Christianity is not just a doing religion.
It is a religion based on certain truths, certain great realities, and if you don’t understand or believe those, you will never understand how God wants you to act or anything else about the Christian life. It is not just, Christianity, a certain experience or feeling, it’s very concerned with truth and that’s why it is so essential that we as disciplers help the people we are discipling understand what the Scripture teaches in a systematic and orderly way.
Now the next question of course is what is it that we should make sure to teach?
And again you may remember from the previous post in this series, that right now, I am talking about sort of formal instruction, and I am imagining you are looking at the person you want to disciple, and you are thinking what is it that they must absolutely know? And the thing here is that I want to be as practical as possible, so you can actually do something with this, and yet, I don’t want to be so rigid that we all do the same thing no matter who we are talking to.
So I started looking at Paul and the way he discipled and I think we can identify four basic fundamentals we need to make sure we teach or at least we make sure the people we are discipling understand.
We can look at the first today and the rest in posts to come.
First of course is the gospel message.
1 Corinthians 15:1, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.”
It is so easy for us to assume the gospel, and so we are talking to someone and they say they are Christians, and they go to church, and we just assume they understand the gospel and that is a very dangerous assumption to make.
When people say they believe the gospel, they can mean almost anything really, from going to church, calling oneself a Christian, having a religious experience, being what the world calls a good person.
All of those things are fine. But none of them are the gospel.
Very practically, this means when we are going to disciple people and they say they are Christians, we need to be asking what that means and when they say I love Jesus, we should ask them why, and when they say they believe the gospel, you ask them what it is.
You probably will be surprised how many people have been in church all their lives and never really understood the gospel.
The fact is even those who do understand often lose sight of it and neglect it and forget its significance.
In 2 Peter 1, Peter talks about Christians who aren’t growing, and he explains why. He says in verse 9, “For whoever lacks these qualities (the qualities of a growing Christian) is so short-sighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”
If you are wondering where to start with people when it comes to teaching in discipleship, it’s hard to go wrong when you start with the gospel.
Now maybe the only way you can go wrong is if you have an inadequate understanding of the gospel yourself, where you think it is just reciting a few words over and over to someone. The gospel is simple in that you can understand, but it is also profound. There’s enough to talk about with someone who is new to the Christian faith and someone who has been a Christian for years and years.
To get very specific and practical with you, there are a number of resources you could use to begin instructing the person you are discipling in the gospel.
First, you might just begin with some of the passages in the Bible that focus in specifically on explaining the gospel. I will give you some examples, just from Paul, and this is totally just as a start, and you can enjoy searching for more.
Acts 19:8 and 20:20-21
1 Corinthians 15:1-4
2 Corinthians 5:18-21
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
1 Timothy 1:15
2 Timothy 1:10
And if you are wondering what you could do with all those Scripture references, well you could just begin with the person you are teaching, by getting out a Bible and a piece of paper and reading through these texts, and then marking down what it says about the gospel, what they mean, how they apply and what kind of encouragement you should receive from these texts.
A second way you could help some understand the basics of the gospel better would by looking at some key biblical terms, words that are important for understanding the gospel and then working your way through a biblical definition of each. If you are wondering what kind of words I am talking, let me give you a list of ten associated with Christ’s work to start and again you can enjoy looking for more.
Union with Christ
If you are wondering what do with those terms, one you can find every time you are used in Scripture and try to see how the Scripture itself explains them, two you can, if you are able, you might try to get what they call a dictionary of theological terms, there’s one I know that is called Dictionary of Theological terms by Alan Cairns, another called the Westminster Dictionary of Theological terms, and you can work through the definitions there.
A third approach you might take is pick up what they call a catechism, and work through the sections on the gospel that you find there. Now obviously you wouldn’t just pick up any old Catechism, there are several helpful ones, and I’ll mention a few.
First, there’s the Westminster Shorter Catechism and then the Westminster Longer Catechism.
There’s one called the Heidelberg Catechism.
A great preacher named Charles Spurgeon even has a catechism you can find online, if you just type in Spurgeon and catechism or Puritans catechism.
There’s also a newer catechism that I think might be helpful called the New City Catechism.
I have also noticed, if you believe it or not, that there are apps for your phone, catechism apps that you can use in regards to this.
And what you can do with these catechisms, is you can work through their explanations of the gospel, memorize them even, define the terms, try to have the person you are teaching prove that they are true from the Scriptures, or if what they are saying isn’t quite accurate, then you have to prove that it’s not from God’s Word. The nice thing about these catechisms is that they are in question and answer format, so they basically force a discussion.
Still another approach, and I am just trying to show you that there are lots of ways to go about this, is to get a set of the messages that we have preached at the church here on the gospel and then listen to the messages together, or you could listen to it, make your own study guide with questions, and then have them answer the questions and get together and discuss, if my accent isn’t that helpful, you can even ask me if I have a manuscript of the particular sermon for you to read and then you could read through the message together and anytime it doesn’t make sense, just stop and talk about it.
One more approach when it comes to teaching the gospel would be to go through a good book on the gospel together. Have them read a chapter, then get together, and you discuss that chapter, if you don’t know what to discuss, just ask them what was the main point of the chapter, what was confusing in the chapter, what did you learn from the chapter, was there anything in the chapter you didn’t agree with, how can you be different as a result of what you read, that’s five questions right there.
I would encourage you not just to read any book, but maybe pick up one of the books on the gospel we have on our book table, or ask, I mean, I will be happy to give you suggestions and even if I have them, give you the book to borrow and use. In fact, let me share with you five different books you could use that would really help the person you are discipling better understand the gospel.
First, the Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges. Now this is a nice book because not only is it easy to read and yet deep at the same time, it also comes with a study guide and you could have the person you are discipling work through that study guide, it would be a huge help.
Second, the Cross of Christ by John Stott. This is a book that will give you such a deeper appreciation for the work of Christ on your behalf. It would be difficult for me to recommend it more.
Then there’s All of Grace by Charles Spurgeon. Charles Spurgeon was a pastor that lived and preached over a hundred years ago, but wow, this again is one of those books that is packed with dynamite explosive truth and will give such encouragement to the person you are discipling.
A fourth book that’s pretty devotional, meaning shorter chapters basically leading you to worship, would be In Christ Alone by a man named Sinclair Ferguson.
And then finally there are curriculums almost, more than a book kind of things that you could work through with someone, like there’s a great curriculum called the Gospel Project and then there’s a simpler explanation of the gospel that you could take time with, it’s called Two Ways to Live and look with all of this, I understand not everyone likes to read, but I am convinced if you can slowly but surely help the person you are discipling learn to read, you are taking such a step forward, because you won’t always be there for them, and you are introducing them through reading to some godly and learned men who can disciple them when you can’t.