DNA: Discipleship


Just last week we had the opportunity to kick off our newest vision series, where we are taking a hard look at the DNA—the building blocks—of New Life. This whole theme of DNA got me thinking about how in just a few months, my wife and I will be welcoming our third child into our home. Something you need to know about me (and it actually might explain an awful lot) is that I’m an only child. So, when Lydia—my second daughter—was born, I was genuinely curious to see what that sibling interaction would look like on a daily basis. And, honestly, our girls do great together, but I also understand that I have quite a few years ahead of me yet to see that fully play out. But, now that baby number three is on the way, I have a different curiosity because Abby and I will officially be outnumbered. We’re going to have to move from man-to-man defense to some zone defense. And, I get it, for some of you, three kids is a cakewalk. My wife comes from a family with nine kids.

But, here’s what I do know with every child: at some point the debate will unfold. Who does this child look more like—mom or dad? Here’s the thing—everybody has opinion about it, too, right? If you’re anything like Abby and me, as the child develops his or her personality, you’re going to inevitably (and usually in jest) try to pin all their misbehaviors on your spouse’s DNA and claim all their success as coming from your DNA. When Gwen is loud and sassy and argumentative, there’s no question that she gets that all from… my wife. Okay, that’s simply not true. When Gwen was born someone told me that she was beautiful and obviously had gotten all of her good looks from me. I was kind of surprised at their bluntness, you know? So, I chuckled, and asked, “Why do you say that?” They replied, “Because Abby still has her good looks.” I didn’t even see it coming. I walked right into it, but I can’t argue with it.

Without question there are things that parents pass down to their children through DNA. We are predisposed to certain behaviors because of our genetics. For example, do you have a hard time staying away from credit cards or from unnecessary shopping bags? One study in 2015 suggested that people are led by their genes to either spend or save money. Are you a morning person or a night owl? While most people need about six to seven hours of sleep, Margaret Thatcher was known to make due with just four. But, you guessed it—your genes determine your sleep patterns. Some people even call it the Thatcher Gene. Or, if you know you’re just killing it with the jokes but nobody’s laughing, it actually might not be the joke. It could be their genes. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. But, seriously, one study concluded that people with a certain genetic variation tend to laugh and smile more often.

Here is the beautiful news about the gospel, though: we are not prisoners of our predispositions. God is making us into something new. Simply because our parents are our parents, they naturally have an influence on the type of people we become. Something of themselves becomes hardwired deeply into our DNA and shapes and influences us. But, this is not only true of our biological parents. This deeply rings true about our heavenly Father as well. I think this is one of the reasons Scripture alludes to birth so strongly when talking about coming to faith in Christ. When we are born again, we are made into a new creation. Jesus would even tell one religious leader in the middle of the night, [John 3:3b] “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

The Apostle Paul would echo this amazing truth in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

If you follow Christ, a new DNA is being woven into your being. But, if you have followed Christ for any period of time, you also understand that there is a process to this transformation. We have to grow in Him and grow to become more like Him. It doesn’t happen overnight. We call this process of following Christ in faith discipleship. As we’re going to unpack this thought throughout this morning’s message, New Life—as a community of disciples, a community of those who follow Jesus—must be wholly committed to the process. How do we do this, though? Well, as Pastor Jason mentioned in last week’s message on unity, the Apostle Paul encouraged us not only to share the message of the gospel but to share our lives with each other as well.

Discipleship is community.

This leads us to our first point this morning: discipleship is all about community. But, to be clear, it cannot simply be about being around more people; it has to be about loving people more fully. This is the difference between living in a crowd and living in a community. When I’m at Disneyland, I’m just in a crowd of people. While I love them in the same way that I love people in general, I can’t say that I’ve shared my life with them. But, a church, that ought to be a community. A community where we deeply love and care for one another and willingly live our lives together.

See, when we think about and talk about discipleship within the church, we often think of doing more of the spiritual disciplines: more prayer, more fasting, more Bible reading, more serving, more church attendance. These are all necessary and important to the discipleship process, but they cannot summarize our discipleship process entirely. True discipleship cannot be centered around merely theological truth bombs; it must have its foundation in self-sacrificing love.

True discipleship cannot be centered around merely theological truth bombs; it must have its foundation in self-sacrificing love.

In an incredibly popular and famous portion of Scripture, the Apostle Paul drives this point home. You’ve heard it at weddings undoubtedly, but Paul is actually speaking to the local church and how they interact with one another. Listen to what he writes in 1 Corinthians 13.

