It is hard to be discipled by a cloud, a burning bush or a quaking mountain. Discipleship needs a body. It needs someone we can see and touch and follow. It needs someone to demonstrate things and help us learn how to do what we see them doing.
God started his kingdom mission by sending Jesus the Christ. He sent him in the flesh. He sent him bodily in order to reach people who are embodied.
When Robert Coleman was asked about updating his classic book on discipleship “The Master Plan of Evangelism” he was asked, an interesting question. If you could go back in time, what would you add or change? “I would add a ninth principle,” he said.
“Tell us why you would add the ninth principle in this eBook to the eight in the original book?”
Here is his answer,
“The incarnation of Jesus was behind the book and the eight principles I originally wrote about. The fact that Jesus came to rescue us and to show us how much God loves us was just assumed in my original work. But now, when I present the material, I believe that it is helpful to make that concept explicit. So, when I go through the nine principles, I start with the incarnation, and I tell everyone that all the other principles are built on it.”
Everything Jesus showed us in terms of making disciples builds on the incarnation of Jesus. The selection, association, consecration, demonstration, delegation, supervision, reproduction, and impartation were only possible because Jesus came in the flesh. If you would like to read more on this from Robert Coleman you can download his full eBook here.
Incarnation is the disciple maker’s framework.
This is true of Jesus coming in the flesh and it is also true of him leaving us here to carry on the work. We realize Jesus could have ascended and left the Holy Spirit to carry on the work non-incarnate.
But what did the Holy Spirit do? The Spirit took up residence in us!
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” – 1 Cor 3:16
Paul also wrote this in 1 Corinthians 6:13-15,19-20,
“The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?…Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
Our bodies are a temple for the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has carried on the mission of making disciples by indwelling us, empowering us and informing us today to do the work Jesus left us here to do.
Paul wrote this in 1 Cor 12:27,
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”
We are the body of Christ. We are part of his body! We are doing his work of making disciples as the embodied and indwelt people of God reaching out to other embodied people in this world.
There is still some mystery on exactly how all of this works but one thing is clear. God advanced his kingdom mission through Christ and the ongoing work of the Spirit through incarnation.
What does this say about how we make disciples?
1 – We need face to face time with people. It is entirely possible to disciple someone through zoom but it is not ideal. We need to walk with people and talk with people. We need to demonstrate the mission in real time.
2 – Mindful and intentional presence is essential. Lots of people are around other people but few are truly present. When we watch the example of Jesus we see his mindful and intentional presence. That is what we need to imitate in our own lives. As we go out into the world, be mindful of who is around you and aware of opportunities that present to show people Jesus.
3 – Isolation will wreck your effectiveness in making disciples. It is basically impossible to be both serious about making disciples and live in isolation from other people.
As we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus this Christmas, let us be mindful of how this time of year might help us be intentional about how we make disciples in 2023!