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I had the privilege this morning of hearing Pastor Rick Elzinga preach on John 21. What follows is a summary of his sermon in one sentence: The risen Lord Jesus Christ calls us to follow Him by fishing – bringing others to Christ – and by shepherding – growing them up in Christ.

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I had the privilege this morning of hearing Darren Carlson, founder of President of Teaching Leaders International, preach on 3 John 1-8. Here is a summary of his sermon in one sentence: A faithful church receives and sends missionaries for the glory of God.

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And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).

“Make disciples” is the one and only command in Jesus’ Great Commission to His church (“go,” by the way is not a command – it’s assumed). How we make disciples can be summed up in three letters – E. B. and C. – taken from the Great Commission itself.

The letter E stands for evangelism. Making disciples, as we go, has to begin with proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. The letter B stands for baptism. When people respond positively to the gospel and believe in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation, they’re to be baptized. So what about the letter C?

The letter C stands for catechism. I know, I know! Many evangelical Christians (especially those in non-denominational Bible churches, charismatic churches, and other non-Confessional Protestants) don’t know much about catechisms. If they do, they sometimes have an almost allergic reaction. But what Jesus says near the end of the Great Commission speaks directly to the purpose of a catechism.

A catechism teaches the basic doctrines of the faith in a question and answer format. That’s a tremendous way to teach a believer “to observe all that” Jesus commanded them.

In 2017, Crossway published The New City Catechism which is designed to accomplish just that – the discipling of believers in Christ. It contains 52 questions and answers that are meant to be memorized, recited, and learned by heart. The questions and answers are simple and understandable in an easy to read format. There are illustrations, Scripture proofs, and even answers that can be shortened in order to be more easily memorized by younger children. Importantly, helpful instructions are also provided.

Here’s the first question and answer: “What is our only hope in life and death?” “That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and in death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.”

I highly recommend The New City Catechism as a tool in the making of disciples – not just others, but yourself. Get it, read through it, and begin to memorize the questions and answers. You’ll be glad you did and you’ll grow as a result of it.

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Undoubtedly, one of the most important things we can do for fellow Christians is to pray for them. That’s true of pastors and elders – pray for those under your spiritual care. It’s true of parents – pray for your children. It’s true of grandparents – pray for your grandchildren. It’s true of every congregation – pray for your pastors and elders. It’s true of all of us – pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ!

Here’s what the apostle Paul wrote: “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:19-20).

The “this” Paul referred to was his house arrest in Rome at the time he wrote this letter to the church in Philippi. His circumstances could have been worse, but they were still bad – he could have been in one of the many Roman prisons. Paul’s circumstances caused  anxiety among the Christians in Philippi. They were worried about him and about the spread of the gospel. As a result, they prayed for Paul, for which he was profoundly grateful. We know, too, that he prayed for them. When we pray for one another, we go before God’s throne of grace in intercession – pleading for them and asking that God’s will be done and that He be glorified.

Let me give you some ideas of what we can pray for each other:

  • That they would grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).
  • That they would glorify God in all things (1 Cor. 10:31).
  • That they would be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Rom. 12:2).
  • That the fruit of the Spirit would be developed and displayed in their life (Gal. 5:22-23).
  • That they would love God and others with all they have and all they are (Matt. 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:28).
  • That they would give cheerfully and generously (2 Cor. 9:6-7).
  • That they would walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (Col. 1:10).
  • That they would delight in the Word of God (Ps. 1:2).
  • That they would fix their eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:2).
  • That they would trust God with everything in their life (Prov. 3:5-6).
  • That they would have the boldness to preach the Word of God with boldness and confidence (Acts 4:29).

This is only a small list, but it’s a good place to start. You’d love it if someone were to pray these things on your behalf, so do it for others!

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To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it’s been tried and found difficult.”

He’s right – being a disciple of Jesus Christ is hard. It isn’t easy to follow Christ. Perhaps that’s why Paul told Timothy, “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). The word “discipline” has the meaning of agonizing – working to the point of agony – in order to pursue the goal of godliness (which should be the goal of everyone who believes in Jesus Christ).

