Making disciples is messy. Looking at the apostles’ letters to the churches, or Paul’s letters to his spiritual sons, we see the early church fathers grappling with a wide range of issues that would hold believers back from becoming more like Jesus—blatant sin, faulty doctrines, false teachers, lack of faith, and many more. At one point, in response to the unbelief and perversion in His own generation, Jesus even asked, “How much longer do I have to be with you before you get it?” 

As a disciple maker living out the Great Commission, it can often feel discouraging to pour so much of your life into a person or group of people, so much time and energy and prayer, only to watch them get entangled in the same sin again, struggling with the same character issues, running into the same wall. Luckily for us, Jesus Christ didn’t come for perfect people.

But God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

Man. It’s so easy for us to expect ourselves or others to step into the fullness of our new identities as sons and daughters the moment we experience salvation, but truth be told, sanctification is a lifelong a process. We might think a person should be done struggling with x by point y—and there is never an excuse to sin—but God could be highlighting something else in their life He wants to transform, walking them through a different part of their journey.

And the Good News about Jesus works every step of the way. 

In my own journey as a disciple maker, I often find myself in a bit of a tension. Jesus commanded His followers to make disciples of every nation, and to teach these new believers everything He taught while walking the earth. Whether it’s sitting at the feet of amazing spiritual fathers or answering questions from a friend who’s a little farther back on their faith journey than me, I have experienced God’s glorious design in disciple making, how each part of the body supplies the need of the other. No matter how helpful or holy or kind, however, living in a broken world means we still know only in part. There will always be situations too messy, heart wounds too deep, and questions too big for man to answer. But Jesus talked about a Teacher who knows all things.

But you have received the Holy Spirit, and He lives within you, so you don't need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what He teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as He has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.

And again:


Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.

How is that relevant to this conversation, you ask? Put simply: It’s Holy Spirit’s job to transform people into the likeness of Christ, not ours. We play an important role as disciple makers, but it’s God who does the heavy lifting. He convicts people of their sin, not us. He is the source of grace that empowers change. He is the one true Father of Orphans.  

God definitely uses the way we lead, teach, and the hard conversations we have with people in the midst of their mess to convict, extend grace, and draw orphans into family, but the key term there is uses. We are the instruments, not the artist. We’re one of the many tools in Batman’s belt. 

So yes, there is a tension between our relationship as disciple makers and Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of our disciples, but it’s a healthy one. We can trust that God is on our words and the way we love people, that He uses our lives to draw those under our influence into a deeper revelation of Jesus, but the most helpful thing we can ever teach a disciple is how to discern and trust the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit living inside of them. It is that Teacher, that Helper, who knows exactly how and when transformation needs to take place. And only He has the power to do it.

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Did you love this blog? There's more where that came from. CHECK OUT:
Discipleship: Is It Worth The MESS? (Video Resource)
Made to See the Gospel Work (Blog)
A Messy Harvest (Blog)

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David Wade writes fiction, nonfiction, and hip hop from his dining room table in Grove City, PA. He currently lives with his wife, Candise, and studies English Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. For occasional information, follow him on Twitter @davidwadetv