I sincerely want to become His disciple.
A short while ago, during a general assembly, an elderly Korean pastor sent an email to several pastors in our association, including an interesting article as an attachment. The article's title was "A Shocking ‘Confession’ from Willow Creek Community Church." In their research, Pastor Cally Parkinson and Pastor Greg Hawkins, who are executives in the church, recorded the results of their long-term study on Willow Creek Community Church in their new book titled "Reveal: Where Are You?" Even Pastor Bill Hybels, the senior pastor of the church, described the research results as "earth shaking," "ground breaking," and "mind-blowing." According to the report, Willow Creek Community Church confessed that what they had been doing for years to produce genuine disciples of Jesus Christ and what they had taught to millions of people (pastors?) was wrong. They admitted to increasing the numbers but not producing disciples. Pastor Bill Hybels himself said, ‘We made a mistake. We should have taught people who believe in Jesus to take responsibility for becoming self-feeders when they become Christians, reading the Bible during the week and actively practicing their spiritual lives. We failed to do that’ (Internet).
After reading this article, I want to commend such a large, famous, and influential church for conducting its own research and making a shocking confession. The confession, especially that they increased numbers but did not truly produce disciples of Jesus Christ, serves as a wake-up call for all of us. PastorYong-gi Cho, well-known for his cell church model, stated the solution to the theology of church growth as follows: ‘Faith-bubble believers are the result of bubble faith. The loss of the purity of the gospel in bubble faith ultimately produced bubble believers. In this process, the Korean church lost the purity of the gospel. This is the most decisive and fundamental cause of stagnation in church growth. By overly emphasizing material blessings and success, pastors have turned saints into passive beings who hope to receive blessings rather than transforming their personalities and lives to resemble Christ. Today's Christians are not personally assimilated into the crucified and resurrected life of Jesus Christ, living with their lives and faith separated. As a result, trust in Christianity and the church has disappeared, and the preaching of the gospel and church growth has fundamentally hit a wall’ (Internet).
How are we, my church, and all of you truly doing? Are we genuinely being conformed to the life of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ? In other words, are we, you and I, truly disciples of Jesus? Who is a disciple?
- A disciple is a learner.
In Greek, a disciple is called 'mathetes,' which is a noun derived from the verb 'manthano,' meaning 'to learn.' If the term disciple is derived from the verb 'to learn,' we can define a disciple as a learner. A disciple is someone who continues to learn. In this sense, being admitted to the school of Christ means there is no graduation.
- A disciple is the one who follows the Lord.
Jesus called people who were busy with their work to follow Him (Mk. 1:17; 2:14). In the contemporary Jewish literature of Jesus' time, following someone is immediately understood as becoming that person's disciple. Disciples, in order to follow the Lord, abandoned everything, including family (1:20) and possessions (vv. 18, 20). As a requirement for those following Him, Jesus demanded in Luke 14:25-35 that one must hate family and even one's own life and forsake all possessions.
In the gospels, the word "disciple" is used 238 times, describing someone who denies oneself and takes up the cross (Mt. 16:24), forsakes all possessions (Lk. 14:33), hates one's own life (v. 26), abides in Jesus' words (Jn. 8:31), loves one another (13:34, 35), bears fruit (15:7, 8), and more (Internet). How can we know if we are true disciples? Today, we can consider three aspects centered around Acts 19:1-7.
First, true disciples of Jesus believe in Him.
In today's text, Acts 19:4, we see that the 12 disciples Paul encountered in Ephesus (vv. 1, 7) had a limited understanding of Jesus (Park). These 12 disciples were likely believers who had received John's baptism about Jesus, possibly taught by Apollos (Park). Apollos, whom we have already reflected upon as competent in the Scriptures (18:24-28), learned about the way of the Lord early on but knew only the baptism of John (v. 25). The 12 disciples in Acts 19:1-7, whom Paul encountered in Ephesus, likely heard about Jesus from Apollos during a time when he only knew John's baptism (18:25). Therefore, Paul, upon meeting these 12 disciples in Ephesus, said to them: "Paul said, 'John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus'" (v. 4). He explained to these disciples, who knew only John's baptism (v. 3), that the one John spoke of as coming after him was none other than Jesus.
Revelation 14:12 states: "This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus." The lesson taught here is that as disciples of Jesus who believe in Him, we must remain faithful to Him until the end. Despite any suffering, adversity, or persecution, disciples of Jesus endure, persevere, and overcome with a patient and enduring faith in Jesus.
Second, true disciples of Jesus have received the Holy Spirit.
In today's passage, Acts 19:2, when Paul encountered the 12 disciples in Ephesus, he asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They replied, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." So, when Paul asked them what baptism they had received, they answered, "John's baptism" (v. 3). Scholar F. F. Bruce suggested that these 12 disciples in Ephesus believed in Jesus but were unaware that Jesus imparts the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and therefore, they likely had not received the Holy Spirit (Park). From this perspective, these 12 disciples were more ignorant about the Holy Spirit than Apollos, who knew only John's baptism. Eventually, Paul testified to them about Jesus being the one John spoke of and urged them to believe in him (v. 4). They were then baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (v. 5). Jesus' disciples receive the Holy Spirit when they accept Him as their Savior and Lord. Romans 5:5 says, "And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." When we believe in Jesus, God gives us the Holy Spirit along with His love. Therefore, as a hymn chorus proclaims, ‘The Spirit has come, the Spirit has come, the Spirit sent by my Lord has come. Let's proclaim this joyful news to the whole world, the Spirit has come.’
Third, true disciples of Jesus utilize the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the benefit of others.
Look at Acts 19:6 - "And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying." After Paul exhorted the 12 disciples he met in Ephesus to believe in Jesus, baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus, and laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them. The manifestation of the Holy Spirit's coming was evident as God bestowed spiritual gifts upon them. Consequently, they spoke in tongues and prophesied. Why did God give the gifts of the Holy Spirit to those who believed in Jesus? The reason is to build up the church (1 Cor. 14:4, 12, 26).
In a word, a disciple of Jesus can be called a "Christian." As we have already reflected upon in Acts 11:26, the saints of the Antioch church were "called Christians first in Antioch," just as the true disciples of Jesus are truly Christians. Even though unbelievers referred to the saints of the Antioch church with the term "Christians" in a derogatory manner, considering how much these people (disciples) believed in and followed Jesus Christ, living lives resembling Him, it is evident why they were called by such a name. Reflecting on this, we should strive to become true Christians like the saints of the Antioch church.
In Henry Nouwen's book "The Living Reminder," the author views ministry as reminding, and ministry leaders as those who remind people of Jesus. Indeed, both you and I should become Christians who remind others of Jesus, true disciples of Jesus. It is my hope that, as believers in Jesus and recipients of the Holy Spirit, we may effectively use the gifts of the Spirit to build up the church, just as the Antioch church did, and that our church may, like the Antioch church, gain the nickname "Christians" among unbelievers.
Sincerely desiring to become a true disciple of Jesus,
(Wishing to be shaped into someone who reminds others of Jesus)