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Understanding The Theological Context of Biblical Discipleship

We saw in the first lecture that being a disciple of Christ involves being called to be with him and to know him, as well as to follow him, and to make disciples of other people. Now, it is reasonable to ask for a broader context for this duty. Where does it fit in God’s overall plan? In the next two lectures we will look at the broader theological and relational contexts for Christ’s call to discipleship. It is crucial to understand this so that when times get tough—and they will—we do not get unnecessarily confused and disheartened about God’s work in our lives and in the world. You will need to spend time teaching your disciples this. Like you and me, they too need to understand and believe it.

IA. Theological Context: The Plan of God—”A People for His Name”

1B. The Progress of the Kingdom of God and Discipleship

1C. Abrahamic Covenant

The point of mentioning the Abrahamic covenant here is that it demonstrates that God’s plan centers on blessing people; that’s what He’s about. That’s what discipleship is all about. It involves blessing people with intentionality.

God promised Abraham many wonderful things, including (1) seed (a nation to come from his loins); (2) a land to live in; (3) the personal blessing of an esteemed name and reputation, and (4) universal blessing (i.e., blessing to the entire world through Abraham). Thus, from the very beginning of creation God’s plan has been to bless people. His choice of Abraham reveals the personal and universal nature of that plan.

Genesis 12:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you. 12:2 Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, in order that you might be a prime example of divine blessing. 12:3 I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you.”

The Abrahamic covenant prepares us for all God’s future dealings with people, setting forth in seedbed form the foundation of the Davidic and New covenants, as we shall see. Before we look at them, however, and how they relate to the Abrahamic covenant, the Davidic covenant, and discipleship, we need to say a brief word about the Mosaic Law.

2C. The Mosaic Covenant

Some time after God had given Abraham and his posterity the Abrahamic covenant, he established the Law in Israel through Moses. It is important to note that to be in relationship with God, through his grace, implies that we live a certain way (e.g., Titus 2:1-15, esp. vv. 11-12). We cannot live any way we please and at the same time claim to know God (Titus 1:16). Our lives betray the lie. So, in keeping with his eternal holiness, God in his grace revealed the Law to Moses so that the children of Israel might understand what it means to walk with and live for God. The Law did not give them a relationship with God, but was rather given to them because they were in relationship with God—the God who had redeemed them from Egypt. All its ceremonial and social orientations were temporary until the sacrifice of Christ and it itself—as a whole—points to Christ (Rom 3:21; Gal 3:23-25). The holy standards of the law are still in effect though interpreted and applied by our Lord and his apostles in light of the new covenant (Matt 5:18-20; Rom 8:3-4; 13:8-10). For example, the demand to “have no other Gods before me,” as spoken in Exodus 20:3, and the prohibition against idolatry (Exodus 20:4) are applied in discipleship in terms of the Lordship of Christ and the exclusive worship due to Him alone. We saw in lecture one that we, as adherents of our Lord, are to cling to Him and follow him only. We are not to chase after other gods. We do not have to sacrifice goats, lambs, etc. nor are we to separate from people on an ethnic basis, but we are to live holy lives to the Lord. We are not to steal, lie, covet, murder, commit adultery, or misuse the name of the Lord.

1D. Deuteronomy 4:12-13

4:13 And he revealed to you the covenant he has commanded you to keep, the ten commandments, writing them on two stone tablets. 4:14 Moreover, at that same time the Lord commanded me to teach you statutes and ordinances for you to keep in the land to which you are going as your inheritance.

2D. Galatians 3:21-25

3:21 Is the law therefore opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that was able to give life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 3:22 But the scripture imprisoned everything and everyone under sin so that the promise could be given—because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ—to those who believe. 3:23 Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed. 3:24 Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith. 3:25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

3D. Hebrews 8:13

When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear.

