggle to understand is the one about themselves. Confusion and self-doubt are common feelings most people in our culture struggle with. We are told that we result from mindless evolutionary forces and random chance. As many people in our culture are beginning to realize, this story of human origins doesn’t give us much to go on when trying to find meaning and purpose in life.

Jesus shows us what a real human life looks like. When we look at him carefully, we catch a glimpse of what the Sovereign Creator had in mind when he launched his creation project, and we see where God intends for us to end up if we will follow his son, Jesus.

The fourth phrase is “How to Live Our Lives as the creator intended.”

Worldview assumptions and cultural confusion did not cripple Jesus as they often do us. Moreover, Jesus promised that those who followed him would experience the freedom to live the kind of human life the Sovereign Creator intended. He said, 

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31,32 ESV

This freedom is, of course, freedom from the power of sin and death, but it is also the freedom to live a new life of power and purpose.

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” Titus 3:3 ESV

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,  whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7 ESV

Over the coming weeks, we hope to spend together in this group exploring what Jesus wants to teach us about living a life with God from which a lifetime relationship and ministry with Him will naturally flow.