- Adam Butler
A Call to True Discipleship
One of the most alarming passages in all of scripture is found in Matthew 7. Jesus says in this passage that Not all who say to Him “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21). He then proceeds to say that only those who do the will of the Father will enter heaven. Additionally, Jesus says that many will be falsely assured of a salvation which does not exist, thinking that their works and prophecies in his name were sufficient to save them. Jesus will respond by saying, “depart from me, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:22-23).
What do we make of this passage? Obviously it is possible to have false assurance of salvation. That is, it is possible for someone to think he is saved, but not actually be saved. What is the reason for this? There are several. Perhaps the most notable, however, is the lack of true doctrinal teaching, a clear Gospel message, and discipleship, within many churches.
God’s Word is clear: salvation is impossible without hearing the truth of the Gospel (Romans 10:14-15). Unfortunately, too many Christians are not hearing a doctrinally sound or sufficient Gospel; they have been fed a watered-down, often distorted Gospel, and have been led through a superstitious prayer while never understanding what it means to truly follow Christ and be sanctified.
While many skeptics of the previous statements may have already tuned out, what we cannot ignore is the evidence. Research from Lifeway, Barna Group, and other studies have shown consistently that roughly 75% of young people who grew up in church end up walking away from the church after high school. Some return later in life, while many do not. The question is not “are people abandoning the faith” but “why?” Why are we witnessing an increasing trend of “deconstruction” within American evangelicalism?
While some may pass this off as just Christian criticism, I believe we ought to take it seriously. What I am not here to do, and what no Christians should exist for, is to criticize everything the church does wrong. However, what I am here to do is attempt to change the negative trend we are currently witnessing within the American church.
God has given me a burden for those who are within the church but not being discipled. I do not know why this specific context is a burden on my heart, but then again, God is God and I am not. The fact of the matter, though, is that too many churches are not properly discipling people, specifically young people.
We give them half-truths and slogans, call it the Gospel, and get surprised when 3 out of 4 of them walk away from the faith. There is nothing for them there. We have not discipled them. We have created a church culture of consumers who are drawn to the experience and emotions; as pastor Kyle Idleman says, “whatever you win them with, you win them to.” We are too concerned with manufacturing a system for drawing crowds to the church that we have not invested into those within the church. As pastor Ryan Visconti stated, “in an effort to reach the lost, many pastors failed to disciple the found.”
We are feeding believers baby food and never teaching them to feed themselves the full meal that is the rest of the Bible. As a result, they leave because they are starving and the culture is promising good-tasting food that is nothing but junk. But at least it is filling.
One of the reasons so many young people are “deconstructing” or de-converting is because they were never truly converted to begin with.
Granted, only God can discern the heart of a truly saved person. Hence, Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13. The point of the parable is to demonstrate that there are many who will claim to be part of the body of Christ, and can appear to be so, but at the harvest time, God can discern that which is truly wheat (a true disciple) and a weed (a false convert). This is true, though it should not dissuade us as disciples of Christ from caring for the hearts of those within our churches who may one day depart if not discipled. After all, Jesus did not instruct us to “go make believers;” rather, he commands us, “go make disciples.”
James makes clear that those who teach scripture are held to a higher standard (James 3:1). Why? Because the handling of God’s Word and the preaching of the true Gospel is what compels people to repent, given the conviction and movement of the Spirit within their hearts. This is why Paul instructs Timothy to be sure to “rightly handle” God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15).
Right handling of God’s Word includes not steering from hard truths of scripture, such as the reality of man’s sin, the depravity from God is causes therein, the wrath of God which is poured out on unrighteousness, the fact that we are saved from God himself when we become Christians, and the holiness of God, before whom we stand convicted until declared justified by His grace and mercy through Jesus’s blood on the Roman cross.
True discipleship involves teaching the doctrines of Scripture so that we can know what we believe and why we believe it, as well as how to answer the inevitable objections from the world. True discipleship means knowing the cost of following Jesus: we are called to take up our cross daily, die to ourselves, and turn from the world in order to pursue Christ. We are called to be completely committed followers of Jesus, even if it means losing everything.
True discipleship includes teaching disciples how to read and study God’s Word, as well as how to then communicate the truths therein. We must know how to properly interpret scripture in order to avoid heresy and to prevent others from stumbling based on false interpretations.
True discipleship involves more than just showing up to church on Sundays and consuming the experience of the worship service. True discipleship involves taking a stand against culturally popular practices and ideologies such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism. In other words, following Christ involves more than just saying “no” to the things of the world; we must also be willing to speak truth into the darkness, amidst humility and persecution.
I believe we are seeing the fruit of Matthew 7 too often within the church, hence the dropout rates among Evangelical Christians. We ought to be quick to love them and reach out with grace and truth.
There are people who think they are saved but are not. More of us need to start taking heed to Jesus’s words and start caring about the souls of those within our congregations, and not just the number of seats that they fill.
This article is adapted from Bubblegum Gospel by Adam Butler. For a more in-depth analysis and commentary on this topic, read the book here.