4D. Romans 8:3-4

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened , God did by sending his own son in the likeness of sinful man to be s sinful offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according tot he sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

5D. Romans 13:8-10

13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 13:9 For the commandments, “do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet,” (and if there is any other commandment) are summed up in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

3C. The Davidic Covenant

The promise given to David concerns seed, the guarantee of a throne, and the promise that a house/temple would be built for Yahweh. Thus the Davidic covenant is really an expansion and development of the Abrahamic covenant, in particular, the seed aspect. It guarantees that the blessing God promised to the world will always be available through His chosen or anointed king. The question is, will the people be able to receive it? The Jeremiah or New covenant answers that question.

1D. 2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16

7:12 When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. 7:13 He will build a house for my name, and I will make his dynasty permanent7:16 Your house and your kingdom will stand before me permanently; your dynasty will be permanent.”

2D. Psalm 89:29

I will give him an eternal dynasty, and make his throne as enduring as the skies above.

3D. Acts 13:32-33

13:32 And we proclaim to you the good news about the promise to our ancestors, 13:33 that this promise God has fulfilled to us, their children, by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have fathered you.’

4C. The New Covenant

The Israelites, and all men by extension (cf. Romans 3:19-20), are completely unable to keep God’s holy Law. The Mosaic covenant did not answer the question of sin once and for all. Therefore, God established a new and different covenant with his people. In this covenant, often referred to as the new covenant, God promises to do several things, including forgive sin, write his law on the heart of his people, put his Spirit in our hearts, and abide with us as his people forever. This is the way in which he will fulfill his promise to Abraham that he would bless the world through him.

1D. Jeremiah 31:31-34

31:31 “Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 31:32 It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. For they violated that agreement, even though I was a faithful husband to them,” says the Lord. 31:33 “But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the Lord. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. And I will be their God and they will be my people. 31:34 “People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me. That is because all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,” says the Lord. “All of this is based on the fact that I will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done.”

2D. Ezekiel 26:26-27

36:26 I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. 36:27 I will put my spirit within you, and I will make you walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances, and you will do them.

5C. The Coming of Christ and the Pouring Out of the Spirit at Pentecost: The New Covenant Fulfilled in Inaugural Fashion

The New Testament repeatedly teaches, by explicit statement, allusion, and example, that through Christ—the divinely anointed Davidic Messiah—God has fulfilled the New Covenant in at least an inaugural way and has, once and for all, answered the problem of man’s sin and Satan. Certainly the first coming, with Christ’s death and resurrection, fulfills all the necessary, foundational requirements for the New Covenant. The promised blessings have been instituted though their full realization awaits the millennium and the eternal state. He has found an eternal basis upon which to forgive our sin (i.e., the cross and resurrection), write his law on our heart, and give us the Holy Spirit in a new and powerful way. He has found an eternal basis upon which to bless his people forever. The new covenant does not lower God’s holy standards in any way, nor does it reduce the need for our participation in God’s work. Rather, it calls us to the place where we are forgiven, cleansed, empowered, and sent out with the knowledge of his presence and his constant work in the hearts of other people. By the power of the Spirit we labor with him in the ministry of the gospel and discipleship (1 Cor 3:9-11).

1D. Luke 22:15-20

22:20 And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

2D. Acts 2:1-4, 33

2:1 Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2:2 Suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting. 2:3 And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them. 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them…2:33 So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he [Jesus] has poured out what you both see and hear.

3D. 1 Corinthians 3:9-10

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.

4D. 2 Corinthians 3:5-6

3:5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 3:6 who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

6C. The Consummation

The Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenants all point in one direction: they affirm the idea that God has always wanted a people for himself, whom he could call his own, love, and bless. His people, on the other hand, have always needed him and desired to know, love, and enjoy their God forever. This thought runs throughout Scripture culminating in its ultimate realization in the eternal state.

1D. Exodus 19:5-6

19:5 And now, if you will diligently obey me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine. 19:6 And you will be my kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

2D. Leviticus 26:12

26:12 I will walk about among you, and I will be your God and you will be my people.

3D. Jeremiah 32:38

32:38 They will be my people, and I will be their God.

4D. Ezekiel 37:27

37:27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.

