Christ’s Great Commission calls us to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all things that Jesus taught us. And we see, within the book of Acts, the apostles doing exactly that. In the surrounding context of our text (which is Acts.14:21) we see Paul and Barnabas faithfully proclaiming the gospel, in Cyprus, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and now in Derbe. They have seen God open a door of faith to Gentiles as well as Jews. They have experienced opposition to the gospel: from Elymas, the Jewish sorcerer, then jealous, unbelieving Jews, and then finally from idolatrous Greeks in Lystra. They have made their gospel witness despite difficult opposition. Their witness was compelled by their love for God and love for the lost, and it was compelling, because it was Biblical, Spirit-filled, and humble. The Gospel triumphs through faithful witnesses to Christ.

But what was their purpose in patient, persistent, witnessing? It was to achieve Christ’s purpose, set out in Matthew 28:16-20, which is to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe and obey all that He commanded us, with the assurance of His abiding presence. The gospel triumphs, when God uses the preaching, teaching and life-examples of apostles, and ordinary disciples to call all humankind to be born again into disciples of Christ.

But how does the gospel triumph through the making of disciples? The answer comes from Colossians 1:12-13, where Paul writes that God “ . . . has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” The gospel is the message of freedom for all who genuinely believe. The gospel sets us free from slavery to sin, to bring us and make us: slaves to righteousness, sons and daughters of the Living God, and disciples of Christ, our Saviour, Master, and Teacher.

Every truly born-again believer in Christ is a disciple regardless of age, situation, or ministry role. Every truly born-again pastor, elder, deacon, church member, missionary, and evangelist is a disciple of Christ for all our lives. Older, wiser, and more mature believers are still His disciples. Brand new, truly born-again believers are His disciples. But sadly, not every person who claims to be a believer in Christ, lives in true discipleship to Christ as Saviour and Lord. Many have failed to heed Christ’s call to faith and repentance, to count both the costs and blessings of discipleship. Many who claim to be believers are still living in sin and rebellion against God and His Word, and without genuine repentance of sin and turning to God in faith, they will hear Jesus’ terrifying words of Matthew 7:23, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Remember, it is not those who have done great works in Christ’s name who enter the Kingdom of God, but those who do the will of the Father who will be welcomed. Discipleship is about doing God’s will, not just knowing it.

Two questions have been driving me as I have read and studied in Acts 14, preparing for this message: firstly, what is required to make disciples of Christ and secondly what does it mean to be disciples of Christ? So, using what it says of Paul and Barnabas here as a springboard, let us consider these great truths of discipleship.

First, Making Disciples

Notice in Acts 14:21–22, Luke records that

 . . . when they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

I would argue that making disciples requires at least three activities of us. There could certainly be others added, but we will consider these three: 1) preaching the gospel, 2) exemplifying the gospel, 3) teaching gospel truth.

1) Making disciples requires us to preach the gospel. We see it clearly in the ministry of Paul and Barnabas in our text. In Acts 13:16-41, they preach the gospel to Jews and Gentiles; in Acts 14:1, Paul spoke the gospel “in such a way” that many believed. There cannot be disciples without the preaching, sharing, and distributing of the gospel to unbelievers.

So, what is the gospel message we proclaim? God is creator of all things: heaven and earth, visible and invisible, and all of humankind. We are God’s highest creation, created to represent and glorify God in all we do. But, because we are all sinners, we sin, and so we are alienated from God. Humankind, left to itself, stands without hope, under the judgement of the almighty, just, holy, and righteous God. But the good news of the gospel is that this same God of Justice in grace sent Christ, who is truly man and truly God, one person, with two natures, born of the virgin Mary, living, ministering, and dying in our place, for our sin. Jesus suffered horrific emotional and physical pain on the cross, He shed his blood to pay the just penalty for our sin. He died and rose again in our place, to pay the debt we could never pay, but only He could. God in grace now offers us full forgiveness of sins, to apply Christ’s righteousness, to declare us righteous, and to steadily, progressively, make us holy, blameless, and like Christ. God, who overlooked our sin in the past, now calls all humankind everywhere to receive Christ by faith, believing in Him, as Lord, saviour, master, and friend. Have you heard the still, small voice of God quietly calling you in your heart to come, to believe, to trust Him and know the indescribable joy of forgiveness of sin and peace with God?

The gospel triumphs as disciples believe the gospel, and that requires the communication of the gospel.

