Discipleship is a word that does not appear in the New Testament, but Christians and churches use this word to describe Christian living. While our definitions are often similar, Jesus clearly defines what it means to be a disciple, or Christian, and His definition is definitive. Join me in this Bible study to explore discipleship.
Welcome to my Bible study. My name is Tom Farr, and I serve Jesus at the First Baptist Church in LaGrange, Georgia, as discipleship and Christian education pastor. It is my pleasure to be teaching from the gospel of Matthew in this lesson, so be sure to have your Bible or Bible app, a notebook or journal, and something to write with as you follow along.
When I was fifteen years old, I wanted to become a licensed amateur radio operator. One of our neighbors was a licensed “ham,” and I was mesmerized by his electronic equipment that gave him the capability to talking with other hams all over the world. Now, this was back in the dark ages of nineteen seventy-four, so there was no internet or instant communication at the time. I was fascinated by ham radio, so applied myself to learning all about electronic theory and radio practice. After weeks of study, my dad drove me to the FCC field office in Atlanta where I took my first ham radio license test, and I passed! I was so excited! But I didn’t have a radio to communicate with anyone.
In those days, there was a company that sold ham radios in kit form. I purchased one of these kits and could not wait for the box to arrive. When it did, I was a bit overwhelmed. When they said kit form, they meant kit, as in down to the resistors, diodes, capacitors, and inductors! Tiny little parts with colored bands or small numbers to indicate their values. Fortunately, the kit included an instruction manual, and it was about as thick as my Bible. It was thorough. Step by step, I worked my way through that manual, carefully selecting the correct components and applying the right amount of solder in the correct manner. It took me about three months to build that radio. When I was finished, I remember how nervous I was to turn it on. It worked! After running a few tests, I got out my morse code keyer and issued a call. My very first contact was from Sweden! I was absolutely thrilled! I still have that radio, and it still works.
But my point is that I would not have been able to build it and expect it to work if I didn’t use the manual, or if didn’t come with a manual. I had to follow every step explicitly, or my project would have been an expensive pile of junk.
The Gospel of Matthew is written like a manual for discipleship, a guidebook for Christians to lead lost people to Jesus, and then teaching them how to make more disciples.
This is the definition of discipleship: Intentionally building relationships with lost people with the intent of bringing them to salvation in Christ, and teaching them to do the same. Today, we will be exploring three elements of discipleship from Matthew, chapters five through seven, commonly called the Sermon on the Mount.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is doing what all teachers hope to do on the first day of school: setting the tone and expectations for all that is to come. He is signaling to His listeners that following Him isn’t just something at which passive participants can excel—everyone is called to the highest of standards, but only a certain kind of obedience will matter.
Today, we will examine Jesus’ teaching about the call to and nature of discipleship. We will read about His command to be an example to others, and to be set apart, yet simultaneously humble. In doing so, we will set a standard both of how to make disciples and how to be disciples of Jesus Christ, the principal disciple-maker. The core of our Christian life is in being transformed disciples of Jesus by faith and in purposefully making disciples of others. We will not examine the entire Sermon on the Mount. That would take an entire series of Bible lessons. Today we will explore three truths Jesus taught in this sermon:
- Disciples are to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16).
- Disciples are to obey for God’s glory, not their own (Matt. 6:1-4).
- Disciples are to live purposeful lives (Matt. 7:19-24).
The last few verses of chapter four tell us that Jesus spent several months going all over the region of Galilee, teaching in the Jewish synagogues, preaching the good news of God’s kingdom, and healing diseases. He gathered large crowds, and He might have taught these words in the sermon on the mount over and over throughout his tour. This happened during a period of spiritual expectation and excitement. People were looking for God’s Messiah, or Savior.
Let’s look at our first truth: disciples are to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16 CSB).
Open your Bible or Bible app to Matthew 5:13-16 and follow as I read.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
“You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
I just checked on the price of salt, and a box of common table salt can be purchased just about anywhere for less than a dollar. And the last time I bought a box of table salt, the shelves were packed with it. Common table salt is plentiful and readily available. And it makes my food taste good!
Jesus says in verse thirteen, “You are the salt of the earth.” Underline or highlight that sentence. The salt that Jesus is talking about in this passage is more useful than the salt that saturates the average American diet. In Jesus’ day, salt was much more than a seasoning. In a time when there was no refrigeration, salt was an important ingredient in the preservation of food. They used it to prepare meats to save for a long time to eat later. Without it, Jesus’ listeners would have had to deal with rotting meat or fish. This is where he draws the similarity to our function as salt. We are in the business of preservation against decay.