5D. 2 Corinthians 6:16

6:16 And what mutual agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, “I will live in them and will walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

6D. Revelation 21:3-4

21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among men and women. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 21:4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain; the former things have ceased to exist.”

2B. The Incarnation and Cross: Kingdom Discipleship in Action

Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, became man and pitched his tent among us (John 1:14). God did not yell from heaven, but rather sent his Son into the world to be with us. He was full of grace and truth and as such he teaches us about love for God and proper relationships with people. Indeed, his greatest act of love involved going to the cross to secure our salvation. He became obedient to the point of suffering death by a cross. Then God highly exalted him and gave him a name that is above every name.

Jesus, then, provides the quintessential pattern of discipleship and its ultimate theological backdrop: humble obedience and service followed by exaltation. Notice the order; first, sacrificial service, then eternal exaltation. It’s not the other way around. Therefore, discipleship is all about love for God and love for people: loving and serving God by sacrificially loving and serving people. The discipler has a servant’s heart for that is what he/she really is!

1C. John 1:14-18—Jesus: God Dwelling with His People

1:14 Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. 1:15 John testified about him and cried out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” 1:16 For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. 1:17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. 1:18 No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in the presence of the Father, has made God known.

2C. Philippians 2:6-11—The Example of Discipleship

2:6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 2:7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 2:8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross! 2:9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 2:11 and every tongue confess to the glory of God the Father that Jesus Christ is Lord.

3B. Our Triune God and the Great Commission

In light of New Testament revelation, we now know that it was the Triune God who was at work in the life of Abraham, promising blessing to the ends of the earth. We know that it was He who chose David as His king and the vehicle through which He would bless his people. We also know that it was He who promised his Spirit as the One who would regenerate His people, sanctify them, and equip them for His service. All along it has been the divine community working out His plan for the world. And now we too are called to know the Father, through the Son, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit. The God who promises to bless the ends of the earth is a Trinity and we have come to know him as such. And, it is in His Trinitarian name that we have been commissioned to go out and be His instruments for the fulfillment of his plan of blessing, i.e., the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). We make disciples “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We are thus sent out to establish a community on earth after the fashion of the divine community in heaven.

IIA. Summary

In the first lecture we focused on understanding what the term “disciple” means and how it relates—in an introductory sort of way—to being a disciple of Christ. But when Christ commanded discipleship from his followers, as he also does today, it is helpful to understand the broad theological context in which he utters that command. It is helpful to know how God’s work today relates to what he has done before and will do in the future.

We saw that discipleship, as God’s plan for the church, is the way he has ordained to bring the blessing promised to Abraham to the world. He has given us a permanent king in the Lord Jesus who has bestowed on us the Spirit. Through the Spirit we are transformed into the image of Christ, grow in our commitment to personal discipleship, and are empowered to love, serve, and disciple others—even the nations.

Thus, understanding the broad theological context will strengthen your personal commitment to discipleship and discipling others. You will go forth in humble confidence, knowing you are right in the middle of God’s will and plan for your life and the world. You will get a clear picture of where you fit in the unfolding of God’s plan to bless the nations. And, learning the theological backdrop for Christ’s call to make disciples of all nations helps you to better understand the Bible, how it relates to your ministry, and how to teach it to others.

Remember, God’s plan of blessing the world is wrapped up in securing a people for himself. As you go and minister to others you contribute to His plans to bless the world and call out of darkness a people for himself.

IIIA. Questions for Thought

1. What were the four Biblical covenants we looked at in this lesson? How do the Davidic and New covenants relate to the Abrahamic?

2. How does the Mosaic covenant relate to the other three covenants?

3. In relation to these covenants, what is the one theme that runs throughout Scripture?

4. How does the Great Commission relate to each of these covenants?

5. Where does the incarnation and cross fit into the covenants we studied and how does it relate to discipleship?

6. How has studying the plan of God throughout Scripture helped you regarding your personal commitment to Christ in discipleship? Your commitment to discipling others?

Related Topics: Discipleship