You Need Biblical Discipleship - Radical

You Need Biblical Discipleship

Discipleship is a common word used among Christians today, but it often is used without clarity. Why must the church be committed to helping Christians live every day in light of the final day? In this sermon, David Platt looks to God’s Word in order to explain what biblical discipleship is and how it is vital for the church.

If you have a Bible—and I hope you do—let me invite you to open to the first part of the Bible, the Old Testament, to the fifth book—Deuteronomy 6. It’s good to be together across Washington around God’s Word. I praise God for His grace in our gatherings. Last week, I wish you all could have seen the front of this room filled at the end of each gathering with people confessing Jesus as Lord and receiving His salvation. I wish you could hear all the stories I’ve heard from people of all ages, all backgrounds— some never having been to church before, others having been in church all their lives—confessing Jesus as Lord.

I want you to know that, Lord willing, we’ll have a similar time of response three weeks from now on Easter Sunday. I want to invite every one of you to be praying right now about whom you can invite to be here with you on that day. Picture names, faces, people in your sphere of influence, who don’t know Jesus truly. I want to challenge you to pray for them every day between now and Easter, plus invite them to come with you to church. I want to challenge every follower of Christ not to come alone on Easter. Bring somebody who doesn’t know Jesus with you and pray that God would open their hearts to His love.

You might say, “I have family plans on Easter.” I just want to remind you there are much more important things on Easter than your family plans. I’m talking about eternity and one of the most open opportunities for people to go to church and hear the gospel. There’s nothing more important you could do on that day than invite somebody to come with you. Or invite family members who don’t know Jesus. I was talking with one person in the church who has 48 grandkids. She has invited all of them to be here on Easter. So on this campus, they’ll have this section right here. You can bring one other person—okay, somewhere between one and 48—that’s what I’m encouraging you to do.

Today I want us to pick up where we left off last week. We’re in a series on “12 Traits of a Biblical Church,” looking at how God defines church in His Word. We’ve now looked at two traits: biblical preaching and teaching, and biblical evangelism. The church is first and foremost a community formed by God’s Word; at the center of this Word is the gospel. So anybody who is a part of the church is a part of the church because they’ve heard and believed the gospel, the good news of God’s love in Jesus. That’s where the church in a sense starts. But it’s definitely not where it stops.

I’m concerned that for many people, even many professing Christians, these first two traits are where we stop. We say, “Okay, I’ve trusted Jesus to save me from my sin. Now I know I’m going to heaven, so I can just coast here on earth until I get there.” Which is, as we’ve discussed, why there’s a whole host of people, even in the church, who profess faith in Christ, but their lives look just like the rest of the world. They’ve missed the whole point.

Let me illustrate. I’ve shared with you before some of my family story, how my wife Heather and I desired for years to have children, but God wasn’t answering in the way we desired. For about five years we struggled through infertility, until God led us down a path of adoption. We started exploring options here and around the world, and through a series of circumstances we never could have planned, we started the process of adopting a child from Kazakhstan. So we filled out all sorts of forms, went through various interviews, did background checks with what felt like every federal agency in the United States. We underwent a home study.

Finally, after many long months—I will never forget where I was sitting when I opened up my email and for the first time I saw a picture of a 10-month-old boy who had been matched with us. I’ll never forget the first time I saw that picture. Within a couple weeks, Heather and I were on a plane to Kazakhstan, where we would spend the next month visiting him in an orphanage, what they called “baby house.” We had to go an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. I could tell you all kinds of stories from those days.

I want to show you just a quick video that I think sums it up. It starts with Heather talking about the first day we met him. This is the second we spent with him. It will just give you a little glimpse into what these days were like.

Heather: We’re here in the baby house. The first day we saw Caleb was for about 60 seconds. It was very quick, kind of tearful, but we’re excited. We got to play with him for an hour. So this was our first time to really interact with baby Caleb.

Heather and I were laughing as we watched that video this week. We were living in Alabama at the time and we were just laughing. My wife had some deep-Southern drawl in that video that we hadn’t noticed until we moved up here. Anyway, after a month of visiting Caleb in that Baby House—11 years ago this last Wednesday—we went before a Kasakh judge and this precious little boy became our son. That day we went to the baby house one last time, we wrapped him in a snow suit and he officially became part of our family.

