The Discipleship Gospel
“Let the pure gospel go forth in all its lion-like majesty, and it will soon clear its own way and ease itself of its adversaries.” —Charles Spurgeon
New Testament scholars agree that Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God more than anything else during his earthly ministry—more than one hundred times in fact. He used many parables and metaphors to explain the mysteries of the kingdom. But unfortunately, saying that people today are a bit fuzzy on the meaning of “the gospel of the kingdom” is an understatement. Confusion abounds, so let’s simplify the meaning here by addressing the essence of what Jesus was asking people to do when he announced the Good News of the kingdom—namely, to follow him as a disciple.
The way to get a handle on the kingdom and its vast claim over humanity was by repenting of sins, believing in Jesus as the messiah, and following him as a rabbi. People today also need to repent of their sins, believe the Good News about Jesus as savior, and follow him as teacher and Lord. To join his kingdom, we must become disciples or “apprentices” of Jesus, people who actually do what he did. That is why we are calling the gospel of the kingdom “the discipleship gospel.” What we mean is that “discipleship”—or following Jesus—is an essential part of the Good News he preached.
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The Good News of the kingdom is that eternal life begins now—the moment you repent, believe the Good News of Christ, receive the Holy Spirit, and start following him. Repentance, belief, and Spirit-filled obedience go together. God never intended for them to be separated (as if that were possible). The kingdom is holistic: you enter a new realm where “all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17, KJV). When you start following Jesus, you begin to prove you believe what he says. This is quite different from what is commonly taught as the gospel: that if you believe the right religious facts, you’re saved, and following Jesus is just an option. What we must teach, however, is that Jesus started with the call to follow him. His disciples started believing in him and grew spiritually in stages. We defy any experienced follower of Jesus who says that growing through a gradual process is not an accurate description of their life in Christ. Life in Christ doesn’t begin with instant maturity and immediate understanding; it starts with essential elements and grows from there.