Look around our world today. Everything seems to be so divided and no one is offering substantive solutions to the problems ripping our culture apart. The worldly culture is rotting: Instead of encouraging others, we have shouting matches. People feel alone in the world even though we are more connected than ever. Parents fear for the future of their children.
Everyone knows that something is not right. Christians can smell the rot of a culture that has turned from the Lord.
Jesus says we are to be the salt of the earth, preserving the world from social and moral decay by proclaiming and living the truth of God’s Word for a people who need it. We are called to be a remnant of faithful disciples who maintain their saltiness and their preserving power, all for the glory of God. We are supposed to lead the way to healing, reconciliation, and justice.
Jesus asks his hearers in verse thirteen, “but what if the salt loses its flavor? What is it good for?” Can salt lose its flavor? Salt is a very stable compound of sodium and chloride, and the bond between these two elements is very strong. When salt is diluted by water, it becomes too weak to be used a preservative. It is useless. We must not find ourselves being diluted by the influences of this world. On the contrary, we are to influence the world for Jesus Christ. The question becomes not how can I lose my saltiness, but how can I maintain my saltiness. We are called to influence those around us for Jesus.
What can you do to salt your world? How are you influencing those around you to lead them to Jesus?
Jesus also says in verse fourteen that we are the light of the world. When we turned to Jesus for salvation, we became reflectors of His light. We do not produce this light. God’s Word makes it clear that in and of ourselves, all we are capable of producing is darkness. It is God who lights our lamps, and He lights it through the sacrifice of His one and only Son, Jesus, the true light of the world. As reflectors of Jesus’ light and love, we are to spread love, not hatred. We are to pursue reconciliation, not division. We are to seek justice for all, not turn away from injustice.
What does Jesus mean, then, that we are to be the salt and the light?
We have a clear and distinct mission: Each one of us has been commissioned by Jesus himself to influence people around us in a way that leads them to Him. This is our mission. Collectively, this is the mission of all believers, the church. Look on page 49 in your Discipleship Guide, or note this in your journal or notebook.
The church is a sign and instrument of the kingdom of God, a people united by faith in the gospel announcement of the crucified and risen King Jesus. The mission of the church is to go into the world in the power of the Spirit and make disciples by proclaiming this gospel, calling people to respond in ongoing repentance and faith, and demonstrating the truth and power of the gospel by living under the lordship of Christ for the glory of God and the good of the world.
Being salt and light are not optional. As Christians, we ARE salt and light. We are either preserving salt and radiant light that influences people for Jesus. Or we are diluted salt-water and dim light – influenced by those around us.
Our first truth can be stated this way: Disciples influence people and culture for Jesus and draw them to Him.
Our second truth is this: Disciples are to obey for God’s glory, not their own. Let’s read Matthew 6:1-4 (CSB).
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven. So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Jesus calls disciples to influencers of culture as salt and light in the world, but then He cautions against improper motives that can easily creep into us. Jesus is not saying that it’s wrong for our good works to be seen by others. He is looking deep into our motives when we do good things. We are not to practice good things to show off before others.
Don’t confuse the show of righteousness with actual righteousness. Anytime we say or do the right things to bring ourselves glory or honor is not true obedience to God. Jesus especially aimed this toward the Pharisees of his day who proudly proclaimed their own righteousness. They were guilty not of doing the wrong thing. They were guilty of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
Look in verse two as Jesus says, “when you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet, as do the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets.” He may have been talking about the way money was contributed to the temple. The receptacles for donations outside the temple were made of brass and shaped like trumpets, and when coins were tossed in just right, they would make a loud noise as they passed down the tubes. Jesus could also have been talking about making a big deal whenever they gave money to the poor. Underline or highlight the word hypocrite. This is a Greek word that means “one who wears a mask.” Not like the masks we wear today for protection and safety. These masks were worn by Greek stage actors to depict the characters they were playing. In other words, this kind of giving is phony because the motives are impure and misguided. If we are not motivated by our love of God and love of others, whatever else is left is sinful.
How do you practice your righteousness for personal glory?
Whether we’re gathering signatures for an important cause, trying to raise awareness by using a hashtag, or even posting a quote or picture for our upcoming Bible study, it is easier than ever to be disobedient to Jesus’ words. Applause is so readily available to us from those in our immediate communities and from notifications on social media that we don’t need trumpets to call attention to our good deeds.
While we are to shine our light before men, this light of good deeds is to be shone not for our own praise or glory but that others might glorify our Father in heaven. In this way we will be rewarded by God. Jesus teaches that our reward should not be in the applause or approval of human beings but in Him instead. His reward far outweighs the temporary reward that the trumpeters would receive from anyone who would listen.
