We sat across the table from each other, with the gameboard and play money spread out in front of us, and took turns building hotels on various Monopoly properties. On that summer afternoon, my middle-school mentee and I had the kind of wide-ranging and random conversation that was typical when we spent time together. One of his questions to me that day was about why some people get slimmer when they grow taller. After my fumbling attempt to explain the basic tenets of physiology and metabolisms, he paused for about fifteen seconds before following up with this question: “Mr. Jeremy, is God a good person? If he is, why did he let my friend’s uncle die last week?”
Years later, I am still left a bit speechless as I reflect on those questions. Those are not solely hard questions to answer—they are also pivotal questions for any person to ask. And why was this fourteen-year-old comfortable enough to ask those questions with me? Because of our friendship after knowing each other for more than a decade. Hard questions and difficult conversations occur in meaningful relationships. In these deep relationships, life is both wrestled with and changed.
Hard questions and difficult conversations occur in meaningful relationships. In these deep relationships, life is both wrestled with and changed.
Life formation and transformation occur when authentic relationships are forged. Biblical discipleship is embodied in exactly this way. We read time and time again throughout Scripture about discipleship consisting of long-term, authentic friendships. Moses and Joshua. Elijah and Elisha. Jesus and the Twelve.
Jesus seems to hold the belief that authentic transformation comes primarily through long-term, mentoring relationships. This is why, at the conclusion of his in-person ministry in Matthew 28, Jesus declares: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (vv. 19–20).
This “Great Commission” has sometimes been inadequately understood in Christian circles as a one-dimensional call to drive-by evangelism: preach the good news as quickly and efficiently as possible and move on to the next person. While evangelism is a pivotal part of Jesus’s commission in these verses, Jesus’s words are specifically to “make disciples” and “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Those first disciples learned a lot in their three years journeying with Jesus. They were taught way more than what can be covered in a fifteen-minute rundown of the Romans Road and a scripted prayer. Although a conversion moment is biblical and absolutely necessary, when Jesus calls us to make disciples, he calls us to long-term investment in the lives of others. Said differently: be careful if you walk up to someone on the street and witness to them because, according to the life and words of Jesus, you are signing up to journey with them for months and years as you teach them how to obey everything Jesus commanded.
We cannot individually change anyone’s life. We can journey alongside others, but every individual must receive for themselves the transformation of Jesus’s death and resurrection and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.
Another centerpiece of this call to discipleship is that, while we are called to go and make disciples, we go through the power of Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit. We cannot individually change anyone’s life. We can journey alongside others, but every individual must receive for themselves the transformation of Jesus’s death and resurrection and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. As Dr. David Busic reminds us in the book Way, Truth, Life: “We make the journey with Jesus. That is why it is a journey of grace.”
This is a journey of grace for each and every Christ follower. And, as we have been poured into by other Christians, we are called to make disciples as well. This journey of discipleship is long term, mutually beneficial, Christ driven, and Holy Spirit empowered. A high calling? Yes. But whether it be over a shared meal or a Monopoly board, the Holy Spirit will equip us for the journey.
As you embark on this journey of discipleship—a journey of grace—here are some resources to consider:
- Life Transformation Groups: These are groups of 2–3 people who commit to read large quantities of Scripture weekly and then meet to discuss the reading, ask questions of accountability, and pray together.
- Following Jesus the Son: This new resource in The Holy Life Bible Study Series provides resources for a small group to learn about and experience Jesus in new ways.
- Way, Truth, Life Small Group Resource: Dive deeper into learning and engaging in Christian discipleship with this book and small group guide.
- Streetlights Audio Bible: This multimedia ministry provides various resources (videos, podcasts, music) to experience the timeless truth of Scripture in new ways. Their foundational resource is a beautiful audio Bible in both English and Spanish that brings the good news in relevant forms to emerging generations.