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Gospel Centrality: Anchoring Disciple-Making on a Firm Foundation

Establishing a Culture within the Church:

Disciple-making is a catchphrase leveraged among the strategists, yet ashamedly absent amid the practitioners. Still, the mandate is clear, and the edict is alive that the church of Christ is called to make disciples of all nations (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). Thus, in our attempt to foster not merely a program, but a culture—a DNA—to the tireless pursuit of making disciples, Covenant City Church seeks to emphatically pursue this divine call. As Mark Dever plainly describes, “The whole body, speaking the truth in love, grows as it builds itself up, each part doing its work (Eph. 4:15-16; see also 1 Cor. 12;14).”[1] Yet while it is imperative to do, it is also important to think through the minute details that are necessary for faithful engagement to such significant endeavors. Asking the how’s, the who’s, and the what’s of this godly enterprise is paramount to faithful expressions of the Great Commission.


Though I have written broadly about the central pillars of discipleship (you can find it here), it is also essential to elaborate upon each respective post. Digging deeper and familiarizing ourselves with the intricacies of disciple-making will pay dividends in how we practice this sacred discipline. Thus, we cannot take lightly the call of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor can we half-heartedly engage in these works. We must labor incessantly in making much of Christ through the avenue of disciple-making.


The Centrality of the Gospel:


By analyzing the first of seven pillars in disciple-making, what must be communicated with clarity and consistency is the centrality of the Gospel. What, at times, can be lost amid the hustle and bustle of disciple-making jargon is the Gospel itself. The church can be so enamored with the doing that she has ignored coming to terms with the substance and heart of the message; that is, not merely the content of the good news, but the implications that derive from its premise. To abandon the central core tenant that is the Gospel, is to disregard the power source that fuels the church’s effort in bringing supernatural transformation. Thus, in reviewing the centrality of the Gospel, three ideal components arise: (1) Gospel narrative, (2) Gospel power, and (3) Gospel motivation.


The Story of God’s Redeeming Grace. In the infamous novel “The Lord of the Rings” written by J. R. R. Tolkien, constructed in the fires of Mordor is the ring that is to govern all other rings distributed amid the boundaries of Middle-earth by the Dark Lord Sauron. Though these individual rings construe great power, the ring subjects all—elves, dwarves, and human kin alike—to the whims and craze of its splendor. Contrary to postmodernism’s critical assertion on an objective narrative, the redemptive historical plotline of Scripture functions similarly (though without the tyrannical reign of evil!) as an overarching mason to temper and chronicle all other narratives. As image bearers of God, humanity finds their intent, purpose, and design in the divine Creator Himself; that is, by composition humanity’s nature is wholly derivative. Cornelius Van Til elaborates further on this notion by saying,

As Christians, we hold that in this universe we deal with a derivative one and many, which can be brought into fruitful relation with one another because, back of both, we have in God the original one and many. If we are to have coherence in our experience, there must be a correspondence of our experience to the eternally coherent experience of God. Human knowledge ultimately rests upon the internal coherence within the Godhead; our knowledge rests upon the ontological Trinity as its presupposition.[2]

Simply put, the creatureliness of mankind within the confines of God’s created order finds her “fullness-of-being” in relational harmony with the triune God of the universe. Without such covenantal kinship, humanity wanders in the wilderness of darkness and despair (cf. Gen. 3:23; Num. 14:34; Josh. 5:6; 1 Pet. 1:2; 2:11). Gospel centrality amid the mandate of disciple-making is foundational, then, to the flourishing and transforming aim of God’s redemptive decree. As the Apostle Paul contends, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3, italics mine). The message of the Gospel, according to Paul, is the foundation to which all of life is construed and finds its sustenance. Calvin compares it to “the foundation which we normally lay when putting up a building.”[3] Thus, to pursue disciple-making without marinating in the Gospel is to swim without the extremities of water. To be faithful and, therefore, effective in biblical disciple-making is to place our aim and ambition chiefly upon the work and Person of Christ.


