The religious answer is “get baptized,” or “ask Jesus into your heart,” or “join the church,” or “keep the sacraments,” or “be good.” These are all forms of performance indicating a works-gospel.
Jesus actually answered the question different ways.
To the Pharisee who came to Him under the cover of darkness, Jesus said, “You must be born again.” The new birth is not something accomplished by the sinner but something given to him or her. The sinner is passive while God does the work of salvation.
To the rich young ruler, Jesus said to sell all that he owned, give the proceeds to the poor, and then tag along with Him. Surely this was something that the young man could do. Jesus called upon activity and not passivity. The question was, would he do it? Would he obey Jesus and give all of his wealth away? Sadly, he didn’t.
The answer is: becoming a Christian requires something to be done to you—“you must be born again,” but being a Christian requires you to do something—be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus said if you are to be a Christian, you must deny yourself, pick up a cross, and follow Him.
But what about Jesus’ answer to the young rich ruler? Did it negate the miracle of regeneration? No, in fact, it did just the opposite. It showed him his need for it. Apart from the new birth, we cannot keep the commandments of God. That was what Jesus was trying to show him. He could not save himself by his works because there was something fundamentally wrong with his heart that would not allow him to trust and obey Christ. Had he believed the Lord’s answer, he would have obeyed.
Thus, to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus, one must experience the gracious activity of God converting the heart, which is to turn it toward righteousness. But that is not the sum of salvation. After regeneration, the new convert can start being and doing what Christ demands. What does He demand? He demands discipleship.
Discipleship is the heartbeat of Jesus’ Christianity. It does not save the Christian, but it is for those whom God has saved. It is not an option. There is no Christian faith without some form of discipleship. For several decades, the churches in Europe and America have not required discipleship as a condition of being a Christian. No longer does Christianity demand discipleship, but we see people remaining in the church without any signs of progress in it. This is so remote from Jesus’ explanation of being His follower.
With the plethora of information on discipleship, you would think we would not need to discuss the definition. Yet, a great deal of confusion exists about the subject. I do believe we see much improvement with a new enthusiasm for discipleship by certain groups. These ministries are going a long way to make the necessary changes in our discipleship paradigms. But it has yet to gain steam and roll through most of conservative evangelicalism.
To understand the New Testament view of discipleship we need to know how discipleship was done in the first century, since this would have been the context of how Jesus defined it. In our Lord’s era, rabbinical discipleship meant more than academics. It was much more than having weekly Bible studies. A rabbi and his pupils would live together for as long as the rabbi deemed necessary. They would eat together, travel together, and study together. There were structured formal times of study, but for the most part, the discipleship process was very informal, and mostly came by the disciple observing the way the rabbi lived.
The relationship of the student to the teacher was so full of respect that the pupil would even walk behind the master. His entire life was in submission to the discipler. That is why the disciples often called Jesus “Master.” It was the title a disciple maker would receive from students and non-students alike.
Another way you could describe first-century discipleship is much like a father/son relationship. The teacher viewed his disciples as sons and he cared for them, provided for them (usually the education was at the rabbi’s expense), and praised or admonished them as a father would a son.
I had the privilege of meeting Jaquelle last year at a writer’s workshop at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference and my soul immediately connected with hers. She is a light in this generation, full of humility-cloaked wisdom and grace, and a gentle but fierce warrior for the Gospel. Out of the overflow of God’s work in her life, she has written This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years (Crossway, 2017).
And it is a necessary gem for the church.
If you could potentially encounter a teen at some point in your life, you should read it. It’s that important. This is for teens, yes, but also for parents, teachers, and the entirety of the church.
As a youth leader, I’m grateful for Jaquelle’s beautiful heart and her desire to see this generation of teenagers changed and motivated by the only thing worth living and dying for. Within this book, she powerfully speaks truth as a peer, honors her parents who have modeled the Best Story in front of her, and drives readers toward the one thing that will give them eternal incentive to swim against the tides of the culture: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It really does change everything.
Sophie McDonald: Why is it important for teenagers to be involved in a local church? What’s their role and function?
Jaquelle Crowe: The Bible is pretty clear about calling every single Christian to be involved in a local church—and nowhere does it exclude teenage Christians. Teenagers have the same role in the local church as any other Christian—to be servant-members who worship, sacrifice, give, love, fellowship and are held accountable in the context of covenant community. How they actually function will look different because of their age, but it won’t change their fundamental role or position. The church doesn’t have an age limit.
SM: Life for a teenager is primarily a self-focused time (picking colleges, classes, friend groups, activities, etc.); how does the Gospel change that?