[13:1] If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [13:2] And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. [13:3] If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

As a percussionist, I’ve been exposed to some pretty harsh sounds, and cymbals might be some of the worst. Look, I’ve even played percussion in middle school band. If you’ve ever been to one of those concerts, you know what I’m talking about. A crash out of context can be incredibly jarring. Perhaps you remember those vintage monkey toys with the clanging cymbals. The incessant noise can be rather annoying. In fact, we have a drum kit here with some cymbals this morning. So, I thought I’d help illustrate this for us. Paul is saying that if we meet together and if we exercise the spiritual gifts and we speak in tongues and share the knowledge and mysteries of Scripture and even give away everything we have but we don’t have love, then all it is noise.

It’s annoying, isn’t it? You gain nothing—you are nothing—without love. See, I could do that the rest of this message and say things that are good and true, but it will all be lost because the noise of the cymbal is simply too overpowering. So it is when we don’t love one another. We can say and do all the right things in the name of discipleship, but it will be lost in the noise if we do not love one another. Discipleship is not just about learning more theology, but it has to be about learning more about His character—who He is— because His character tells us that He Himself is love. So, how do we approach discipleship in a way that isn’t annoying or overbearing? Well, the Apostle Paul continues in the next few verses,

[13:4] Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant [13:5] or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; [13:6] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. [13:7] Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

This is the model of discipleship for us. Because discipleship is a community and communities get messy, we will—in love—need to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things for the sake of the Gospel. If we cannot do this with one another, then what are we doing? Listen to the new commandment—the new DNA that is being hardwired within us—that Jesus gives in John 13,

[13:34] A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. [13:35] By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

He’s saying, “Look, this new DNA is being hardwired in you to make you more like Me. I loved you; so, love one another. This is how people will know from Whom you came.” It’s not because of how often you go to church or how much Scripture you have memorized or how long you have prayed (though, let me be clear again, these are all great things). He’s saying that the way that people will know we are followers of Jesus is because of how we love. We’re nothing without it.

Becoming and developing disciples must be more than developing biblical literacy and theological knowledge—though these are immensely important. But, we have to live life together in loving community. It has to be about the way we love and care for one another. Together, we can learn how grace weaves our little stories into the larger story of God’s redemptive power and see hearts transformed in the process. Discipleship is community—and a community of love, at that.

Discipleship is consistency.

But, discipleship is also consistency. Discipleship is all about community, but it’s also about being consistent within that community. But, listen, I get it. Consistency gets boring, and boring isn’t sexy. We too quickly get frustrated with the mundane—more of the same ol’ stuff. To disciple someone means you’re going to have to go and pray with them again. It means that you are going to have to go back and study that passage of Scripture and what it means for your life again. It means that you’re going to have to get back into your car and drive to church again. It means going into the nursery or standing at the door or being a barista or being upstairs serving again. It means you’re going to reach out to someone even when they don’t seem to be responding to you again. Again, again, and again. True discipleship seeks not to be impressive but effective and to be effective we must be consistent.

True discipleship seeks not to be impressive but effective and to be effective we must be consistent.

Remember that moment just before Jesus was betrayed, arrested, and crucified? Where do we find Him? He and His disciples are found in this garden praying. Well, at least He is praying. Listen to how the Apostle Luke records that moment,

[22:39] And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. [22:40] And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” [22:45] And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow…

Have you ever asked yourself how in the world those disciples could be sleeping at such a moment? In one sense, I get it: Jesus just told them that He is going to be betrayed and crucified, and so they are understandably sad and upset. But, how could they fall asleep?

I think we get our answer in verse 39: “Jesus came out and went, as was His custom.” As was His custom. We read this passage in hindsight, thinking, Dude, this is a big moment! Wake up! But for the disciples, this was like any other moment. Jesus consistently came to that place to pray. He made such a habit of prayer that His disciples weren’t taken aback. They were bored. Perhaps even uninterested. So, they fell asleep.

Friends, I want to be so consistent in my faith and in the way that I disciple others that it’s almost boring to them. Oh, here he goes again praying for me. Oh, here he goes again reminding me of that Bible passage. Oh, here he goes being willing to serve again. I want to be so consistent in my discipleship that it is no surprise when I show up to support those in need because I’ve already made a habit of it. I want it to be said of me as I obediently follow God and love others “as was his custom.”

We have got to understand that it’s the seemingly boring and mundane moments of discipleship that afford us the powerful opportunities of seeing the gospel at work in people’s lives. A Roman poet named Ovid once said, “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” It’s okay to be boringly consistent because I believe that’s where God wants to reveal His exciting power.

In a recent interview, Super Bowl 52 Champion and Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said, “I always knew Jesus, but I didn’t have the relationship I do now. This past year I was going through some things. I’d be really high if I had a great game and really low if I had a bad game. But I’d see guys in the locker room—Carson, Trey Burton, Jordan Hicks, Jordan Mathews— who would always remain even-keeled. I was envious of them…”

Zach saw the consistency of his teammates—something that he himself longed for. While he was being pulled this way and that way by the circumstances of life, he noticed there was something different about the guys in the locker room. It wasn’t just the prayers and the spiritual encouragement and the Bible studies on Saturdays before the games—which is something all of these guys did. It was the consistency in the way that they carried themselves that caught Zach’s attention.