But it does not end with simply communicating the gospel message. Making disciples requires time and energy to form and build relationships. Older disciple with new disciple. Making disciples requires what  Paul speaks about in 1Thess.2:8, “ . . . to share with you, not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves . . . ”

2) Making disciples requires us to exemplify the gospel. Last Sunday we considered the compelling witness of Paul and Barnabas as they spoke in such a way that many believed the gospel. A compelling witness is also a Christ-imitating witness. Christ was willing to come and share his life with his disciples before dying to save us, so also Paul imitated Christ as a weak, sinful, and failing human. He stayed in places as long as he could, sharing his life with new disciples, allowing them to see in his life an example of the life he was calling them to. Paul denied himself, took up his cross, and followed Christ. Paul’s life exemplified the truth of the gospel message. Notice what the scriptures say in Acts 14:3, Paul and Barnabas remained for a long time, they lived among them and spoke boldly for the Lord. In Acts 18:9-11, Paul, Silas, and Timothy stayed for 18 months, living among them, and teaching the Corinthians the Word of God. In Acts 14:19-20, Paul was willing to die for his witness to Christ and the gospel, he was stoned, although not to death, but close to it. Paul’s life exemplified the gospel and displayed the sufferings of Christ to those who had never known and seen Him.

Likewise, we must make disciples for Christ by exemplifying the truths of the gospel, living our lives as an example of faith in God, of ongoing repentance of sin, of dying to ourselves, our sin, and the world in which we live. We must live our lives as an example of pursuing godliness, of loving God, our church, and our neighbours. We live lives devoted to scripture, to prayer and to God, as examples for those who are younger in the faith to see and follow. Does the Bible anywhere command this example-setting? In 1 Timothy 4:12-16 Paul commanded Timothy and the elders at Ephesus to:

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 

Notice that the goals of Paul’s instruction to Timothy in vss.15-16 are 1) “so that all may see your progress” and 2) “by so doing you’ll save both yourself and your hearers”. Obviously, Paul is not saying we earn our salvation by godly living, but we prove the reality of our salvation by godly living which also sets an example, to illustrate for others what it looks like to truly follow Christ and do the will of our Heavenly Father. If it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, then surely a Christian life faithfully lived before God is a thousand living sermons? Brother Elders can we . . . will we stand before this church and invite them to imitate us, as we imitate Christ? For, that is both Paul’s example and scripture’s command. Older, mature brothers and sisters in Christ, the same question comes to you. Will we resolve to live our lives as living sermons, examples to younger believers in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity?

How do we make disciples, teaching them to obey all that Jesus taught us? We do it by firstly preaching the gospel, secondly by setting an example, and thirdly, making disciples requires us to teach the gospel truth. We do not need to say too much to explain this. Just as surely as a mother would not labour for hours and hours to give birth to her baby, and then refuse to feed it. First, with milk then as her baby grows, with bread, vegetables, fruit, and meat. So also, we, having preached the gospel and prayed for conversions, and having seen them born again as disciples of Christ, our responsibility is to obey the Scripture by feeding and teaching these disciples with the Word of God. Scripture commands us in 2Timothy 3:16-4:5, to patiently teach, train, rebuke, reprove and exhort disciples with God’s inspired Word. We are to teach them and feed them from the Word of God, which will revive their soul, make wise the simple disciple, rejoice the heart of the downcast disciple, enlighten the eyes of the doubting disciples, warn the wandering disciple and bring promises of great reward for the obedient disciple. We see it here in Acts 14:22, as Paul and Barnabas return to the cities where they had already preached the gospel, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. How did Paul and Barnabas strengthen and encourage those disciples? By imparting the biblical truths that fuel hope and bring courage. By comforting them with the truth, that it is through many tribulations that we will surely enter the Kingdom of God.

Brother and sister in Christ, a preaching ministry may not be your calling and a public teaching role out of your comfort zone, but all of us can come alongside a younger disciple and quietly share with them the truths of the Bible. Will we seek to revive, rejoice, and educate them? Will we seek to warn, encourage, and strengthen those younger in the faith than we are, by watching over them, seeking their growth in prayer, and sharing the scriptures with them to teach them the disciple-sustaining truths of God?

We make disciples by preaching the gospel, by exemplifying the gospel and by teaching the gospel truth that revives, rejoices, enlightens, rebukes and encourages disciples. And we do it all in the power of the Holy Spirit following both Jesus and Paul’s example.

Second, Becoming Disciples

If we would obey Christ’s teaching and follow Paul’s example in making disciples, we must first be living as disciples of Christ ourselves. So, what does it mean to be a disciple of Christ? When I considered Jesus’ descriptions of disciples and discipleship in the gospels, and then consider my own life, I quickly discover there are things lacking. So, I need to hear these challenges, and I am convinced that as much as I know this flock, which God has entrusted into my care as pastor and elder, there are many here who need to hear the following challenges too. As we work through these, examine your own heart before the Lord to see if you are truly living as a disciple of Christ. Are you truly a disciple of Christ?