JC: Without the Gospel, everyone lives a purely self-focused life, dictated by our own selfish desires, dreams, and motivations. But the Gospel strips us of this idolatry and gives us an identity as submissive slaves to Jesus. For teenagers, He is Lord of our lives now, so in a radical act of counter-culturalism, we pick colleges, classes, friends, activities, and everything with the ultimate purpose of honoring God first and submitting our lives to His word.
SM: You say teenagers don’t have to rebel. Why? Expound on that.
JC: Culture expects teenagers to rebel. It’s become more than just a stereotype; it’s a pervasive assumption. But the Gospel calls teens to submit to Scripture’s expectations, not the world’s. The Gospel actually gives us a reason not to rebel—because we serve a faithful, peace-making God.
SM: How can teenagers join the greater Story and push back the darkness, or, as you say in the book, reject the status quo?
JC: Teenagers face overwhelming pressure and temptation to conform to culture. But the Gospel invites us to join this greater, bigger, happier Story by trusting in the redeeming work of Jesus. Living for this Story means we fight the temptation to be accepted by the world and all that it believes in and choose instead to stand for the truths of the Gospel.
Three church plants in this region are countering the spiritual decline with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. One Monday, May 15, Brother Mack Tomlinson and I pulled into the driveway of lead pastor and senior church planter, David Storey. David and his gracious wife Lisa welcomed us into their home and hearts. We went to be a blessing to them but ended up the ones greatly blessed by God’s activity in New Brunswick.
Eleven years ago, the Lord brought David and Lisa back to his hometown of Doaktown to plant a church. David burdened for the perishing in the area, would pray and weep over a long list of people he knew. In the ensuing years, God has done a steady work of saving sinners. Although Doaktown has a population of 793, the church runs on average 175, with visitors almost every Sunday.
This fervor for evangelism has spread to many of the converts in the churches and believers are sharing with families and friends the Gospel that can transform them.
Each night, but Thursday, we were in one of the church plants in Doaktown, Fredericton, or Richibucto. In each church, we found vibrant New Testament Christianity. The majority of the folks in the churches range in age from 20s to 40s, and every service has unconverted people attending.
On Sunday morning, I preached at Cornerstone Church of Richibucto, a two-year-old church plant pastored by Brother Chris Sippley. Chris is a young pastor advanced beyond his years. Many unbelievers were in attendance and, as I preached, the Spirit of the Lord pierced many hearts. Many people wept as the word of God was declared. I counseled some after the service who admitted that God had exposed their hearts and they knew they were lost and needed His mercy. Please, join me in praying that the seeds Brother Mack and I planted and watered will germinate and produce much fruit for the Lord.
A cabin nestled in a pine forest overlooking the Miramichi River was our backdrop. There were nearly 20 of us there and the Lord blessed us all. Both Mack and I spoke to the pastors, Mack about the theology of pastoring, and I about the importance of personally feeding on Christ so that we, as pastors, can feed Christ to our sheep. The Q &A times were especially rich and valuable. We can only thank the Lord for how He conducted our time with these dear brothers.
What we found in the budding spring of New Brunswick is one of the strongest works of God that I have seen in years. Please lift these churches under David’s leadership in prayer. Pray for pastors David, Chris, and Corey, as well as the other elders who serve the churches. Their hearts burn to see many more churches planted throughout the New Brunswick province.
Mack and I ministered in Redeeming Grace Fellowship Church in Portland, Maine the weekend before our trek north into Canada. While there, Mack performed pastoral visits and counsel to this church plant of Providence Chapel, Denton, Texas, where Mack is an elder. On Sunday, he and I both preached to an eager and hungry fellowship. I preached evangelistically on The Righteousness that Saves, from Romans 10:3-5. Brother Mack preached on the Theology of Singing and encouraged the saints with why God has given us the gift of singing to each other and Him.
This is a wonderful group of saints serving Christ in Portland under the leadership of Jeff Hebert. Please pray for them as they desperately desire to sow and reap the Gospel harvest in New England.
Even though you were not there physically with Mack or me, you were there in spirit by your prayers. I only hope you truly know how much work is done by prayer and not to be credited to our efforts alone. I remind you and my heart of what the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians, “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7). To God be the praise for the great things He has done and is doing!
Come on in and experience Christian writing committed to the old paths and ancient ways of apostolic Christianity that still believes Sola Scriptura.