It’s hard to study God’s Word and properly interpret it in it’s context. It takes work and too often we’re tempted to wait until God “whispers the answer in our ear.” It’s easier to rely on a study Bible or our favorite teacher (or church) to tell us what it means, or even go so far as to say, “There are so many different interpretations; nobody reals knows what it means.”

It’s hard to pray. Our prayer should be fervent and continual, but that’s not easy. Our minds wander and it’s not hard to forget. It’s easier to neglect it and tell ourselves that “God knows what’s in my heart.”

It’s hard to apply God’s Word to our life – to actually try to do what it says. Success in obeying and putting into practice what the Lord has told us involves agonizing work  with a lot of starts and stops. Hearing the Word is easier than hearing it and then doing it.

It’s hard to evangelize. We find it easier to remain quiet and “let our life do the witnessing,” as if that were even possible. It’s easier to leave it to “the professionals.”

It’s hard to have real fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and I mean the kind of fellowship that goes beyond “Hi! How are you?” over coffee and doughnuts. It’s easier to keep to ourselves and not mix too much with those who don’t always think like we do, don’t have the same life experiences that we do, and are just, well, different.

It’s hard to minister to and serve other people. It’s easier to say we don’t have the time or the talent to lend a hand where and when it’s needed, then it is too actually help. It’s easier to see it as an interruption rather than as a divinely given opportunity.

It’s hard to “mortify the flesh” (Rom. 8:13) – to put to death the deeds of our sinful nature. We have to work at it every day, and the truth is that we won’t complete the task in this lifetime. It’s easier to give up and say, “That’s just the way I am; I’ll never change,” or “God understands; He’ll forgive me.”

It’s hard to stand for and defend biblical doctrine and values in a society that denies (and ridicules) all of them. It’s easier to give in and compromise for the sake of “love,” “unity,” and “compassion.”

The list could go on and on, but the point is simple: being a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ is hard – not easy. I’m persuaded that this is a reason some people leave the church (in may cases joining the Roman Catholic church, Eastern Orthodoxy, or some form of Protestant leftism): they get tired of the fight. Sure, they want to identify as a Christian, but the don’t want the fight, the hard work that goes along with it.

The good news is that God gives us the strength and ability to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness through His Holy Spirit! Hard doesn’t mean impossible when the Spirit of God is involved.

Don’t be deceived into thinking that being a disciple of Jesus is easy – it isn’t. It’s hard, but it’s what God has called us to as His people.

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JC-Ryle

 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”  He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” (John 21:15-17)

J.C. Ryle comments about this passage saying:

We should notice first, in these verses, Christ’s question to Peter–“Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Three times we find the same inquiry made. It seems most probable that this three-fold repetition was meant to remind the Apostle of his own thrice-repeated denial. Once we find a remarkable addition to the inquiry–“do you love Me more than these?” It is a reasonable supposition that those three words “more than these,” were meant to remind Peter of his over-confident assertion–“Though all men deny You, yet I will not.” It is just as if our Lord would say, “Will you now exalt yourself above others? Have you yet learned your own weakness?”

“Do you love Me” may seem at first sight a simple question. In one sense it is so. Even a child can understand love, and can say whether he loves another or not. Yet “Do you love Me” is, in reality, a very searching question. We may know much, and do much, and profess much, and talk much, and work much, and give much, and go through much, and make much show in our religion, and yet be dead before God, from lack of love, and at last go down to the pit. Do we love Christ? That is the great question. Without this there is no vitality about our Christianity. We are no better than painted wax figures, lifeless stuffed beasts in a museum, sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. There is no life where there is no love.

Let us take heed that there is some feeling in our religion. Knowledge, orthodoxy, correct views, regular use of forms, a respectable moral life–all these do not make up a true Christian. There must be some personal feeling towards Christ. Feeling alone, no doubt, is a poor useless thing, and may be here today and gone tomorrow. But the entire absence of feeling is a very bad symptom, and speaks ill for the state of a man’s soul. The men and women to whom Paul wrote his Epistles had feelings, and were not ashamed of them. There was One in heaven whom they loved, and that One was Jesus the Son of God. Let us strive to be like them, and to have some real feeling in our Christianity, if we hope to share their reward.

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This morning I had the privilege of preaching on John 21:15-17. Here is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: If God has graciously forgiven your sins, you will love Him greatly and serve others gladly.

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