Look in verse three. Jesus says that when we give, we should give secretly and not let anyone know about it. This is the picture of righteousness Jesus is painting. We are to have pure motives, doing the right things for the right reasons.
Do you remember how Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness for forty days? He was tempted in these same ways that we are tempted. Over and over, he was tempted. And how did He fight the onslaught? With the Word of God. Every time Jesus was tempted to do the right thing for the wrong motive, He quoted the Old Testament to Satan, and He refused to give into Satan’s temptations.
The temptations of Jesus teach us that we must keep our minds off of immediate gratification and on eternal glory. Human praise is a drop in a bucket with a hole in the bottom; God’s reward, however, will fill us to the uttermost.
How can you guard your motives to obey God for His glory and not your own?
First we learned that Disciples are to influence their world for Jesus, not to be influenced by the world. Second, Disciples are to obey God for His glory, not our own. And finally, Disciples are to live purposefully.
Turn now to Matthew 7:19-24 and follow along with me.
Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!
“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
After giving His listeners a blueprint for Christian living, Jesus issued an important warning: Outward compliance to Jesus’ commands is not enough to place someone in the kingdom of God. You can look really good by the things you say and do. Prophesying, casting out demons, and performing miracles would seem like the pinnacle of good works to perform for the glory of Jesus’ name. But just as it is possible to do good works as a show before human beings, it is possible to do good works as a show before God Himself—and He rejects all such shows.
Look at verse twenty-one. This verse is one of the most frightening words in the Bible to me. Jesus says not everyone who calls me Lord enters the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of the Father. You can claim all day long that you did good things for Him, but He will say, “I don’t know you. Leave.” I think a lot of times we get caught up in the question, “Do you know Jesus?” when we should be asking, “Does Jesus know you?” What a sobering thought!
So many people, even good people who think they’re Christians, will be rejected on this basis. Lord, I went to church every Sunday. Not good enough.
- Lord, I taught Sunday School. That’s not good enough.
- Lord, I gave money to the church. That still is not enough.
- Lord, I sang in the choir and worked in the nursery. I even did all these things in your name.
These are good things, certainly. But at the end of the day, the question will be “Did you live with outward compliance to Christ’s commands or inward conformity to Christ’s lordship.”
What is the difference between outward compliance to Christ’s commands and inward conformity to Christ’s lordship?
We must have inward conformity to Christ’s lordship in order to be empowered to practice outward conformity to His commands. In His warning about outward obedience, Jesus called those who practice seemingly biblical living without inward change “lawbreakers.” The law goes beyond just obeying a list of rules. If this law-keeping doesn’t flow from a heart submitted to the God who sees the heart, then it is just the same as lawlessness. Only if we obey through faith in Jesus can we be considered law-keepers, since Jesus is the fulfillment of the law.
We often think of the Pharisees as the bad guys in the Gospel stories. But in their time, they were the heroes who everyone looked up to. They were known for their religious knowledge and piety, they appeared to keep the law of God near perfectly. Yet for all their “righteousness,” they still could not enter the kingdom of heaven because it was a righteousness of show instead of a righteousness from faith.
Review these truths:
- First, we learned that Disciples are to influence their world for Jesus, not to be influenced by the world.
- Second, Disciples are to obey God for His glory, not our own.
- And finally, Disciples are to live purposefully. Our purpose is to make disciples who make disciples. This is the definition of discipleship: To purposefully engage a lost person with the gospel of Jesus Christ so that he will be transformed by the Holy Spirit, and to teach him to live in faithful obedience to Jesus.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus isn’t simply telling His listeners to “do better” or “try harder”—He’s actually reminding them that the only way to do the things that He is asking them to do is to be radically transformed from the inside out by faith. Jesus is not interested in watching us put on a show; He wants to see us walking in an obedience that is more than skin-deep. He wants our light to shine before a dying world not because we’re gritting our teeth and trying to turn on the bulb by our own power but because we are walking in such obedience to Him that others cannot help but see. He wants us to take every step by faith in His grace, not in our own power or in our own perceived righteousness.
Because we have been saved by Christ and have committed to follow Him, we live purposefully so that others see His glory, investing in eternal treasures rather than earthly ones.
How will you live purposefully for Jesus’ glory and not your own?
What can you do today to intentionally devote yourself to building a relationship with a lost person to bring them to Christ?
What changes do you need to make in your life to act in faith in Jesus rather than strive for outward compliance alone?