This edition focuses on discipleship. And although you may think you already know all there is to know about it, we invite you to join us as we look at discipleship through the lens of both the discipler and the discipled. I’ll never forget when it dawned on me that what I thought about discipleship was not true and that I actually had no clue about it. I had been pastoring Oak Grove Baptist Church for about seven years when this realization occurred. Then, for the next several months, I studied the life of Jesus in the Gospels and observed how He made disciples. It was revolutionary; a turning point in my ministry.
Frankly, systems of discipleship assume that all persons are the same and will fit the cookie cutter mold. But that is false. All of us are distinct persons, which means each of our personalities, life experiences, environment, and education will resist systems and require individuality. Jesus did not deal with Peter as He dealt with John, and He didn’t disciple John in the same way He did Bartholomew. There were things He did with all the men at the same time, but I’m sure that if we could see His individual time with each of the twelve, it would not have been similar.
In fact, Jesus still doesn’t develop us in the same ways. My experiences with Christ will not be like your experiences with the Master Discipler. He meets us where we are and, more importantly, He meets us as we are. His approach and manner with you would probably not work with another. What an amazing Jesus we have!
We define discipleship, share insights on discipling children—especially teens—and wisdom from modern discipleship pioneers.
Please help us distribute this magazine by encouraging others to download the RTM app. We do not spend money marketing this ministry or magazine; therefore, we need readers like you to tell other potential readers about us. Thank you so much and “go and make disciples.”
If so, how do we go about searching out the nuances of life’s most vital matters without falling into the sin of unbelief?
God spoke through His prophet Isaiah and gave Israel this invitation:
Come now, let us reason (or dispute) together. –Isaiah 1:18
As we grow in the knowledge of God—His character, how He works, His will for us, etc.—there will be natural theological questions that arise. “Just have faith” will not be a sufficient answer. Hard questions require more than bumper sticker answers. These inquiries are not inherently sinful; they are the result of mortal people attempting to understand the immortal God as He has revealed Himself. The questions surrounding this immortal God of ours get quite complicated.
With that stated, a devious trap must be avoided when wrangling with many deeper theological concepts. Our thoughts can easily lead us beyond simple inquiry to doubt, or even further progress into outright unbelief. We must be careful how we navigate these issues.
The Bible shows us that God is sovereign, independent, self-governing, autonomous. The Bible also reveals that God has chosen to work in concert through real people, accomplishing His grand purposes through—not independent of—His people. On the surface those two sentences seem paradoxical, impossibly inconsistent. How can God be completely in charge and at the same time choose to work—or choose to risk His work—through sinful, stubborn people?
I can ask those questions and attempt to find what God has revealed in His Word. I could also regress, however, into trusting my questions— questions that sow seeds of unbelief—more than God’s revelation. One approach seeks out a matter in order to know God’s answers; the other criticizes revelation on the basis of fallen intellect. Reasonable questions that lead to a greater knowledge of God glorify Him. Unbelief reeks of pride.
In answering the question of how God’s sovereignty is married to His determination to work with fallen people, we admit that much of the answer has yet to be uncovered for us. However, there is a key to reconciling these two truths. God has sovereignly chosen to use particular means of grace to accomplish His greater purpose, and His greater purpose will be accomplished. God hasn’t risked His work at all. He has planned out the details of His intricate plan, not just the result.
In other words, God doesn’t simply choose the end destination for us; He has determined the road we’ll take and the vehicle that gets us there. The two principles of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility do not create a paradox; they work in tandem. God’s plan is so complete that He doesn’t just decide what should happen; He knows how to make it happen in the perfect way.
This is why the God who controls all things, who never has His purposes thwarted, who designed all, sees all, knows all, controls all, and needs nothing from us in order to accomplish His will, looks at us and says “you do not have because you do not ask (James 4:2).” God uses prayer. He has determined to use prayer as a particular means of grace to accomplish His greater purpose.
In the same way, God has determined to use faith. We make a mistake if we talk about God as if He were not able to do something because we don’t exercise enough faith; this tends to miss the point of God’s supernatural ability to do all that He pleases. However, the Scripture is clear that God has determined to work through faith; and God has chosen to limit or cut off what He blesses in the absence of faith. A quick study of Scripture bears this fact out.
Jesus didn’t do many miracles in His hometown because of the unbelief of the people (Matt. 13; Mark 6). The disciples couldn’t cast out demons because of their unbelief (Matt. 17). Israel fell as a nation and were “broken off” because of the people’s unbelief (Romans 11). The original generation of Israelites who left Egypt did not get into the Promised Land because of unbelief (Hebrews 3 and 4). And the admonition to the reader is for us to not make the same foolish mistake that inevitably leads to the same horrible consequences.
