I live in a weird culture. I grew up in, and still live in the Bible Belt where not that long ago, most people believed in Jesus and went to church. However, within my lifetime it has become more common for people not to go to church. But given the history of the area, a lot of people still claim to believe in Jesus even though they no longer attend church. Or, conversely, they believe they have a good understanding of Jesus and Christianity and have squarely rejected them.
The weird thing is that no one really talks about Jesus. The church people will use Jesus’ name, but not in a manner like they really want to talk about Him. They will say things like, “Jesus saved me and lives in my heart,” or “I thank Jesus every day for what He has done for me,” or “I wish everyone knew Jesus the way that I know Jesus.” But they are all vague statements and catchphrases that never really plunge into the depths of who Jesus really is and what He really wants in our lives.
Moreover, if you try to take the conversations deeper, you are met with more catchphrases and a sense that you are being socially inappropriate by questioning someone’s relationship with Jesus. Even those who believe they have rejected Jesus have their own catchphrases and canned replies they use when the topic of Jesus comes up. In both situations, it is clear that by pushing further, you are crossing an unspoken line and committing a social faux pas.
The whole thing got really weird for me when I discovered what it meant to imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple. In my excitement, I was constantly crossing that unspoken line by talking to people about being a disciple of Jesus instead of being just “a Christian.” I have lost friends because I attempted to explain to them that believing in Jesus requires that we also imitate and obey Him as His disciple (1 John 2:3-6). I have family members who don’t mention church or Jesus around me anymore because they know I will cross the line. Even the outgoing believer who is willing to share his faith with me at the gas pump gets uncomfortable when I start trying to move the conversation toward the necessity of imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciple.
However, even when I have been able to convince Christians in my culture that the end goal of the gospel of Jesus is that believers bring glory to God by being recreated back into the image of God, and that doing so only occurs through imitating and obeying Jesus (who is the perfect image of God) as His disciple (by the power of the Holy Spirit), they still hesitate to fully commit to being and making disciples of Jesus.
I recently wrote a book on the scriptural argument for why it is necessary for believers to imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple titled Recreated to be Like God: Making Disciples in the Image of Jesus. For a sample eBook click here— for the full paperback click here.
But what I finally came to realize was that understanding why and how we are to imitate and obey Jesus as His disciples was only the first roadblock which was impeding believers in my culture from fully committing to Jesus-style discipleship and disciple making. The following is a list of the specific additional roadblocks that I have identified in my culture. You may find that you have the same or similar roadblocks in your culture and therefore this list may be of some assistance to you.
6 Roadblocks to Jesus-style Disciple Making
- Not Understanding Why and How We are to be Disciples of Jesus
Again, I clearly believe that this is the first roadblock and why we struggle to be and make disciples of Jesus– that’s why I wrote a book about it. I may be partial to the argument, but I believe it is foolish to attempt to be and make disciples of Jesus without teaching the ultimate goal of doing so first. My point being, if you don’t attempt to move past this roadblock initially, you may be attempting to cross the other roadblocks with people who wouldn’t have been willing to cross this roadblock in the first place. Moreover, understanding this point will be necessary to work past the other roadblocks.
- Moralistic Deism/Being a Good Moral Person
Most of the people I grew up around seemed to be good moral people, whether they went to church or not. I only knew a couple of seemingly evil people. But even they didn’t consider themselves to be evil; they just lived by a different moral code. Many of the people I went to church with were very moral people–who also happened to be very racist, and who also discriminated against poor people.
That is the problem with merely being a good moral person, it is subjective to the surrounding culture. In contrast, at some point the morality of a disciple who is imitating and obeying Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit should far surpass that of the surrounding culture. And I don’t simply mean keeping the Ten Commandments and having a biblical sexual ethic (which is what it seems following Jesus has been reduced to in modern Christianity). I am referring to the kind of morality where you also love your enemies, care for the poor and weak, and gladly abandon your priorities and treasures for the priorities and treasures of the kingdom of heaven.
