By Matt Henslee
There’s a cliché in ministry circles that says, “What you save them with, you save them to.”
While that might be an oversimplification, and God has certainly used the means of wild game banquets and Nerf wars to draw many to Himself, the gospel we share in disciple-making is critically important.
Sure, some have undoubtedly led many to the Lord with one verse like, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
However, as Bill Hull says:
“… by reducing the complete gospel story of God’s work from Genesis to Revelation to a packaged three or four points with a prayer, we have diminished our understanding of salvation and what it means to be a follower of Christ. This shift from gospel culture to salvation culture has weakened the church, diminished the lives of Christians, and made disciple-making difficult.”
Laying a good foundation
Therefore, if our aim is moving from the initial salvation to ongoing discipleship, the gospel we share should lay the foundation for the new believer’s discipleship.
Consider this: The gospel is the good news that Jesus left the glories of heaven to be born of a virgin, live a perfect life, and die a sacrificial death on our behalf.
He was buried, rose again three days later, and ascended to the glories of heaven until He returns.
He offers salvation to all who will repent and believe on Him, whereby God forgives the sinner through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross, and, in exchange, His perfect life is credited to their account, justifying them before God.
Upon salvation by grace through faith, the sinner is completely justified and will begin a life of sanctification by the persevering grace of God until they breathe their last and become glorified in heaven.
That message is Good News because all have sinned and are deserving of death, utterly incapable of doing anything to save themselves.
That is because God:
“who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!
He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do” (Ephesians 2:4-10).
Why a good foundation matters
I was raised in Texas and lived there for many years, long enough to see the effects a lousy foundation could have on a home. When it comes to disciple-making, a good foundation is equally as important.
For example, taking the model above, there are certain things a Christian must believe, such as the condescension of Christ (Philippians 2:5-8), the virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14), the sinless Savior (1 Peter 2:22), the perfect sacrifice (Romans 5:8), the victorious resurrection (John 19:40-42; Mark 16:4-7), and His ascension (Mark 16:10; Revelation 1:7).
There also needs to be a way to call the lost person to salvation (Romans 10:9), and what that provides them (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 5:9).
Further, knowing they’re justified (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:1) provides assurance, and the work of sanctification (1 Thessalonians 5:23) leads the new believer into a life of discipleship with the promise of glorification (Philippians 3:20-21) in mind.
Finally, as we aim to save them to something, they need to understand from what they are saved (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:1-3), and how God made that happen (Ephesians 2:4-10).
Setting a new believer up for success
Yes, God can use a simple testimony or verse to save someone, but the gospel we share can also help guide a new believer towards a life of discipleship.
Therefore, let’s prepare to lead someone to Jesus by evangelizing them with a gospel that leads them to learn from and love Jesus.
Let’s assimilate them into the discipleship program of our church, commissioning them to make disciples, and then equip them to go into all the world and tell others how they can have peace with God.
You know, just as Jesus commanded.
MATT HENSLEE (@mhenslee) is the coauthor of the book Replanting Rural Churches and author of Path to P.E.A.C.E., from which this article is adapted. He is the husband of Rebecca, father of four princesses, pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church in Mayhill, New Mexico, and a D.Min student at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.