In today’s culture, we are more pragmatic than reflective. Obsessed with knowing what works and how it works, we strive to repeat the formula. We are less concerned with why things work. Discipleship is no exception. Many have traded in the why for the how, motivation for the best practice. This is disconcerting. The reason for this is that practice can take us only so far. When hardship hits, practice needs motivation to continue.
What motivates you to follow Jesus? If this question isn’t one you continually ponder and answer, you will walk away from Jesus rather than after Him.
The Pragmatic Disciple
Given our culture’s pragmatic bent, the modern discipleship mantra is “make disciples who make disciples.” This mantra is pragmatic and reproductive. Is pragmatic reproduction Jesus’ chief concern? When He came proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, did He give an inspiring message and then move to three action points on how to make disciples? Certainly, He did model, instruct, and send (Luke 9–10). The kingdom of God is embedded with reproductive DNA (reflected in some of Jesus’ agricultural parables). But the kingdom of God is also slow and deep. It stretches across arduous lifespans and into the depths of the human heart. The reign of Christ penetrates our DNA, continually motivating us.
Instead of focusing His training on the how, Jesus relentlessly got to the why. This is why so many of His sayings are unnerving. As a master teacher, He provoked reflection, not just action:
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57–58)
Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (vv. 62–63)
Jesus forces us to reflect on our motives for following Him. If we live for comfort and ease, we won’t give up our beds, money, and entertainment to follow Him. If idyllic community is what motivates our decisions, we won’t give up close friends and family members. Jesus is clear. If we want to be His disciples, we must be motivated by something greater than comfort and community. His kingdom must motivate us, and the kingdom comes with a cost.
True disciples will consider and embrace the cost over and over again. They will endure because, in finding the kingdom, they have found a King worthy of their sacrifice. Searching for the why of their existence, they discover a pearl of great price. Disciples motivated by pragmatism alone may consider the cost and embrace the cause of making disciples who make disciples, but when push comes to shove, they will walk away from Jesus, not after Him. We need more than the hows of fulfilling the Great Commission to get us through the adversity of seeking first the kingdom of God.
The Jesus Disciple
When Jesus gave His mountaintop commission, He loaded it with kingdom motivation. The main directive to make disciples is preceded by the image of a risen, radiant king, rippling with power and authority, in heaven and on earth (Dan. 7:9–14; Matt. 28:17). He is strong enough to depose nations and glorious enough to summon their worship. We are sent under this aegis. We are not sent in the authority of our own experience but in the authority of His lordship. Our story isn’t sufficient to “make a disciple,” but His story is. Why do we go? To baptize into His name, not ours. Making disciples of all nations is no personal cause; it is the redemptive agenda of God Himself. Our motivation, then, arises from being submerged in the grace of God, not from having others align with our way of doing things.
How do we continue to make disciples when wading neck deep in sin? We have to remember that the success of our mission requires not only the authority of the King but also the mercy of the Messiah. He is the Disciple who succeeds where we fail, in perfect obedience to God. We extend mercy from His mercies that are new every day.
But what if the mission field is too hard? Behold, He is with us always, even to the end of the age. We depend not only on the past obedience of the Faithful Disciple, but also on the present presence of the risen Lord. We make disciples in the authority of Jesus, submerged in the grace of Jesus, enduring in the mercy of Jesus, with the forever promise of the presence of King Jesus. Disciples need to recover a singular motivation to endure all the cost—the infinite sufficiency and splendor of our Lord.
Why do we follow Jesus? Because of who He is. If we have Jesus, we have more than enough to make disciples.