Hence, to continue with Paul’s argumentation, the Gospel is not an aberration to first century innovation, but rather is “in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3b). Meaning, the narrative of God’s redemptive work, respectively, is not new. As John F. MacArthur contends, “No Jew who believed and understood the Scriptures, referring to what we now call the Old Testament, should have been surprised that the Messiah was ordained to die, be buried, and then resurrected. Twice Paul repeats the phrase according to the Scriptures, to emphasize that this is no new thing, and no contradiction of true Jewish belief.”[4] Quite frankly, church tradition has rightly identified what has been called the first Gospel proclamation, i.e., protoevangelium, in Genesis 3:15 when the Scripture says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise His heal.” “This promise, in embryonic form,” writes Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, “anticipates the coming of a Redeemer, the ‘seed of the woman,’ who, though wounded Himself in conflict, will destroy the works of Satan and restore goodness to this world.”[5] Therefore, disciple-making must be intimately tethered to the biblical narrative of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; not only as a story of redemption, but the story that governs and regulates every facet of the believer’s life.


The redemptive historical narrative, then, functions as a plumbline in measuring all accounts within the created human sphere. That is, the storyline of Scripture is the primary interpretive tool in the hands of the Spirit to help finite persons truly understand life’s realities. As Jonathan Dodson helpfully articulates, “Reliance on the Spirit isn’t a method or special prayer; it is a relationship of dependence upon Him. It’s communion with God.”[6] Thus, the blessings and heartache of marriage is remedied upon the Gospel story itself. Moreover, the aim and intent of a meaningful life is conjured amid a divine warrant. In addition, a comprehensive appeal to social unrest in discerned through the corridor of a united Scriptural account. Aspirations toward disciple-making, then, which are not intimately woven into the narrative of Scripture alienates itself from any genuine transformation done by the power of the Spirit.


Concurrently, faithful disciple-making that is bound amid the redemptive narrative does not merely terminate upon the good of creation, but, ultimately, accentuates the glory and renown of Christ. “When believers are willing to place their lives on a collision course with God’s Word,” says Eric Geiger, Michael Kelly, and Philip Nation, “then transformation can occur.”[7] For it is to this end that the restorative nature of Christ’s sacrifice is bestowed upon His covenantal people. The Gospel is given to sinful persons “to the praise of His glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6, italics mine). Not only so, as the Gospel forensically postures His people to stand in right relationship to the Father, it also modifies the disposition of our walk to be in continuity with His salvific appeal (cf. Eph. 4:1; Col. 2:6; 1 Pet. 2:12). Fundamentally, the organic nature of disciple-making terminates upon living lives to the glory and renown of Christ and for the good of His covenantal people.


The Power of the Gospel. The essential charge, then, to anchor disciple-making amid the redemptive historical grid is mounted upon the notion that such power is intrinsic to the One who is mighty to save (cf. Zeph. 3:17). It is the covenantal Lord’s prerogative and pleasure to bestowed upon His people a salvific petition. It provides at least a two-fold purpose, (1) it showcases the character of the Lord and (2) it provides image bearers a pathology toward redemption. John H. Sailhamer comments on the protoevangelium mentioned earlier by saying,

A program is set forth. A plot is established that will take the author far beyond this or that sake and his ‘seed.’ It is what the snake and his ‘seed’ represent that lies at the center of the author’s focus. With that ‘one’ lies the ‘enmity’ that must be crushed. . . In the narrative to follow, there is to be war (‘enmity’). The two sides are represented by two seeds, the ‘seed’ or the snake and the ‘seed’ of the woman. In the ensuing battle, the ‘seed’ of the woman will crush the head of the snake. Though wounded in the struggle, the woman’s ‘seed’ will be victorious.[8]

Thus, the redemptive formula is not found amid the internal affairs of the self, but rather is predicated upon divine intervention. To this point, the Apostle Paul underscores that “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” (Rom. 1:17; cf. 3:21, italics mine). According to Thomas R. Schreiner the “passive form of the verb indicates that ‘God’ is the one who has revealed His righteousness—the righteousness in question is His, and it is unleashed through the proclamation of the Gospel.”[9] Salvation, simply put, is found outside the “works of the law” and, ultimately, terminates upon the Godman Himself, Christ Jesus (cf. Rom. 3:20, 27-28; Gal. 2:16; 3:10). That is, Jesus becomes the new representative of the covenantal people through the cross and resurrection which overrides the aftermath of the first federal head—Adam (cf. Rom. 5:12-21). It is in Christ, then, that all of righteousness is fulfilled and obtained in order to be in right covenantal standing before the triune God of the universe.


