The following content is an excerpt from the eBook Evangelism or Discipleship. Download your free digital version in your favorite format here.
As we mention in detail in Chapter 1 of Evangelism of Discipleship, we think the concept of a covenant commitment is also important in this discussion and in the linkage of evangelism and discipleship. Covenants are a big deal in the Bible. A covenant is a special relationship where parties formally commit themselves to each other. It is not a transaction, but a deeply meaningful relationship. A covenant is an agreement where God invites us, leads us and freely binds Himself to us. We respond, as His gracious Spirit leads, and commit ourselves to Him. King Jesus calls to us to complete trust and surrender.
Think of the Israelites and the covenant God called them into in the desert at Mount Sinai (Deut. 5:1 ff). God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt by His mercy and grace and committed Himself to them. But in this relationship, He made it clear that He expected the people to walk with and follow Him. He expected them to fully obey Him and carefully follow His commands (Deut. 28:1-2). Covenants are like that—they are not just transactions where we make a deal with vague promises to somehow follow up on it. In the Bible, God graciously offers covenants, but He calls for a covenant response, a whole life commitment to His covenant offers.
Think of a wedding ceremony covenant. It is a good, everyday analogy. Both of us have performed many wedding ceremonies. According to tradition, we ask the man if he will “take this woman to be his wife, promising before God, his family, and friends that he will stay with her in sickness and in health, in prosperity and in adversity, so long as they both shall live.” Then we turn and ask the woman the same thing. In this pledge, the marriage ceremony becomes a covenant, an agreement between two parties, where they pledge themselves to each other. It is not a transaction. It is two people entering into a deeply personal commitment to one another. Covenants, like wedding ceremonies, involve commitment, confession and physical expression.
This comes from the free eBook Evangelism or Discipleship, which you can download here.
Just like with a wedding ceremony, dedication to Jesus is a deeply personal commitment. God is the initiator: He sent His son for us and woos us by His Spirit. He promises forgiveness, His presence, and life in His kingdom. We respond with faith, which is to be a deep, lifelong commitment to “trust, follow, and obey.” Once we enter into the covenant relationship, our lives will never be the same.
We see evangelism as that part of discipleship where people are invited to enter into a covenant relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. According to Matt. 28:18-20, a person makes the decision to trust and follow Jesus (confirmed in baptism) and also commits to obey all of His teachings (true discipleship). This is an invitation to a covenant relationship.
As these examples in Scripture show us, God is the true power source in the covenant. Through Jesus, He promises that we receive forgiveness of all sins, the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit, life in His kingdom now, and eternal life in His heavenly kingdom forever. We enter into this new covenant by turning to Him from sin (repentance), confessing with our mouths our faith in Jesus, and then by making our faith commitment to Him concrete in baptism.
How do we help people place their faith in Jesus? We recommend a covenant commitment to Jesus as our Savior and King (Lord) in the following fashion. We see this surrender as having three key essentials that are practiced in community:
- Commitment. A person will consciously make the decision to repent of his sins and turn to God through Jesus (Acts 26:20).
- Confession. A person will express out loud the confession of his heart that Jesus is King (Lord) and call on His name (Rom. 10:9-10, Acts 22:16, Acts 16:30-33).
- Physical expression. A person will be baptized as a concrete and covenant expression of her decision to trust and follow Jesus (Matt. 28:19-20, Acts 2:38).
Throughout Scripture, these three elements closely tie together as the way to dedicate yourself to Jesus in a covenant relationship.10 That relationship with Him is based on God’s grace, is by faith, and inherently it lead us to discipleship.
Our friend Jeff Vanderstelt has a great way of describing how we are changed by transferring our allegiance in baptism The covenant relationship confers a new identity on us. We now live out our identity, grounded in our attachment to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God the Father makes us family – and He calls us to love one another as brothers and sisters. God the Son came to us as a servant – and he calls us to join him by serving the least of these, those who are in need. And God the Spirit provided the power for the Son’s mission in the world – and He now empowers our mission in the world as we proclaim Jesus in word and deed. Who we are—redeemed children of King Jesus—determines what He calls us to do. We are to live out our new covenant identity (Romans 6: 2-7).
Written by Bill Hull and Bobby Harrington
Bill Hull is a Co-Founder of The Bonhoeffer Project. Bill’s passion is to help the Church return to its disciple making roots. He considers himself a discipleship evangelist. This God-given desire has manifested itself in 20 years of pastoring and the authorship of many books. Two of his more important books Jesus Christ Disciple Maker and The Disciple Making Pastor have both celebrated 20 years in print. Add a third in the popular trilogy—The Disciple Making Church—and you have a new paradigm for disciple making.
Bobby Harrington is the Executive Director of Discipleship.org, a national platform, conference, and ministry that advocates for Jesus’ style of disciple making. He is the founding and lead pastor of Harpeth Christian Church (by the Harpeth River, just outside of Nashville, TN). He has a Doctor of Ministry degree in consulting and has spent years as a coach to church planters and senior pastors. He is the author of several books on discipleship, including DiscipleShift (with Jim Putman and Robert Coleman) and The Disciple Maker’s Handbook (with Josh Patrick).