Now, here’s the deal. We then flew back to the United States. Let me tell you what we didn’t do. We didn’t take Caleb, put him on the streetand say, “All right, Buddy. Welcome to your new home.

Figure this thing out on your own from here,” then walk away—as if that was the end of the story. No! Sure, in one sense it was the end of one story, but in a much greater sense it was the beginning of a whole new story—a whole new life and family and future.

This is the concept I want you to get. When someone comes to Jesus—whether that was you last week, or whenever that happened in your life—there was a story that led to that point. If we’re not careful, we can say, “Okay, that’s it. End of story.” The church can even practically say, “Praise God, you came to Jesus. You’re going to heaven,” and then leave you to figure this thing out on your own from there. How often does this happen? We count and even celebrate the number of people who trust in Christ, but then we move on. That is exactly what we cannot do as a church.

Jesus calls us to biblical discipleship

Church, Jesus never called us to count decision. He called us to make disciples. The tragedy is when people profess faith in Christ, but then they don’t have help to grow in Christ, many end up falling away totally. Like a baby left on the street, they don’t survive. Or others may survive, but basically stay babies. Other professing Christians have made this decision—however many years ago—but have never really grown to flourish in their faith. Some of you might even look back to a previous time in your life, thinking, “I had a faith and a zeal then that I’ve totally lost now.” It’s like you’ve gone backwards. This is not God’s design for any one of us. Picture it. God is our Father. He has adopted us into His family, not to flounder but to flourish and to experience the joy of being His child.

J.I. Packer has written an excellent book called Knowing God that I would highly recommend as one of the top five books, outside of the Bible. In this book, he asks what is a Christian? He gives the richest answer I know: “A Christian is one who has God as Father.” If you want to know how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child and having God as his Father.

If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. That’s what I long for every one of you to experience. I long for every person in this church to experience the joy of knowing, walking with and worshiping God as Father, you as His child—growing as God has created you to grow as His child. The church is the family God has designed to help you experience this.

That’s why the third trait of a biblical church is biblical discipleship. When I say that word “discipleship,” if you’ve not been around the church, you probably don’t know what that word means. And if you have been around the church, you also probably don’t know what that word means. Now, you might think you know. You might think, “Yeah, discipleship. That’s the program I attend, like community group or small group. That’s discipleship. As long as I’m in a group like that, then I’m experiencing discipleship.”

I would say, “No, no, no, no, no.” Discipleship is individual. It’s not a class. Discipleship is what happens when somebody invests his or her life into your life, one on one. They take a certain amount of time every week to talk and study the Bible and pray with you. That’s discipleship. You’ll hear people say, “Yeah, this particular person discipled me.” They start talking about how that person spent time with them. Which causes other people to say, “Wait a minute. I’ve never had anybody do that with me.” So I’ll hear Christians say, “I’ve just never been discipled,” meaning they haven’t had a one-on-one relationship like that with an older or more mature Christian. Some might say they had a one-on-two or one-on three relationship like that.

Then others say, “No, no, no. I don’t need any of that. I just need to go to church,” like it’s that simple. “I don’t even have to go to the same church every week. Just be in a church somewhere the majority of Sundays—that’s sufficient to grow as a disciple of Jesus.” So you hear the back and forth. “No, you need to be in a community group, a small group.” “No, you need to be in individual relationship.” “No, you just need to sit in the service on Sundays.” But in the middle of it all—in the middle of all we have to say about discipleship—I wonder what does God say? What does our Father in heaven say about how to flourish on earth? That’s a question worth answering.

Remember a few weeks ago when we were talking about how God has created us to grow as disciples of Jesus—not to stay stagnant, not to stay babies in our faith, but to grow and flourish? We talked about how different people are at different stages in relationship to Jesus. You might remember that we talked about how some people are exploring what it means to follow Jesus. These are people who haven’t yet decided to follow Jesus.

Jesus forgives our sins

Then we talked about how people come to the point where they believe in Jesus, which is what many people did last week—what I’ll invite people to do this week. Even though we’re not talking specifically about evangelism, we’re always talking about the gospel—the good news that God loves us so much that He has sent His Son Jesus to pay the price for all our sin against God.