As a result, Zach says, “I was baptized this past offseason in California before my wedding. Last March is when I truly dedicated my life, and it was the best thing that ever happened.” To be fair, I imagine that after Sunday night’s game, Zach was elated as he should be, but I’m also convinced that he would still say that the moment he rededicated his life to Christ and was baptized was the best thing that ever happened. His teammates would say that discipleship is consistency.

Many of us want to do something awesome—something epic. And, somewhere along the way, we have convinced ourselves that more normal means less spiritual. But, here is what I have come to find: faithful service will often lead us into dull labors and struggles that would make unexciting headlines. Discipleship can often be romanticized through super impressive Facebook posts and status updates, but the reality is that discipleship is often an ugly, messy, and painful process. Consider the story of Bezalel in Exodus. At one point, God tells Moses,

[31:2] See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, [31:3] and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship…

Okay, this is sounding good. This is the stuff epic stories are made out of. The Spirit of God descending and equipping and preparing. This dude is getting heavenly ability and intelligence. This is an able-bodied and smart guy. I can’t wait to see what God is going to do with him. So, we read

[31:4] to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, [31:5] in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.

Wait, hold on. Here is a guy who is filled with the Holy Spirit, but then he’s not commissioned to go be victorious on the battlefield or to give some prophecy for Israel. He doesn’t take his intelligence and shut down his enemies in some intellectual battle. But he’s some guy you probably haven’t heard of before who was used by God to build stuff. To be an artist and to carve and mold things.

This is the guy faithful and consistent in the mundane that God uses to build the tabernacle. Friends, sometimes to be faithful and consistent in our discipleship, we are going to find that we are entrusted not with the glamorous but with the tedious and the meticulous. Remember, Jesus has called us to be faithful in the small things. Discipleship is a community, but it is also all about consistency.

Discipleship is calling.

This leads us to our third and final point this morning. Discipleship is calling. I intentionally left out the word a. Discipleship is not just a calling; it’s the calling. Discipleship is calling for each and every one of us. For this to resonate within us, we have to come to a place where we understand that true discipleship discovers that God is present in every relationship and seeks His redemptive purposes in that place. Let me explain what I mean with a story.

True discipleship discovers that God is present in every relationship and seeks His redemptive purposes in that place.

Martin Luther—the famous theologian—was once approached by a man who enthusiastically announced that he’d recently become a Christian. Wanting desperately to serve the Lord, he asked Luther, “What should I do now?” As if to say, should he become a minister or perhaps a traveling evangelist. A monk, perhaps.

Luther asked him, “What is your work now?”

“I’m a shoe maker.”

Much to the cobbler’s surprise, Luther replied, “Then make a good shoe, and sell it at a fair price.”

What is Martin Luther talking about here? See, in becoming a Christian, we do not need to retreat from our occupational callings we already have. We simply need to exercise whatever our calling is with new God-glorifying motives, goals, and standards. This is to understand that every relationship you are in is the precise place God wants to make His redemptive purposes known.

When we forget discipleship is calling, we take our relationships as our own. They become dictated by our pleasure, our comfort, and our ease. As a result, we get irritated with people who interfere with those things, and much of our anger comes from the fact—as Pastor Paul David Tripp would say—that we are relationship thieves. Our relationships do not belong to us; they belong to God. They are not primarily about personal fulfillment; rather, they are designed to result in God’s glory and our good as He is worshiped and our hearts are changed. Effective discipleship begins to take place when we confess that we have taken relationships for ourselves rather than for His kingdom calling.

This means that your relationship with your employer is the precise place that God wants to reveal His redemptive power. Your relationship with your children and your spouse and your family is the precise place that God wants to reveal His redemptive power. Your relationship with your neighbor and your mailman is the precise place that God wants to reveal His redemptive power. You don’t need to wait for some exotic calling because discipleship is something we are each called to do. So, be creative right where you are with all the talents and gifts He has equipped you. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians,

[7:20] Each one should remain in the condition to which he was called. [7:24] So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

What does this mean? It means your calling to make disciples cannot be simply defined by the relationships within these four walls. Don’t get me wrong; you can disciple people here. We believe in our small groups and in our serving opportunities precisely because they are powerful opportunities. But, do not limit your calling to your participation inside of this church. Your calling is much bigger than that; it involves everything you do and everything you are.

That’s why when we read in a familiar passage of Scripture—the Great Commission—Jesus calls us to make disciples.

