Who is Who, and How Do You Know?

Recently, when writing about the Four Principles of Discipleship that His Words His Ways Fellowship has adopted over the past year, we alluded to the particular cultural and context in which we are operating and attempting to make disciples of Jesus (you can begin reading about them here). In and of themselves, the four principles are nothing. They are simply a tool to organize the truth of Scripture in a navigable and useful manner in order to present it to the particular culture and context in which we are attempting to make disciples of Jesus.
So, what is this unique culture and context we are dealing with?
This area has historically been culturally Christian, but it is rapidly becoming a post-Christian culture; which means that the two often exist in close proximity to one another, overlap, and are often in conflict with one another. The reality is that the roots of this post-Christian culture have existed right under the surface of the predominantly Christian culture for decades as the Christian culture was heavily influenced by materialism and secularism due to the relative prosperity of the area.
And as a result, people are often influenced and affected by both cultures simultaneously. This creates some interesting demographics and groups of people with which we interact. Knowing who these people are and what perspective they are coming from is important when attempting to make disciples of Jesus of them.
Some of the predominant groups of these people are
True believers who attend church services.
Unfortunately, this group is probably smaller than we would like to admit. These are people who would actually abandon their lives in order to follow and imitate Jesus as His disciple, if someone would clearly explain to them why and how.
That is not to say that they will not be initially apprehensive about doing things differently than they have before (the human mind is created to question change for safety’s sake), but ultimately their faith in Jesus (and the voice of the Holy Spirit) will win out.
However, because they have most likely never been discipled correctly; and therefore, are often immature in their imitation of Jesus; they can initially be difficult to distinguish from the next group.
False believers who attend church services.
Conversely, this group is probably larger than we would like to admit. I often tell people that a large gray area exists that should not. This gray area is populated by immature true believers and moral-living false believers. They act virtually the same because no one has raised the bar of following Jesus to the point that it challenges the two groups to abandon all and completely die to self in order to imitate Jesus as His disciple. Because it is at that point they will begin to separate.
Again, there are probably a lot more false believers than we want to admit. But we really shouldn’t have a problem admitting they exist because the New Testament states quite often that there will be false believers and even false believers who will be church leaders.
Jesus Himself said that on judgement day there would be “many” who would call Him “Lord, Lord” but would not be allowed into His kingdom (Matthew 7:21-23).
In reality, what we don’t want to admit is that they attend OUR church.
False believers who do not attend church services.
This is an interesting group. They will tell you they believe in Jesus, but that they don’t feel a need to be involved in the life of a church.
But, if you dig deeper you will most likely find that their beliefs about Jesus, the Bible, and theology are often unorthodox and even heretical.
This group would also cause you to believe that anyone who claims to believe in Jesus, but will not attend church services on a regular basis, is simply an unbeliever… if it wasn’t for the next group.
True believers who do not attend church.
Because a lot of evil has been perpetrated in the name of church in our culture and context, there are many instances where someone who truly believes in Jesus has been hurt enough times by churches and church people, that they will stop attending church services; not because they are rejecting Jesus and His true church, but because they are rejecting false Christianity performed by false believers in false churches.
The problem is that they are often so badly burned; often by multiple churches; that they give up on church attendance altogether for the sake of their sanity.
A good friend once told me what he said on the way out of the last church door, “I don’t know what is right, but I know it ain’t this.”
Interestingly, often these believers have been hurt by either the immature believers who attend church services on a regular basis, or (more likely) by the unbelievers who attend church services on a regular basis; but they themselves are also too immature to realize the true nature of the problem.
Unbelievers who do not attend church, but would be interested in following and imitating Jesus as His disciple if someone clearly presented to them what that means.
This is who has historically been our target for evangelism. However, take a step back and look at things from their perspective.
What must following Jesus look like to them as the deal everyday with the first four groups of people calling themselves followers of Jesus?
How are they ever going to get a clear picture of what it looks like to die to themselves in order to imitate Jesus as His disciple if they are surrounded by people who claim to believe in Jesus that are doing everything but dying to themselves and imitate Jesus?
