I always thought discipleship flowed out of a salvation. You learn about Jesus, experience grace, make a commitment to accept and serve Jesus, and then discipleship begins as we follow after Jesus.
Then I read the gospels.
Jesus called his disciples, and they followed, but it says nothing about them believing. Absolutely nothing. That doesn’t necessarily prove that they didn’t; however, later in the story, we learn about their journey of belief. It wasn’t until much later in their journey of discipleship, did they fully understand and believe.
Everyone from Peter to Judas, portrayed signs of confusion and disbelief of who Jesus actually was. It’s not until the very end, when they witness the risen Saviour, and empowerment of the Spirit, that they reach a powerful turning point. And the transformation is amazing — Peter goes from denying he even knew Jesus, to preaching in front of thousands.
So what can we learn from the disciple’s journey? Let me give you 5 ways discipleship begins before salvation:
1) We are CALLED before we believe.
The disciples were called before they ever knew who Jesus was or what he was going to teach (Mt 4:19f; Mk 2:14; Lk 5). Some were fishing, others were collecting taxes — all twelve were drawn to follow. We might call it ‘blind faith,’ but I think it’s fair to understand Jesus’ call as the Spirit engaging our inquiring minds. Jesus met them where they were and invited them on a journey of discipleship.
2) We are TAUGHT before we believe.
Jesus spent three years teaching and guiding his disciples. He taught with parables (Lk 8:1f), used in-the-moment experiences (8:22f), and by living out the mission himself (8:26f). Every moment was use strategically and it didn’t matter exactly where they found themselves in understanding. Jesus taught both Judas and Peter with the same passion and love — He simply taught them.
3) We SERVE before we believe.
Jesus sent out the disciples to do the work of the ministry. To ‘proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal’ (Lk 9:1-6). The disciples were being crafted for service. To be clear, this wasn’t the first task on their to-do list, but it wasn’t until AFTER they served, did Peter make the confession — Jesus is ‘The Christ of God’ (9:18-20). Even then, we know that Peter wasn’t completely aware of what that meant because he would eventually deny even knowing him.
4) We make MISTAKES before we believe.
The disciples missed the mark so many times in their journey of discipleship: rebuking Jesus for talking about his future suffering (Mt 16:22), keeping children away from Jesus (Mk 10:13-16), requesting special leadership roles in heaven (10:37), falling asleep in Gethsemane (14:37-38), denying Jesus (Jn 13:36f, 18:17, 25-27), and even betraying Jesus (18:2f). It’s part of the journey — we make mistakes so we can learn from them.
5) We DOUBT before we believe.
The disciple’s reaction to the resurrection is one of complete doubt (Jn 20:19f). We might want to say it was only ‘doubting’ Thomas, but it just so happens that Thomas was the only one not present when Jesus appeared for the first time. Let’s face it, we would all doubt the resurrection if someone told you your mentor (who just died) stood before them, and you just missed it.
We have to remember we are all on a journey of faith and belief. As disciples, along that journey, we experience many things. Jesus allowed his disciples to belong as followers long before they fully understood. He taught them, led them, and even let them serve along the way, BEFORE they fully believed.
These 5 ‘pre-belief’ aspects of discipleship continue after salvation as well. The only difference — after Salvation, we experience true contentment, peace and freedom that can only be found when we completely turn to Jesus.
The question we have to ask ourselves is: do we allow people to journey towards Jesus, or do we expect people to figure everything out before they join in discipleship?
Likewise: have you dismissed yourself away from discipleship because you feel like you don’t ‘measure up’?
Jesus is calling us to pursue a journey with Him! Don’t let anything get in the way of that!
Let’s journey together, no matter where we are, as we learn to love God and love others!
Where are you on your journey of faith?
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