[28:19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [28:20a] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Notice, though, what Jesus is not calling us to do. He is not calling us to go and simply make converts. The goal is not to just get people to say, “Yeah, I believe in Jesus.” And, this is where we stop short in our discipleship and in our calling. The calling is to go and make disciples—to make followers of Jesus. So, rather than a people who just confess that they believe in Jesus, we must come alongside and develop a people who, by their lives, are following Him. We do this most effectively by refusing to just be a part of the crowd but by devoting ourselves to becoming a community of love. We do this most effectively when we are consistent—when we prioritize the tedious over the glamorous and embrace, yes, even “boring” Christianity. And, we do this most effectively when we understand that discipleship is calling—that every relationship we find ourselves within this morning is meant to be a platform to display God’s redemptive love. We are all called; we are all commissioned to be disciples who make disciples.

So, as we move to our conclusion this morning, I want to share a quote from English author and social critic Os Guinness. In an interview, he was once asked why the church was not having a larger impact even during a time when more people than ever were attending church. His response was, “The problem with Christians is not that they aren’t where they should be but that they aren’t what they should be where they are.” We are not called to simply be in church but to be the church.

Then, Os continues with a little bit of a tongue-twister. He said, “Calling is not only a matter of being and doing what we are but, also of becoming what we are not yet but are called by God to be.” Calling is not only about where you are and what you do right now. It’s about what God is calling you to be. It’s about what we are not yet but what God is calling us to become. It’s about the process—the process of becoming more and more like Him. Our calling is about discipleship.

And, before we get to the challenge and response this morning, I want to end where we started. It’s true in just a few months that my family will be growing. It has been a joy already to watch my almost four-year-old with my almost two-year-old. I have to be fair and say that sometimes they get into trouble together; we definitely have those days. But, there are also moments where we can hear Gwen teaching Lydia. “No, Lydia, we do it like this.” “Good job, Lydia!” “Lydia, you need to stay in bed or Mama and Papa are going to come up here!” Gwen has taken the role of teaching her younger sister what it means to be a Rebarchek—to teach her this is who we are. This is what we do. This is the type of people we are to be.

To me, this is a beautiful illustration of what discipleship is going to look like. In the same way, we are members of the family of God. In the same way, we might have some bad days together. But, there are also those moments where we can hear each other teaching one another. “No, church, we do it like this.” “Good job, church!” “Church, you need to stay in your bed or Mama and Papa are going to come up here!” Okay, that one might not apply. We must take on the role of teaching one another what it means to be in the family of God—to teach each other this is who we are. This is what we do. This is the type of people we are to be. And, that’s discipleship. This is how we become a community of love consistently living out our calling.

So, I want to invite you to stand with me this morning. We have some time as the band is going to be playing and these altars are going to be open, for us to respond to this message. Maybe this morning and you’re like me, and you have realized that it’s been too easy to define your discipleship simply by what happens within this church and you have forgotten that there’s relationships outside of here that God desires to show His redemptive power within. Maybe standing here this morning, you’ve come to realize that there is no one that you have been reaching out to or investing in or spending time with—perhaps you’ve realized that you haven’t been living to the fullest potential of your calling to make disciples. You may have even come to realize that even though you have felt like life has been boring, God may be calling you to be faithful in the tedium—to serve Him consistently where you are.

Here’s how I would like you to respond this morning as these altars are open. The call to discipleship—the call to be used by God—begins with a simple confession: here am I; send me. “Here am I, God. You can use me. I refuse to let fear settle in and hold me back from living out Your purposes for my life.” If you’re ready to allow God to use you for His redemptive purposes with the people and relationships He has placed you in, I want you to declare this morning, “Here am I; send me,” by stepping out of those pews and coming to these altars. “Here am I, God. Use me to be an agent of love within this community. Here am I, God. Use me in the tedium because I just want to faithfully serve You wherever You have called me. Here am I, God. I’m ready to realize Your purposes for every single relationship and that You have a plan bigger than my own.” Would you come to these altars and declare, “Here am I; send me”?

This morning, I understand that there might be some of you here who before you can help make followers of Jesus yourself need to become a follower of Jesus. I understand that there might be someone here this morning who has never made the decision to follow Jesus, to become a disciple. As we sang this morning, the message of the gospel is that you can come as you are. The beautiful picture of discipleship is that you don’t need to figure all of this out before you come to Christ. You just need to make the decision, “Okay, Jesus, I surrender myself to You. I’ll follow You.” And, then, prayerfully, you’ll have a community of loving people around you who will consistently support and care for you as you grow in your calling to become more like Jesus. If that is you this morning, I’m going to ask with every head bowed and eye closed, would you just let me know by raising your hand. I want us to prayer together and celebrate what life in Jesus holds for you.

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