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Biblical Truth and Doctrine: Anchoring Disciple-Making on a Firm Foundation

Updated: Apr 24, 2021

Origin of Species:

Redemption in Christ not only saves us from the fiery pits of hell but restores us to divine design. It refurbishes image bearers to covenantal union with the triune God of the universe in order to convey His Lordship, His reign, and His dominion rule. This, though, is not oppressive; that is, His commands are not structured to hinder nor hamper mankind from joy, but rather His decrees are given to point them toward the pathway of eternal fulfillment, purpose, and satisfaction. In an age of deconstructionism, His precept is Truth. They are divine wisdom given to finite creatures in order to image forth His glory to the ends of the earth (cf. Gen. 1:26-28). D. A. Carson winsomely illustrates the biblical narrative in saying,

Christians whose worldview—whose way of looking at the world—is decisively shaped by the Bible’s story line cannot forget that we human beings have been made in the image of God; that our first obligation is to recognize our creatureliness, and thus our joyful obligation to our Creator; that sin is nothing other than degodding God; that our dignity as God’s image bearers is horribly marred by our rebellion; that the entire race, and all of human history, is rushing toward final accountability before this God who is no less our Judge than our Maker; that there is a new heaven and a new earth to gain and a hell to fear; that our sole hope of reconciliation with this God is by the means He Himself has provided in His Son; that the people of God are made up of human beings from every language and tribe and nation, and, empowered by God’s Spirit, are growing in personal and corporate obedience and love, rejoicing to come under the reign of God in anticipation of the consummation of that reign.[1]

Thus, the aim of disciple-making is to regulate our debased minds—through the power of the Spirit—to “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16; cf. Rom. 8:1-11; Phil. 4:7; 1 Pet. 1:13). It is a return to the proctological aim and, furthermore, to strive toward the eschatological reality. Simply put, something has been broken amid the created order, and redemption is restoring and remaking all things new through Christ Jesus our Lord. The question remains, then, how does the mandate of disciple-making fulfill the redemptive purpose of Christ?


Theocentricism:


As I have previously written on the broader idea of disciple-making (you can find it here) and, in turn, have sought to detail my thoughts on its effectiveness, this article is a continuation of those efforts. As the first pillar is rightfully centered upon the Gospel itself (you can find it here), the second cedar will be complementary while remaining no less necessary. The theocentric focus is paramount in order to faithfully engage in these divine endeavors and, furthermore, strive toward the restoration of creation. Hence, to truly employ the people of God toward a steady and firm discipleship model, the second pillar must be preserved. The premise of this work, then, is to convey the necessity of biblical truth and doctrine as the starter, standard, and sustainer of the Christian life in disciple-making.


Starter to the Christian Life. Creation finds its existence through the Creator God Himself who spoke into being the created order (Gen. 1:1; cf. 1:1-23; Heb. 11:3). The new birth, in turn, is conjured amid the work of the Word (Gk. logos) applied by the Spirit to awaken dead hearts to Himself through the proclamation of the Gospel (cf. Jn. 1:1-3; 3:1-8). The common denominator in both these narratives is the agency of the Logos in bringing forth life; the former ex nihilo (out of nothing) while the latter from death in sin. Either way, logocentricism undergirds the movement within the biblical storyline and simply conveys that the Word of God creates the people of God.[2] Individuals, then, are distinct persons who come into covenantal union with their Savior through His blood and, simultaneously, are united in familial union expressed through the local church.[3]


Evangelism and discipleship, then, must be girded amid biblical truth.[4] As Paul so gratefully conveys to the church of Thessalonica, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thess. 2:13, italics mine). Similarly, when Paul engages with the church at Ephesus he contends, “In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13; italics mine). In addition, the author of Hebrews asserts, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12; italics mine). Thus, the Word of God is central in our evangelistic aim as well as our disciple-making endeavors. To neglect such a resource would be to restrain oneself from breathing; they are necessary for life itself.


Standard of the Christian Life. It was the Reformers who rightly sought to return to the infallible/inerrant Word through the mantra of sola Scriptura. Not only is this a ploy of resource, but a necessity of standard. As Kevin J. Vanhoozer properly transcribes, “The Bible is the supreme authority for Christian faith and life. It is the written record of the revelation of the mystery that lies at the heart of the testimony of the prophets and apostles: the gospel of Jesus Christ—God with and for us, the ungodly.”[5] Thus, to measure any claim of truth is to measure it up and against the living Word of God. If God is the arbiter of truth, or rather He is truth itself, then, to concede of reality is to align oneself to His infallible Word (cf. Jn 14:6).