Moreover, the Gospel itself “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). The good news is the mechanism to which God is using to display His power in transferring rebel sinners “from the dominion of darkness . . . to the kingdom of His Beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). In this way, disciple-making is contingent upon divine power that will inaugurate the eschatological Spirit to dwell upon the hearts and lives of illuminated believers—the church (cf. Ezek. 36:26-27; Jer. 31:31-33; Jn. 14:15-17; Acts 2:1-13; Gal. 3:2).[10] That is, the new birth through regeneration by the indwelling power of His Spirit is the hallmark that fuels the transformative reign in the Christian life (cf. Jn. 3:1:15). “The term ‘power,’ as one might expect,” says Douglas J. Moo, “is used widely in Greek philosophy and religion, but its NT use is in line with OT teaching about a personal God who uniquely possesses power and who manifests that power in delivering (Exod. 9:16; Ps. 77:14-15) and judging (Jer. 16:21) His people.”[11] Thus, disciple-making that is void of centering upon the Gospel empties itself of the potential and capacity for power to supernaturally transform lives.


Gospel-Saturated Motivation for Living. As the Gospel by the power of the Spirit awakens dead hearts to new life (cf. Jn. 3:5, 16-18; Rom. 1:28; 3:10-18, 23; Eph. 2:1-2), the very same Spirit renews the mind of regenerate saints to the truths of God by the Word of God (cf. Rom. 12:2; Col. 2:2-3; 3:10; 2 Tim. 3:16). No longer are men left to the winds and waves of worldly ideologies and pagan philosophies, but rather the church is mounted upon divine interpretative access to the Truth; that is, “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16b; cf. Rom. 8:1-11; Col. 2:2-3; Phil. 4:7; 1 Pet. 1:13). By having access to Christ, the community of saints through the covenantal documents, i.e., the Scriptures, have entry into the revealed will of God. Matthew Barrett gives insightful commentary by saying, “Those who are the recipient of His covenantal word-act revelation are not left to themselves to decipher or speculate what His mighty acts mean: God Himself speaks to interpret His mighty act so that there is no doubt as to the fulfilment of His covenantal word. His authoritative interpretation is the hermeneutical key to understanding how His mighty acts fulfil His covenant promises.”[12]


Thus, the wisdom of God is divine insight for the mind of believers who seek to see the world in accords to God’s created intent. As Nancy Pearcey contends, “Christianity is not just religious truth, it is total truth—covering all of reality.”[13] Hence, Christian salvation is not merely wishful thinking about one’s destination upon the travesties of death, but a worldview that governs life—function and expression. To this end, disciple-making should not only seek to transmit information but to transform one’s outlook by viewing the world through the Gospel lens. For disciple-making to have any lasting impression, there must be a deep and intimate dive into the presupposition of worldview and, in turn, a reconstructive formation in biblical proportion. Timothy Keller winsomely and helpfully articulates, “The Christian life is a process of renewing every dimension of our life—spiritual, psychological, corporate, social—by thinking, hoping, and living out the ramifications of the Gospel.”[14]


As the mind is free to receive divine truth from God through salvation, the heart is liberated to love and cherish the things of God. Thus, the mind and heart are intrinsically woven in such a fashion as to impact and influence one another for good or bad. The Apostle John affirms this notion, then, when he says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn. 5:3). Within the theological formation of Johannine theology there is an interplay between affection and cognition; that is, a movement of sorts from “love” to “commandments” to “not burdensome.” It is as if these elements feed and inform each other of proper expression and necessary acceptance. John Stott concludes, then, by saying, “Love for God is not an emotional experience so much as a moral commitment.”[15] Hence, in the guise of disciple-making, affection is essential in the development of the whole person. We are not merely called to relay information, but rather to show the wisdom of God in blessing His people with the commands of Christ. Accordingly, to neglect the warfare of affection in disciple-making is to surrender one’s passion amid the game of hearts. “Religious affection, then,” says Dodson, “is a Gospel motivation because it is a new taste for God that arises from His work of new creation.”[16]