One of the main things that made me realize that there was a problem with the church culture that I grew up in was that there was the lack of any major moral difference between most of the people who went to church and those who did not. Most of the churchgoers basically practiced a form of moralistic deism, while the non-churchgoers were simply good moral people. The problem being that both sides also took pride in being good moral people and believed that it was all that God and/or other humans expected of them. Moreover, they take it as an insult if you attempt to tell them that it really means nothing in the grand scheme of things that they are just good moral people. It is difficult for them to accept that they must be recreated back into the image of God that they were originally created to be in order to render unto God the glory that He is due.
As a result, believers and unbelievers alike struggle to accept that imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciple goes beyond simply being a good moral person. The difference of course being that you can be a good moral person who is racist and discriminates against the poor in some cultures (or whatever other overlooked sin is culturally acceptable), but you can never do those things as a disciple of Jesus.
- Easy Believeism
I stated before that during the time I was growing up, there was not a big moral difference between people who went to church and those who did not (you can take that one way or the other). And of course, I wasn’t the only one who recognized this. Ultimately the unbelievers began to question why the Christians believed that they were going to heaven and that the unbelievers were going to hell when there was no significant moral difference between them. In order to address this disparity and differentiate between the two groups, a particular theology was adopted by the Christians that has come to be known as “Easy Believeism.”
I say, “two groups”, but there were actually three major groups at the time: conservative Christians, liberal Christians, and unbelievers. Again, all three of these were not greatly separated by their morality at the time, but rather by what they believed about salvation. Conservatives believed (among other things) that salvation is exclusively through Jesus. The liberals believed that Christianity was one of multiple ways to God and the unbelievers believed that if there is a God, He will allow all good moral people into heaven when they die.
Therefore, the deciding factor for the conservatives that I grew up among was primarily the exclusivity of salvation through Jesus. The only thing that really separated them from the other good moral people was that they believed that they alone were going to heaven because they alone believed in salvation through Jesus alone. However, they didn’t understand that belief in Jesus must also include a willingness to be recreated into His image through imitating and obeying Him as His disciple.
Instead, they believed that they merely needed to accept Jesus’ death on the cross for their sins as the only way to heaven. Therefore, all one had to do to get into heaven was “believe” that Jesus died on the cross for their sins (hence, Easy Believeism). They were probably already a good moral person, and if by chance they were one of the few evil people, they just needed to try to be a good moral person going forward. The word “repentance” had lost any real meaning to them because they took it to mean “trying to be a better person” instead of “turning toward imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciple.”
As a result, conservative Christians in my culture have a difficult time accepting that you need to go beyond being a good moral person who also believes that Jesus died on the cross for your sins. They have a hard time accepting that they need to completely die to themselves as well in order to be recreated in the image of God through imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciple.
The really disheartening part is when I have been able to demonstrate from Scripture to a believer that they must not only believe that Jesus died for their sins, but that they must also be willing to imitate and obey Him as His disciple – and they even agree with you – but when I begin trying to show them where they are not imitating and obeying Jesus, their response is to start quoting Scripture out of context in order to excuse their un-Christlike behavior.
This leads us to our next roadblock, an unwillingness to submit. If you agree to imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple, you must first admit that no matter how good of a person you are, there is never-ending room for improvement to become more like Him. Then, you must be willing to let other mature disciples of Jesus show you how you are not like Him and where you have room for improvement. You must be willing to submit to others in your spiritual development into the image of Jesus.
This is another roadblock where I have seen people give surface level agreement, but then struggle when faced with the reality. What I have seen in particular is people who claimed to be mature believers, and even accepted that we are to imitate and obey Jesus as disciples, but then believed themselves to be too mature to take correction from other believers. They were perfectly fine to sit in a small group and point out to others where they had room for improvement but could not see where there was room for improvement in themselves or take corrective edification from others.
The odd thing is that they will readily agree in theory that they are not yet perfected and that there is room for improvement, but then they can’t point to exactly where and how. This is why we must submit to other believers who will point out our blind spots.