Even if through their own study of Jesus and Scripture, they came to a conclusion that they must “lay down their life” by dying to their own needs and desires, and must “take up their cross and follow Jesus” by imitating Him as His disciple; what would happen once they started attending a church where none of the professing Christians actually do those things?
What generally happens is that they become members of group number 4.
Unbelievers who have no interest in following Jesus or attending church; and may actually be hostile toward believers and churches.
These people have historically been considered the enemy of the church. But let us always remember, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
These people are images of God (albeit fallen and marred) who have been deceived by the father of lies and his worldwide system of deception. These people are the ones that Jesus was sent on a mission to rescue and redeem.
And we have now been sent to complete that mission (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Corinthians 4:18-21).
And honestly, given the state of the first four groups, can you really blame them?
Again, look at it from their perspective. Some churches and church people in our culture and context must look like the biggest train-wrecks on the face of the planet.
So how do the 4 principles help us sort this mess out?
Let’s look at each of those groups of people again and see…
True believers who attend church services.
The information in the four principles helps these disciples understand what it really means to follow Jesus and how to actually do it.
It also gives them enough information that they can understand why they should be willing to lose everything in order to follow and imitate Jesus as His disciple in a prevailing Christian culture that says you do not have to go to that level of extreme commitment.
Moreover, the four principles give them the information that they need in order to accurately share with others what it really means to follow Jesus as His disciple and why they should do so.
False believers who attend church services.
Bluntly, the four principles help identify these people so that you can spend your time wisely on them.
Members of this group will ultimately reject abandoning all in order to imitate Jesus as His disciple, and thus they will be opposed to the ideas found in the four principles.
But by them doing so, a mature disciple-maker will know that there is no point in trying to disciple them into Christ-like maturity until they are willing to “lay down their life and take up their cross” of imitating Jesus as His disciple.
Churches waste so much time trying to mature these people! Worse yet, when they hang around long enough, churches put them in leadership positions or teaching classes; which creates even more problems!
Using the four principles to separate these people out from true believers ultimately saves the church a lot of time and heartache.
False believers who do not attend church services.
The four principles are extremely helpful in evangelizing this group. The principles arm true believers with a clear, precise, understandable argument to present to these as to why they do not really believe in Jesus (at least not the real Jesus).
Even if the person rejects the presentation, they walk away knowing that there is possibly more to believing in Jesus than what they previously considered.
True believers who do not attend church.
The four principles answer all of their questions and concerns and give them a reason to come back to church.
Moreover, the principles give them confidence that church leadership knows what it is doing and how it is to be done. In addition to that, they give the average church member a standard to which to hold leadership and other members accountable.
This is important because lack of standards and accountability is probably why they stopped going to church originally.
Most of the founding members of our church have been in this category at one time or another and we all agree that the information found in these four principles is what we needed to hear, and what we still need to hear and understand.
Unbelievers who do not attend church, but would be interested in following and imitating Jesus as His disciple if someone clearly presented to them what that means.
In short, the four principles clearly present to them what it means to follow and imitate Jesus as His disciple. And if they begin to attend church, it meets their expectations and gives them clear direction and standards by which the church operates.
Moreover, it gives them a clear path to spiritual maturity rather than random stumbling around looking for it.
Unbelievers who have no interest in following Jesus or attending church; and may actually be hostile toward believers and churches.
The four principles acknowledge that some of the things that they have observed about the state of the modern church and church people are true. This is probably the most honest anyone has ever been with them. It demonstrates that we are committed to the truth of Jesus above all else; even when that means admitting our own shortcomings and failures in the past.
These principles give them a logical, coherent reason for what we believe, why we believe it, and how we are going to practically live out what we believe.
They open the door and set out a roadmap for a civil, coherent conversation about Jesus and what it means to follow Him as His disciple.
Even if they initially reject what we believe, they have a clear understanding of what we believe. Therefore, if they have questions and concerns in the future, they know who they can go to express those and get a logical, coherent answer.
Ultimately, knowing and using the scriptural information contained in His Words His Ways Fellowship’s Four Principles of Discipleship gives the members of our church confidence that they can “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have […] with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
For more information on the Four Principles of Discipleship, start here:
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