“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18, 19, 20
One thing I think to be obvious when we observe those who profess Christ as their savior. There are an awful lot of Christians who are not disciples. But here I think I need to be really careful, for there is only one judge who can read the hearts of people, and know where there is saving faith. Christ gives a parable that describes the process of sowing the seed, or I take it, to spread the gospel. Jesus tells us of four different cases of the seed being sown in this parable. He first says that some seed is cast into the path, and quickly eaten away by the birds. But, second he says, some seed has fallen on rocky places, sprang up quickly, and was scorched quickly by the heat of the sun. It is these latter seeds that I want to comment a bit about.
Matthew Henry speaks of these people as if they are not Christian, “There are many that are very glad to hear a good sermon, that yet do not profit by it; they may be pleased with the word, and yet not changed and ruled by it; the heart may melt under the word, and yet not be melted down by the word, much less into it, as into a mould. Many taste the good word of God (Heb. vi. 5), and say they find sweetness in it, but some beloved lust is rolled under the tongue, which it would not agree with, and so they spit it out again.”1 It may indeed be for none Christians, but I do think it may include those many professions of Christ in lives which we do not notice changing. Whether they are Christians or not, I would submit, is probably only known in the mind of God.
If the seed is the word of God, or the gospel, then it seems obvious that the seed along the path and stolen by the birds, is seed which never germinates; hence the idea of those who hear the word, but do not act upon it with a profession of faith, and thus are not Christian. It seems to me that the others, in the interpretation of the Lord, “are those who hear the word and receive it with joy (Mt. 13:21), and since they have no root, last only a short time.” Are these not believers? I find the plain sense of the passage to take it that they are indeed believers. Perhaps this is the great category of saints that I see, having made a profession of faith, but who seem never to “root” themselves properly into the victorious Christian life. Christian or not—God only knows!
James does indeed let us know that faith is supposed to produce works. “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone (James 2:24). It is clear that when the birds steal the seed, it is as if they were stealing the very gospel of God away from the hearers, lest they find repentance. That is the case of someone perhaps coming close to the gospel to the point where they seem like they are going to find their way, yet the birds steal the message away before they really exercise any saving faith. Thus, I would think that these seeds cast into the path are seeds which never germinate.
I would note that all of the other seeds seem to germinate, thus having a semblance of life and suggesting a real faith in Christ. The third type of seed the Lord tells us about fits exactly into this category That seed is choked out by the weeds, which the Lord tells us are the cares and treasures of this world. Many Christians that I have seen fit into this category—they fall away with the business of life, and take their eyes off the Savior, putting them on the riches of this world.
It is only the last category of the seeds that is befitting the definition of what we would clearly call a disciple of Jesus the Messiah. They germinate, and grow abundantly, producing many times over the original seed. I find it very suggestive that three of these seeds germinate while only one type of seed does not; that which falls along the hard path. I think it suggestive of the fact that perhaps two out of three Christians are not “disciples” in any sense of the word, but may indeed be professors of Christ—whether genuine or not, God only knows.
Paul does tell us of the Christian who comes to the Lord for judgment, and his works, being useless, are utterly burned up, yet he himself is saved. Again James reminds us that even the demons believe in God, and tremble, yet are not saved (James 2:19). A Christian who has no works must by definition be in the most dire of straits. Our reformation fathers seemed to unite around the idea that faith always does produce good works. Consider Martin Luther: “Good works are not the cause, but the fruit of righteousness. When we have become righteous, then first are we able and willing to do good. The tree makes the apple; the apple does not make the tree.”2 We are supposed to be stumped, I think, by those Christians who do not reflect their calling, and it is those for whom we ought to be in regular intercessory prayer.
What is a disciple? In attempting to define a disciple, I think it obvious from the parable of the sower that a disciple is but a part of the church, and maybe the smaller part, since two out of the three illustrations show the seed being received, but not properly acted upon. Who, then, are those that fit the definition of a disciple? I would take it that they are those singular Christians we have in every church that seem to shine brightly in their testimony. If there is a chance to share the gospel, these are the people either doing the sharing or praying for others who are doing the sharing. If there is a calling to work or to give or to teach or to just serve, these are the people that we see stepping forward.
If you were able to look into the heart of the local church with the very eyes of God, you would find these disciples at the center, praying for revival, and interceding for the church leaders that they might be able to walk aright. It is these who are his disciples, those who are most zealous in carrying out the Great Commission, and want to see Jesus lifted up in all hearts around them. Find these people in your church, and model your own life to be like theirs. In so doing, you will find out what is a disciple, and perhaps be one of those who produce a crop, “yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what is sown.”
1. God; Matthew Henry (2011-04-19). MATTHEW HENRY - THE BESTSELLING UNABRIDGED 6 VOLUME COMPLETE COMMENTARY ON THE WHOLE BIBLE (Special Complete Edition): All 6 Volumes of the Bestselling ... Exposition for Kindle MATTHEW HENRY) (Kindle Locations 203914-203917). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Luther, Martin (2009-02-14). Christian Classics: Works of Martin Luther, in a single file, improved 9/1/2010 (Kindle Locations 1907-1909). B&R Samizdat Express. Kindle Edition.