Ask yourself a few questions: First, can you answer plainly, how you are not like Jesus and what you are doing to become like Jesus in those areas of your life? Second, could you go and ask someone who is spiritually mature to tell you how you are not yet like Jesus and then sit and listen to them answer without getting offended, upset, or defensive? Then, would you be able to agree to be held accountable in those areas of your life by that person and others?
It sounds straightforward, but I have seen people who claim to be spiritually mature freeze up and be unable to do those things; ultimately because they were unwilling to submit to other believers.
If you are a pastor, you are probably thinking, “Exactly!” But let me ask you as a pastor, are you someone who is worthy of being submitted to?
In other words, are you willing to ask yourself those same questions and are you willing to submit to others to help you become more like Jesus? Are you willing to do what you are asking the members of your congregation to do? If not, you will stop dead at this roadblock along with your congregation. My suggestion is that if you are a pastor who wants to be and make disciples of Jesus, that you find one friend you trust and start asking each other those questions and answering them honestly, and then teach your congregation to do the same. The unwillingness to submit must be abandoned by all who would follow Jesus as His disciple.
- Abandoning All
Jesus sated plainly, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate… even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:26-33).
Let me be blunt, one of the greatest lies in the world today is that you can believe in Jesus without being willing to abandon everything for Him. If you believe that Scripture is true, then you have to believe what Jesus said. You cannot “believe in Jesus” and not be willing to abandon everything for Him; including being just a “good moral person.”
Again, the key is that you need to be recreated into the image of God that you were originally created to be. In order to do so, the old you must be crucified and die, even if it is a “good moral person” by the standards of the surrounding culture. You must abandon anything and everything that impedes you becoming like Jesus (the perfect image of God), even those things that are okay for “good people” to be and do. In order to follow Jesus as His disciple you must have a burning desire to be like Him and an eager willingness to abandon anything in your life that falls short of His perfection. As Paul wrote:
“Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12-14).
If you are not willing to abandon all in order to continuously become more like Jesus until the day you step into paradise, then you will stop dead at this roadblock and fail to be and make disciples of Jesus.
- Actually Making Disciples of Jesus
While we are being blunt; being and making disciples of Jesus takes time, energy, effort, and sacrifice (and usually money). Therefore, some of your time, energy, effort (and probably money) that is currently being spent elsewhere, will have to be redirected toward being and making disciples of Jesus. Just as anything that stands in the way of imitating and obeying Jesus must be abandoned, so must anything that stands in the way of making disciples of Jesus in relational environments be abandoned as well. And things will need to be abandoned. You simply do not have the time, energy, and effort to live a “normal” life and be and make disciples of Jesus.
You might say that you already give a significant amount of those things to the church. But giving those things to a church and being and making disciples of Jesus are not necessarily the same things; they can be, but not necessarily. Therefore, you may have to abandon some of the activities that you now consider “church” in order to be and make disciples. Or, you may have to abandon other activities outside of church that are acceptable for other good moral people to do, but that you as a disciple of Jesus do not have the time and resources to engage in.
Intellectually, you may be able to move past all of these roadblocks, but at some point, you must act. You must not only believe these things to be true, but you must also take action in order to be and make disciples of Jesus. Jesus Himself taught:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).
In order to possess the kingdom of heaven, both of these men had to abandon all and act on their belief. The kingdom of heaven is no different for you or me. We cannot possess it unless we are willing to abandon all in order to imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple, and then make more disciples who do the same.
Jesus Himself is the treasure and the pearl of great value. We only take possession of Him when we realize His beauty and worth, and the beauty and worth of imitating and obeying Him, and then follow through on that belief with our actions. But in order to do so, we must face the reality that the cultural Christianity and Easy Believeism that has permeated our churches has created serious roadblocks that we must be aware of and then face them honestly and boldly if we want to see a disciple making movement in our culture. My suggestion is to begin by understanding and being able to explain why and how we are to be disciples of Jesus. If you need help with that, begin with Recreated to be Like God: Making Disciples in the Image of Jesus (a Discipleship.org Resource) or with the free primer eBook.