Series | Making Disciples
The Christian life begins at regeneration when God creates new life in a spiritually dead person. From the human perspective this is called conversion as we recognize repentance and belief as God’s work. But conversion isn’t the goal of the Great Commission. Christ did not call us to make converts who sit around and wait for heaven. Conversion is simply the start.
The goal is Christlikeness. So instruction in truth, training for obedience, and encouragement toward Christlikeness–edifying–is how disciple-making continues. To edify means to build up, to strengthen, to develop and improve. So we labor not only for others to profess Christ as Lord but to walk in a manner worthy of their Lord.1
One of the clearest summons to edification is Ephesians 4:13-16. Every Christian ministers for the purpose of
building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
The emphasis is on building up (vv. 12, 16), maturing (vv. 13, 15), and strengthening (v. 14). The disciple-making job isn’t finished until everyone reaches the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. So until God glorifies us at our death or Christ’s return, there is building of the Body to do.
To this second circle on our bullseye we instruct and encourage for the sake of spiritual growth. We want every believer to live the gospel. We train disciples to obey Christ, studying the life of Jesus and then following in His steps. The New Testament spills over with descriptions of this ever-progressing Christian life: observing everything Christ commanded, becoming complete/mature/perfect in Christ, being conformed to the image of Christ, attaining to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, and growing up in every way into Christ.
One additional label for this process is sanctification, a term that describes the widening separation from sin and intensifying consecration for God that should mark disciple in this target level. It applies to all believers and remains our objective until the end. Christians are saved from the penalty of sin and sanctified from the power of sin. Therefore, making disciples requires not only evangelizing, but edifying.
On a practical note, small groups are a great place to help one another cultivate Christlikeness. They are like a sturdy crock for stirring one another up to love and good works, keeping everyone in the pot until all the necessary ingredients are mixed in. Then we help those who are ready to move on to the third level.