Does discipleship begin before someone is saved? I have heard that the work of the disciple maker is to make relationships that lead people to Christ. I am fully in agreement. I do believe that we make friends, be friends, and then introduce them to our friend, Jesus. The idea of friendship and showing Christ is not discipleship, much to the dismay of many prechers and ministry leaders. Please don’t take my word for it, let’s look to God’s Word for answers.
The Great Commission says in Matthew 28:16-20 says:
But the eleven disciples went into Galilee, unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. 17 And when they saw him, they [a]worshipped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: 20 teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you [b]always, even unto [c]the end of the world.
This passage is a command with an understood YOU go and make disciples. The word disciple is a Greek term, matathres, which means learners. What are they supposed to learn? Later in the passage, we see Jesus give the imperative to “teach them everything I have taught you..” His directions have a purpose that many are intertwining, and it takes the passage out of the prescribed order. (Isn’t that what we say the lost does, disturb Gods order of things?) The order is:
- Make disciples or learners. This is evangelism. The notion that we begin discipleship with the lost does not make sense in the context of the Word. Look at what Paul says to the Corinthian Church: 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “… the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. How can the lost, or the perishing be learners if they have still look at the Word of God as foolishnes? They are not being disciples. They are in need of an evangelist. The biblical Greek is translated from”one who brings good news” and it is synonymous with the word for Gospel, thus the call is to go and evangelize the word, making disciples out of them.
- Baptizing. When an evangelist, which is our basic calling, shares the Gospel and one is brought into faith in Christ, the believer is to be baptized. This is not salvation, this is the outward sign of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and the believers identification as one who has believed on the ressurection of Christ as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and establishing unity with the Body of Christ, the church.
- Now we get to the essence of what discipleship really is. Jesus telling His disciples to teach them everything He had taught them. One must be a believer, and expressed that belief in baptism before being truly ready to be a learner. Yes, baptism should come before discipleship. Jesus is seeking for His people to fulfill their role in the kingdom by spreading the Good News, making disciples, and then being the teacher that models the behaviors of what a Christian is supposed to be, whie equipping their disciple to know and understand how to live a life according to the Word of God and then, teaching them to go and make disciples.
We do not disciple the lost. We share the Good News with them. Sure, we befriend them, but our purpose is to allow that friendship to lead to a presentation of the Gospel. We do not sit too long trying to do friendship evangelism, we have to eventually risk the loss of of a friend because we talked about Jesus and His life, His death (and the reason He died), and His ressurection. When we say discipleship begins before salvation, we miss the point of disciple making and what happens to a disciple in the Church. It is no wonder that the church has become so clueless about the Word of God,