The sign read “Ephrata.” My friends and I were traveling west on I-76, heading back to school after a last-minute trip to New York City. I had brought along John MacArthur’s classic, The Gospel According to Jesus. As I read about Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus, I was struck afresh by the fact that Jesus is my Lord. I knew this truth but I needed to be reminded that grateful obedience to my Lord Jesus is the appropriate response to the saving grace given by my Savior Jesus. Jesus does not just call us to trust him for forgiveness and salvation. He calls us to follow him as obedient disciples.
This is the second post on the topic of making disciples in your student ministry. The first post looked closely at the first two key verbs in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20: “Go” and “make disciples.” I argued there that “make disciples” is the goal of the Great Commission. In this second post, we will look closely at the next two verbs in Matthew 28:18-20: “Baptize” and “Teach.”
“Baptizing” and “teaching” are subsumed under the heading of “make disciples.” While these verbs are indicating how to make disciples to some extent, their focus is more on the appropriate response of those who become disciples. Furthermore, it is appropriate to ask, “When we make disciples, who are they disciples of?” The answer is King Jesus. Just as the eleven were called to follow Jesus, now every disciple of Jesus is to call others to follow him. What does “baptizing them” teach about the nature of discipleship?
First, those who are truly disciples of Jesus make a public confession and identification with Jesus at their baptism. This is where they proclaim to the world: “ I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV).
Second, the use of the preposition “in” indicates the idea of a relationship and the idea of submission. When believers publicly identify with Jesus by going through the waters of baptism, they symbolize what Christ did on their behalf in the cross and resurrection. Furthermore, they also indicate that they are entering into a relationship with the Godhead and that they recognize the Lordship of the Godhead in their lives.* Often, people are baptized “in the name of Jesus.” Whether the language simply includes Jesus’ name (cf. Acts 2:38; 8:16; et al.) or includes the Trinity, the idea is the same. Putting one’s faith in Jesus is tantamount to submitting to Jesus as Lord.
Disciples of Jesus no longer do as their flesh desires. The call to discipleship is a call to follow Jesus without hesitation or qualification. Baptism not only symbolizes the believer’s identification with the work of Christ. Baptism also signifies the believer’s submission to Jesus as Lord. You cannot separate the two.
A cursory reading of the Gospel of Matthew will testify to the absolute call that Jesus puts on every one of us. Matthew 4:18-20 tells us that Andrew and Peter left their nets and followed Jesus immediately. The same is reported for Matthew the Tax Collector (Matthew 9:9). Those who are unwilling to follow—such as the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22—are not disciples. Jesus made clear what discipleship looks like in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Your goal in student ministry is to convince students to deny themselves, take up their cross, and to follow Jesus in discipleship. This applies to students who are not believing. This applies to students who have believed but are not bearing fruit in their lives. This even applies to students who are striving to please Jesus and are bearing fruit in their lives. In fact, this applies to all of us. We all are called daily to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. Again, as a student minister, discipleship is the primary thing you do and it is your primary goal.
This last verb tells us the goal of making disciples. Disciples repent of their sins, put their trust in Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross, and believe that they have secured God’s forgiveness through the merit of Jesus. Disciples then publicly proclaim their identification with and submission to Jesus at Baptism. Finally, the goal is that these disciples obey Jesus in everything. The calling to teach is significant for your ministry philosophy. It is significant because it is so easy to lose sight of this latter requirement. It is far too easy to focus on many other good things. Nevertheless, you must teach them the Word of God and you must teach your students to emulate Christ. The “everything” is helpful here as it reminds us that every one of Jesus’ teachings remain relevant. They never go out of style, lose their potential to change students lives, or become irrelevant. They may be politically incorrect, unpopular, and difficult. Further, Jesus’ teachings affirmed the validity of all Scripture for believers. “Everything” means that you need to teach all of God’s word in order to make disciples of Jesus. You cannot compromise on this.
In my own student ministry, I confess that I have been too easily satisfied with students simply showing up with a cheerful face. While participation is a great thing to rejoice in, we must not lose sight of the goal. We cannot compromise on this because we cannot compromise souls. Students either accept Jesus as both Savior and Lord, thus becoming his disciples, or they reject him as Savior and Lord and choose to live in condemnation. Discipleship is the primary thing you do because the eternal hope of your students hangs in the balance.
If you are just calling students to believe in Jesus and are not also calling them to obey Jesus, you are not fulfilling the Great Commission. This is not to say that you cannot have dedicated events that focus on different aspects of ministry: relationship building, evangelism, discipleship, etc. Whatever goes into your ministry calendar, make sure that there is a balance in your ministry and that you are clear about the cost of discipleship with your students: believing in and following Jesus requires absolute obedience.
Jesus is our Savior but he is also our Lord. As Ephesians 2:8-9 makes clear, we are saved by faith in the work of Jesus Christ alone: “8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The next verse goes on to make clear that working for King Jesus (i.e. Lordship) is the immediate fruit/result that bears witness to that free salvation: “10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
For every person the Lord Jesus saves and calls into discipleship, he has a plan for their lives. He expects them to walk in it. This plan includes good works and it includes sanctification. Romans 8:29 tells us that every believer is “predestined to be conformed to the image of His son.” How glorious is it that Jesus invites us to join Him in the task of transforming people into His image for His glory? The simple and constant guiding force behind your student ministry is this: make disciples of Christ. Making disciples is more than just the primary thing you do. It is essential. Making disciples is what you must do.
Jesus Is With You
The Lord of the universe is giving to His church the authority to make disciples. This task is urgent, breathtaking, and marvelous. Your ministry must evangelize students, disciple them, and teach them. These comprehensive commands define the mission of the church and hold every believer in their grip. This is the GREAT commission! It is nothing less than fundamental. This is the objective of your student ministry because it is the objective for which Jesus gave His life.
The great news is that you have every reason to be confident in this task. Why? You can be confident in your efforts at making disciples because Jesus promises to be with you. Other passages of Scripture teach us that Jesus is with us through the work of the Holy Spirit. He has sent the Holy Spirit as a help and comfort who will “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Stop and take notice of this beautiful promise. You are called to make disciples. Jesus has sent God himself—the Holy Spirit—to aid you in that task. What else could you possibly need? Nothing. King Jesus has given you everything you need to be successful in obeying his commands.
There are many other passages we could turn to that make this same point. I would encourage you to look at these other passages on your own time as you form a ministry plan:
- The relationship between Paul and Timothy provides a model of discipleship (cf. 2 Timothy 3:10-17)
- Jesus’ relationship with the disciples in the Gospel also provides a model of discipleship for you to follow. This is most prominent in the Gospel of Matthew, especially Matthew 8-10 and 16-18.
- Ephesians 4:11-16 makes it clear that a key component of discipleship is “equipping the saints for the work of ministry.”
- Colossians 1:28 tells us that the goal of discipleship is to “present everyone mature in Christ.”
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17 makes it clear that God has given us his breathed-out and inerrant word to reprove, correct, and train in righteousness so “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Word of God trains and equips disciples to follow and obey Jesus as they should.
These are important texts that you must pay attention to as you think about your ministry philosophy. Nevertheless, Matthew 28:18-20 provides you with the 30,000 foot overview that will put you on a trajectory of faithfulness.
Please stay tuned into this series as the next 7 posts will dig down more into what discipleship can and should look like in your student ministry.
If you missed it, here is part 1 of why you must make disciples.
For Discussion: How has the Great Commission influenced your approach to Student Ministry?
*D.A. Carson, Matthew in The Expositors Bible Commentary, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 597.