The Gospel Lens:


Early on in youth ministry I had the privilege of partnering with a particular family in teaching their children the significance of purity. At the age of 13, these parents gave each child a “promise ring” and asked me—their Youth Pastor—to give a short devotion on marriage, sexual abstinence, and love for God. Personally, this was a real treat for me because it resonated with my philosophy of ministry in having parents take on the primary role in discipling their children. In the wake of my preparation (mindful to say, this was early on in my ministry “career”) I distinctly remembered wrestling with trying to avoid a cringe-worthy cliché approach to my devotional. That is, there was a genuine desire to help their daughter and my beloved student understand the significance of this milestone in her development as a person while communicating tangible thoughts to her young mind. As I prayed and prepared, I came to the realization that the key was not necessarily anchored in focusing on purity itself, but rather a Person—Jesus Christ. As the party came and went and my devotional segment masterfully conveyed (😉), this momentous event dissolved into a host of memories in my joyful season of youth ministry. All that to say, my wife and I continue to have a steady and intimate relationship with this, now, young woman to which we adore.


The other night while sharing a meal with this same young lady, she made a remark to my wife about the importance of that “purity ring” event. She turned to me and said, “Pastor, you said that true purity is pursuing Jesus Christ.” Safe to say, my chin hit the floor and my heart filled with insurmountable joy. Though I did not necessarily express anything externally (I am not known to be emotionally off the wall), a worshipful leap nonetheless overcame my heart’s affection. Multiple points of gratitude: (1) a praise toward Christ and His steadfast love for His people, (2) a sharing of thanks that this young soul saw and understood the significance of the Gospel, and (3) that we—the church—have a powerful message to relay.


Disciple-making, then, is a mandate given to the people of God by the power of God for the glory of God. It is not optional nor is it a venture to be taken lightly. And yet, as we go, the covenantal Lord reminds His people that through the toil, heartache, and victories “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Therefore, let us not unhitch ourselves from the power source to which God has construed for the transformation of the world. Let us not be so captivated by the process that we become inattentive to the message of the Gospel itself. Rather, let us be so mesmerized by God in Christ Jesus that the outflow of our joy produces a disciple-making culture that would seek to glorify God in all our endeavors. Covenant City Church and beyond, let our motivation in disciple-making not terminate upon a duty-bound notion, but rather may our pursuit in these exertions be an expression of an authentic love fettered in commitment to the commands of God for the glory of God (cf. Jn. 14:21). May we remember that in our disciple-making protocol, our aim is to be saturated with the Gospel narrative, Gospel power, and Gospel motivation. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***

[1] Mark Dever, Understanding the Great Commission, Church Basics (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2016), 35.

[2] Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God, 2nd ed. Ed. William Edgar (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 59.

[3] John Calvin, “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians” in Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries vol. 9, trans. John W. Fraser (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1989), 313.

[4] John F. MacArthur, “1 Corinthians” in The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Publisher, 1984), 403.

[5] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, 2nd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 770.

[6] Jonathan K. Dodson, Gospel Centered Discipleship (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 131.

[7] Eric Geiger, Michael Kelly, and Philip Nation, Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 83.

[8] John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 107-108.

[9] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, 2nd ed. BECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018), 66.

[10] See Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 449-459. See also George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, revised ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000), 323-333.

[11] Douglas J. Moo, The Letter to the Romans, 2nd ed. NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018), 69.

[12] Matthew Barrett, Canon, Covenant and Christology: Rethinking Jesus and the Scripture of Israel, NSBT (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020), 46.

[13] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), 33.

[14] As quoted by Geiger, Kelly, & Nation, Transformational Discipleship, 84.

[15] John R. W. Stott, Letters of John, TNCT (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1988), 176.

[16] Dodson, Gospel Centered Discipleship, 78-79.

 

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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