1) Have you responded to the call? Our Lord Jesus both chooses and calls His disciples. In John 15:16, Jesus said “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide”. In Matthew 4:19, He said “Follow me and I will make your fishers of men.” Friend, sitting here listening, watching, and perhaps reading this, have you heard Christ’s call in your own heart, that deep heart-felt desire to be forgiven by God, to know God, to walk and talk and fellowship with God from a heart of love for God? If you have heard it, but not responded, then will you, today, respond to Christ’s gospel call to come and follow Him, to be His disciple?

2) Have you counted the cost? When Jesus described to His disciples what it meant to be a disciple, He called them to count the cost of following Him. The call to be His disciple is a high call, a costly call. In Luke 14:28, Jesus compared counting the cost of discipleship to one who, desiring to build a tower, does he not first, sit down, and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Lest he start and not be able to finish. I would not have us ignorant of what it means, what it will cost to follow Christ. Without a submission to pay the cost, we cannot be His disciples. In Luke.14:26, if we do not love Christ more than mum, dad, spouse, children, and even our own lives we cannot be His disciple. Pause, and think this over, do not let those words pass by as familiar and yet not truly deeply understood.

There is the cost of self-denial. In Luke 9:23-25, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Following Christ will cost us our lives in this world but it will gain us eternal life in the next world. So, have we each in our own life and context counted the cost of following Christ? Are we willing, like Paul, to deny self to be His disciples?

There is the cost of persecution. In John 15:20, Jesus said: “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. In Acts.9:16, Jesus told Ananias that he would show Paul the things he must suffer for the sake of Jesus’ name, and from what we’ve seen in multiple chapters of Acts, to follow Christ is a call to suffering and persecution for the sake of the glory of His name. But we also have this great reassurance, from Rom. 8:35-39, that not even persecution or death can separate us from God. So, have you counted the cost of being Christ’s disciple?

There is the cost of commitment to Christ. The call to be Christ’s disciple is not to a part-time job, it is a call to total commitment to Him. Yes, we still live lives in this world, living, working, marrying, raising children, birthing and burying our families, Yet the call to follow Christ is a call made to our entire lives to be lived in total commitment to Christ. Jesus said in Luke 14:33, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Brother, sister, friend, will you count the cost of following Christ, of being His disciple?

But beloved be encouraged in this, the cost is not all we must give thought to. There are also rich blessings in being Christ’s disciples.

3) Have you Considered the Blessings of Discipleship? There is the blessedness of being united with Christ. In Matthew 12:46-50, while Jesus is speaking to the people, they tell him his human family is outside wanting to speak to him, but He, pointing . . .

toward his disciples, said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.

Being Christ’s disciple includes the richest blessing of being eternally united to Christ, the lover of our souls, who endured the cross to bear away your sin and mine, who died to save us, and rose again for our justification. Beloved will you consider the rich, incalculable blessing of being united with Christ for eternity. All other relationships, even marriage is for time alone, yet the relationships of discipleship continue for eternity, brothers and sisters in Christ are ours for eternity, alongside of our relationship with Him.

There is the blessedness of doing God’s will. Consider Psalm 1, and the blessing of living in godliness; the blessing of avoiding ungodliness in this life and perishing in the next; the blessing of delighting in and meditating on His Word, to do His will; the blessing of spiritual fruitfulness and prosperity. There is the blessing of walking and living in the way of the Lord, known by Him, and rewarded by Him, with standing in the congregation of the righteous and surviving the judgement of God. Friend, have you considered the blessedness of doing God’s will rather than the will of the wicked, the sinner, and the scoffer? Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:23, that it is those who do the will of God in heaven who are welcomed into the Kingdom of God.

There is also the blessedness of rest for the weary soul. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said:

Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

 That text is a beautiful call to salvation and discipleship. The labour and weariness of sin is removed and laid on Christ Himself. Discipleship is offered in taking the yoke and learning from Him. The loveliness of the heart of Christ is set forward for us to see and imitate as gentle and lowly.

My friend, reading this simple sermon. Will you respond to the call of Christ to be His disciple? Will you come to Him, and lay the burden of your sin on Christ? Will you share His yoke and learn from Him? Will you carefully count the cost of following Christ? Will you consider the eternal blessings of following Christ as His disciple?

For those who know Christ but have not been living as His disciple, leave behind what is past, you cannot go back and undo it. Rather, will you resolve, by the power of the Holy Spirit to count the cost, even now, of being Christ’s disciple, will you consider the blessings of discipleship, and will you join us in denying ourselves, picking up our cross, and stepping again under the yoke alongside of Christ, and finish the race well, walking with Him. The Gospel triumphs as sinners are freed from the domain of darkness and disciples are made through the message of the gospel, learning to obey all that Christ has taught us. It comes right down to individuals submitting to Christ’s call, through other disciples, and following Christ, to the glory of God, alone.


Sermon delivered at Noble Park Evangelical Baptist Church, October 2022.