Furthermore, discipleship, if it is to be faithful to the biblical call, must be tethered to the Scriptures. One's outlook on life and every day engagements must be informed and inflamed by the living Word. The writers of Proverbs affirm this notion in saying, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7; italics mine; cf. 4:7; 9:10; Ps. 111:10). The Psalmist, in turn, dually avers, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105; italics mine). In addition, the Apostle Paul eagerly longs for the church of Colossae “to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2-3; italics mine). If effective disciple-making is to align one’s worldview to the Creator God Himself, the primary agency distilled by the Spirit to accomplish that work is the sacred text themselves. Simply put, disciple-making is thinking God’s thoughts after Him. To neglect the divinely inspired Word of God, then, is to ignore the very voice of God. Keith L. Johnson is helpful when he says,

A right engagement with Scripture and Christ involves more than knowing what Scripture says or knowing the facts about Jesus; we also have to understand what Scripture says and who Jesus is within the broader context of God’s eternal plan and our participation in it. . . Scripture’s purpose is not to help us fit God into our lives but to see how our lives fit into what God is doing in history through Christ and the Spirit. Rather than trying to insert Scripture into our reality by figuring out how we might apply it to our lives, our task is to reinterpret our lives and the whole of reality in light of Scripture.[6]

Sustenance in the Christian Life. Not only is Scripture the standard of life but must be binding upon the conscience; that is, the sacred text is not merely passages to be memorized, rather they are truths to be internalized. “One needs both the canon and conscience,” writes Vanhoozer, “both an objective foundation and frame of reference—‘the foundation of the apostles and prophets’ (Eph. 2:20)—and the subjective, Spirit-given ability rightly to understand it (1 Cor. 2:12-14).”[7] Covenant believers, then, are not called merely to know the Word, but they are to perceive it in such a way as to allow its truths to resonate throughout the outworking of their daily lives. Gospel truth is meant to bleed into the fabric of our entire existence. Robert Gallaty simply and helpfully states, “Discipleship is obedience to Christ’s command.”[8]


To this point, discipleship that is authentic to its biblical claim is going to be movements toward understanding the commands of God and, in turn, responding in obedience to those decrees. It is a rewiring of the heart/mind in such a way that proper action flows from Spirit illumination. Again, this is not a stoic endeavor, but, quite the contrary, it is a transformation of affection that spurs one toward convictional living. The Apostle John writes to the church of Ephesus, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn. 5:3; italics mine; cf. 3:10). Likewise, Christ demonstrated Himself to be One who “loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” (Ps. 45:7; italics mine; cf. Heb. 1:9). If we are to be united in Christ, we are to take on His character. Furthermore, the Apostle Paul urges the saints “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1; italics mine). John Piper masterfully ties the nature of affection and the call of obedience by saying,

Our deepest identity is not the mere outward acts of religious performance, or charitable efforts, or skillful achievement. All of that is downstream from the spring of our identity. We are who we are in the hidden place, where desires and longings and passions and affection are born. When we pray, 'Incline my heart,' we are surrendering the control of those depths. We are looking to Christ, and His death for sinners, and we are seeing a person worthy of the deepest trust.[9]

Taking a Deep Breath:


In the wake of contextualization, the primary calling of the church is not to move the Gospel toward relevancy amid the culture, but rather to transform the culture through the measurement of the Gospel. In an age where authenticity is of the upmost importance, Christians must convey the standard of reality through the objective metrics mediated through God's Word. Carson cuts straight to the point in saying, “'Authentic Christians' are not those who are merely very sincere and who call themselves Christians. If 'authenticity' is to retain any utility in this discussion, the 'authentic Christian' is the one who is most shaped in thought, word, and deed by Christianity's foundational documents, by Christianity's Lord, by Christianity's creeds.”[10] Thus, disciple-making in the midst of cultural confusion must be anchored and seared in the truth of Scripture. In times like these, the church is called to know more Scripture, not less; the pastoral office to expositional preaching, not Ted-Talks; the people of God to faithful disciple-making, not programming; the families of God to devotion, not nominalism.


The aim of disciple-making, then, is not that they would merely become better versions of themselves (as the popular postmodern slogan goes), but rather that upon cutting into the substance of the person, they would continue to bleed out the character and virtue of Christ (cf. Rom. 8:29; Col. 3:10). Thus, the target is Christ and, in turn, He receives the glory and we obtain eternal joy. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***

[1] D. A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 120.

[2] See Gregg R. Allison, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 110-117. Allison develops 7 characteristic traits of the church which logocentricism is one. In one sense, the church is to be Christ-centered focusing upon His work and Person. While in another—though not entirely autonomous—the church is to be devoted to the covenantal documents of the Scriptures.

[3] See Jonathan Leeman. Don’t Fire Your Church Members: The Case for Congregationalism. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016. See also Jonathan Leeman, “A Congregational Approach to Unity, Holiness, and Apostolicity: Faith and Order,” Baptist Foundations: Church Government in an Anti-Institutional Age, ed. Mark Dever & Jonathan Leeman (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2015), 333-366.

[4] See Jonathan K. Dodson, Gospel Centered Discipleship (Wheaton: IL, Crossway, 2012), 25-50.

[5] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “May We Go Beyond What is Written After All?” The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016), 748.

[6] Keith L. Johnson, Theology as Discipleship (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 106.

[7] Vanhoozer, “May We God Beyond What is Written After All?”, 751.

[8] Robert Gallaty, Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), 103.

[9] John Piper, Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 258.

[10] D. A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 121.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (11), McColsen (9), and DeYoung (5). He is a Teaching Pastor at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN and a homeschool dad to his four children. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.

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