The sin of unbelief is more than having doubts, and it is certainly more than posing legitimate questions. Unbelief looks at God’s revelation and says, “I don’t trust You.” It criticizes God’s promises with a skeptical “I hear You; but it’s not enough. Your Word isn’t enough for me.”
Unbelief casts doubts on God’s character—His trustworthiness, His goodness, His honesty. A humble approach will prove God’s character to be all the more dependable. Faith takes God at His word. Faith takes our questions and searches out the mysteries of God’s revelation so we will believe in Him all the more.
In the preface of his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Bunyan, who was born in 1628 in Bedfordshire, England, said, “It is profitable for Christians to often call to mind the very beginnings of grace in their souls.” It is the Giver of that grace whom Bunyan seeks to magnify as he recounts his journey of salvation.
In that journey, we find Bunyan no stranger to unbelief but rather one who wrestled extensively with heavy doubts, guilt, and condemnation, often arguing that God could not save him.
Sin and corruption would as naturally bubble out of my heart as water would bubble out of a fountain. I thought now that everyone had a better heart than I had; I could have changed hearts with anybody. I thought none but the devil himself could equalize me for inward wickedness and pollution of mind. I fell at the sight of my own vileness into deep despair, for I concluded that this condition that I was in could not stand with a state of grace. Sure, I thought, I am forsaken of God; sure I am given up to the devil and to a reprobate mind. And thus I continued a long while, even for several years.
In full disclosure I admit that as I read Bunyan’s story, I found myself getting so impatient (and sometimes frustrated) with the length of his conviction period that I would catch myself subconsciously praying that God would save him and relieve him from the weight of his doubts and paralyzing unbelief. Then I saw myself in his place. Praise for a God who is patient and forbearing with the frailty of our flesh. What a Savior.
During his years of battling for belief, the already vulnerable Bunyan was constantly plagued with the Accuser’s taunting, torments, and distortion of the truth. As you read the following excerpts, perhaps you will see, as I did, that the enemy of our souls has no new material but continues only to repackage the same lies he’s used for centuries. “Same cake, different party,” as my dad says.
However, because he still remained in the flesh the battle with unbelief never ended but victory was gained.
I leave you with two final quotes from the book. These were penned while Bunyan was in prison for not conforming to the Church of England. All glory to our Conquering King.
I have never in all my life had so great an inlet into the Word of God as now. The Scriptures that I saw nothing in before are made to shine on me in this place and state.
I never knew what it was like to have God stand by me at every turn and every offer of Satan to afflict me as I have found Him since I came here. For as fears have presented themselves, so have support and encouragement.
There was something specific He led me to pursue, something big and crazy that only He could bring about. Although it thrust me into waters deeper than I felt equipped to navigate, after much prayer and seeking wise counsel, I plunged forward.
For several months, the path was remarkably straight and smooth. I prayed that if this particular path was not going to lead to His best for me, that He would stop me and show another direction to go, but step after step propelled me forward and everything was falling into place. I prayed all year that I would want Him more than I wanted this dream, even as I prayed that He would indeed bring this dream to fruition. As pieces continued fitting smoothly into the puzzle, I grew more and more excited, and it seemed like this extremely unlikely dream was really going to come true. Until the day when He clearly said, “This far, no further. This journey has come to a stop.”
It was rather sudden, and it was through an abrupt message delivered by someone who showed absolutely no compassion whatsoever for the fact that she had just crushed my dream. I was devastated. I was angry. I was sad. But most of all, I was confused. Had I totally misinterpreted what God was leading me to do? Hadn’t He led me down this road from the beginning? And, whispering around my heart in my darkest moments was the question that came from the raw, aching, most vulnerable part of my soul: Isn’t He good?
Those places that believe we could have orchestrated things better for ourselves. Just like the luminol used by forensic investigators to find hidden traces of blood at a crime scene, suffering shines its light on our heart until the hidden traces of unbelief show up. Traces of blood at a crime scene emit a strange glow under the spotlight of the luminol, which is eerie because that blood is obviously out of place and it means that something very wrong has happened there. Similarly, when suffering illuminates hidden places of unbelief in our hearts, it is jarring. That unbelief is obviously out of place in the heart of a child of God, and it means that something is very wrong there.
Many of us are drawn like magnets to stories of saints who have suffered well. Their stories intrigue us, inspire us, and at the same time, they bewilder us. How can one endure such great magnitudes of suffering and still have peace, still trust God, still shine?
This is so baffling because so many of us do not suffer well. When afflictions come our way, we far too often fall immediately into anguish, distrust, murmuring, and discontent. As Puritan pastor Jeremiah Burroughs stated in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, “We are usually apt to think that any condition is better than that condition in which God has placed us.” When afflictions come, we start thinking of all the ways God could and should have done better by us. This is the unbelief shining its ugly light in the corners of our hearts.
