…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.Acts 14:21-22 (ESV)
Oops. He did it again.
Paul is back at it. After being threatened, beaten, stoned, and nearly killed, Paul returns to the cities where he faced opposition and hardship. But his pattern this time around is different. He is not going to the synagogues first to present Jesus, evangelizing Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. This time he reconnects with Christian believers, “strengthening the souls of the disciples.”
Paul knows there is more to building the kingdom than calling for decisions (as important as that is). Paul is seeking to build up the kingdom not merely expand its population. So, having seen individuals in every city come to faith in Jesus, Paul wants to strengthen, encourage, and disciple them so that they can persevere in their faith and then continue the mission of sharing Christ with others.
The Great Commission is not just going and preaching, calling for decisions and witnessing conversion; our mission is to make disciples, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit (evangelism) AND teaching them to obey all that I have commanded (discipleship).
And as believers, our faith is not “complete” when we accept Jesus unto salvation. We are not merely called to a decision about Christ, but to walk with Him our whole lives. This faith journey demands discipleship. All believers must be disciples: being taught in the faith and growing in obedience.
The invitation to know Christ is a call to be reconciled to Him, having been buried with Christ in baptism we are now raised to walk in newness of life. Salvation is having our sins paid for and being provided with eternal life. Being saved is to walk with Jesus, having been reconciled to Him, we are discipled by Him through faith, through His Word, and with His people.
Along with this call to be a disciple, an expression and consequence of being a disciple, means that we are also a disciple-er. While growing and learning as a disciple, we are also teaching and encouraging other disciples.
From Paul’s example we are reminded of these 3 things:
1. We are called to discipleship. Of course, this is all we have already said with one additional clarification.
To know Christ is to walk the path of discipleship.
- Who is guiding you along this path of discipleship? Who is it that strengthens your soul and encourages you in hardship?
- Who is walking alongside you, growing with you as you pursue Christ? Do you know what your church is doing to intentionally build disciples? How can you help take advantage of and strengthen those efforts?
- Who are you sharing your faith with and who are you teaching all that you have learned and are learning? In other words, who are you discipling?
2. We are need encouragement. Obviously, this is part of being a part of the disciple-making process, a process in which we are forever both offering and receiving, learning and teaching.
But, how important is this really?
Of grave importance… ultimate consequence… life-and-death hanging in the eternal balance. It is impossible to over-estimate or under-emphasize the importance of discipleship, training, encouragement, and accountability.
Only those who “endure til the end” will be saved. ( 1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Mark 13:13; Matthew 24:12-13; Colossians 1:21–23; 1 John 2:19)
Only those who persevere in the faith will experience eternal life. And while there is much to be offered here by way of explanation, but for our purposes here we want to focus on one element of this beautiful gospel promise.
Faith, by nature, perseveres.
Translation: Take courage! Pursue Christ with all your heart. Faith makes it to the end!
That means that by faith, you will endure. He who began a good work in you WILL complete it. (Phil. 1:6, emphasis added)
The same God who warns us against falling away is (Jude 20-21) is the same God who “who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)
The same God who invites us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” is the same God “who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:12-13)
“But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3)
As His children, we “are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)
To put it another way: We persevere because God preserves us.
This assurance does not give us license to be lazy in our persevering, rather, it infuses our striving with confidence because we know He is at work within us and He will be faithful.
One last thing. A key tool in God’s preservation toolbox is His people. God provides for us in the community of faith. And trusting God means trusting the means He has ordained.
Paul provides strength, encouragement, and instruction to these new believers by organizing them into local churches and gifts them with godly leaders. Through these leaders and these churches, Paul trusts these new believers to be cared for, instructed, and encouraged.
My prayer for each of you is Paul’s blessing to the Thessalonian church:
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
And if I can be an encouragement to you in your faith, leave a comment or send an email. I look forward to hearing from you.