Do you really believe that God is good? Do you really believe that He is sovereignly working all things in your life for your good, to conform you to the image of His Son? Then you must rest in Him during times of affliction in quiet trust that He is good and does all things well. A murmuring, discontented heart—no matter how great the affliction—is evidence of unbelief.
Remember the Israelites in the desert. After the Lord’s judgment for the rebellion of Korah, the people complained.
But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the LORD.” –Numbers 16:41
Now, grumbling doesn’t seem like it would be a huge issue, as sins go. However, just a few verses later, we see the Lord saying, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” The plague had begun and before Moses could make proper atonement for this grievous sin of grumbling among the people, 14,700 of them were killed by God. Grumbling is indeed a very big deal. In fact, in Numbers 17:10, God calls them rebels.
Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against Me, lest they die.
This is sobering indeed. A heart of discontent is a heart refusing to submit to God. A murmuring, complaining heart is one that does not believe the promises of God. When all is well, we are quick to claim God’s promises and even to encourage others to claim them when they are suffering. But are we as quick to claim them when suffering comes to us? Whether your affliction is small or great, life-changing or merely a bump in the road, will you meet it with a quiet, steadfast heart that clings to belief in the God who promises to never forsake you?
This succinctly summarizes the root of all sin. At the bottom of the sewer pit of sin we find the culprit of unbelief and its composition is a lie about God and self. All unbelief in the human heart believes two lies: God is not as good as He says, and I’m better than I am. Almost 2,000 years ago, the Apostle Paul said that mankind’s depravity owes itself to the fact that humanity has “exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 1:25).
To believe a lie about God is also believing a lie about one’s self. This is Paul’s assertion. The moment you stop believing something that is true about the Creator, you start believing something that is false about the creation. To worship the creature is to believe that the creation is worthy of such, and that assumes God alone is not worthy. And whatever you worship you will serve.
This gets to the heart of all temptation—unbelief. When you pay close attention to Satan’s strategy in the temptation of Eve, you will note the same strategy used against us all. His plan rested on one thing—getting Eve to stop believing the truth about God and believe a lie about her Maker.
Some have conjectured that the devil misquoted God to register in Eve’s mind doubt that God had given a prohibition of eating from the tree of good and evil. But that is not the strategy of the enemy. The Lord told Adam that he could eat from every tree in the garden, except one.
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” -Genesis 2:16-17
Satan’s question turns the positive permission of God to eat of every tree into a negative. He insinuates that God is a restrictive killjoy not allowing the first couple to enjoy the excellent fruit of every tree.
Has God indeed said, “You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” -Genesis 3:1
Secondly, the devil lies and contradicts God’s word, “Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die’” (Genesis 3:4). Again, he strikes the same note that God cannot be trusted. He then opens Eve’s mind to the possibility that she is suffering the loss of something good because God is unkind, and wants everything for Himself. He lies again, “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). The whole lie spins around the assertion that God is not good. He doesn’t want you to determine good and evil for yourself because then you will not be dependent upon Him. You will be your own god; you will be like Him.
This is the exchange of the truth of God for the lie. What is the result? The worship and service of self rather than the Lord God.
Thus, it is now evident why idolatry is the constant nemesis of man and God. Wherever unbelief exists, idolatry lives. It is not coincidental that the first two of the 10 Commandments deal with the sin of idolatry. It was the continual sin of Israel that led to its judgment. In the New Testament, the warning against idolatry is repeatedly trumpeted.
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites. -1 Corinthians 6:9
And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” -1 Corinthians 10:7
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. -1 Corinthians 10:14
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. -Colossians 3:5
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen. -1 John 5:21
The Apostle Paul knew well that if a person ceases to believe the truth about God, he or she is ruled by one or more idols. This is why he said that men “worshiped and served the creature.” Idolatry is more than the bowing down before a crafted statute representing a deity. It is the belief that something or someone can care, help, or provide for you better than the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the fuel of every sin and the lie about God that becomes the foundation of unbelief.
This is manifested not only in the ruthless and horrid crimes plastered on the front pages of newspapers but also in the niceties of religion publicized in the same newspapers and in our own churches.
So much of evangelical Christianity is our idolatrous attempt to serve man-made gods promising a better experience. God is no longer believed to give us what we need. He is no longer worthy of waiting upon until He acts. Instead man acts, man works, man does so that man is praised. Therein, is the idolatry—man demands the glory.