Anyone in the sound of my voice today, right now—you can be forgiven of all your sin, reconciled to a relationship with God through faith in Jesus, trusting in, believing in Jesus as the One Who saves you from your sin and the One Who reigns as Lord over your life. I invite people today to believe in Jesus. Non-Christian friends, family members, guests who are with us—we invite you to believe in Jesus today.

Then when you believe in Jesus, you become a child of God, with God as your Father, and you begin growing and flourishing in your relationship with Him. But if you remember, things don’t stop there. It’s not just about our growth in Jesus, it’s about bringing others to Jesus. Jesus didn’t say, “Go therefore and grow as a disciple.” He said, “Go therefore and make disciples.”

Biblical discipleship means multiplying followers of Jesus

That leads to the fourth word we listed: multiply—bring others to Jesus. This is a picture of what God has designed for every single one of us.

We also talked about images we sometimes see in Scripture. We talked about the soil and how seeds are put in that soil. The seed begins to grow into a plant and new life begins by believing in Jesus. That then grows to strength in Christ—a picture of growth and stability and security. This eventually multiplies to bring new life. But the question is how does that happen? How do you become that strong tree in the forest? How does your faith become like that? That’s what I pray for every single person in this church. I want to help you become that in Christ.

To recap, we go from exploring to believing to growing to multiplying. I want to help you progress along this spectrum, to flourish in your faith. And that leads to the question of how all this happens. I don’t think the answer is merely to just get in a small group or to get in a community group or find a discipler—whatever that means—or just to be in a church service.

Today I want to give you a sentence that I believe summarizes what God’s Word says about how to flourish in your faith, about discipleship. This sentence doesn’t just come out of thin air—it’s grounded, I hope, in God’s Word, which is where we want to ground everything we say and do. So look with me at Deuteronomy 6. There are so many places in the Bible we could go to talk about discipleship, because in a sense the whole Bible is about helping us grow and flourish in our relationship with God. But this passage is particularly foundational. It’s one of the most famous passages in the entire Bible, from the most-quoted book in all the Bible, and in this passage God lays the foundation for what it means to be His people. This then has huge implications for what it means to be a church.

So let me set the stage for Deuteronomy 6. God had delivered His people out of slavery in Egypt and had brought them to Mount Sinai, where He revealed Himself to them and gave them His law in what was basically a covenant ceremony, rather like a wedding ceremony. In this ceremony God and His people entered into a relationship. God said, “Here is My Word—My law—that will lead you to life with Me as you go into the land I’m promising to give you.” The problem was that right after that, God’s people turned from His Word and didn’t get to go into that land. An entire generation died in the wilderness.

Then God gathered the next generation together and said, “All right. Here’s My law, My Word again.” That’s what “Deuteronomy” means: “second law.” There’s really not anything new here that we haven’t already seen in the book of Exodus. It’s a recounting of the law on the edge of the Promised Land. God is saying to this new generation, “Here’s My Word that will lead you to life in this land I’m taking you into.” With that background, listen to this language, starting in Deuteronomy 6:1:

Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

In so many ways, I think this passage summarizes how God has designed us to flourish in faith. What follower of Christ in this room does not want to flourish in faith? You want to be like that tree planted by streams of water, bearing fruit. But how do you get there? Here’s the sentence that I think summarizes how we grow as disciples of Jesus in our relationship with God: Learn and obey the Bible personally, in small and large group community. That’s it. Learn and obey the Bible personally, in small and large group community.,

This is what I believe God is saying here in Deuteronomy 6—and all over the Bible—about how to flourish in Him. That sentence also summarizes what I want to help every single person in this church experience. If you’re thinking about our earlier list—exploring, believing, growing, multiplying; going from soil to plant to tree to forest—this is how to get there. Learn and obey the Bible personally, in small and large group community. Let’s unpack this sentence phrase by phrase.

Biblical discipleship means learning and obeying the Bible

We’ll start with “Learn and obey the Bible.” Some of you know that Deuteronomy 6:4 is known as the Shema in Old Testament Judaism. Shema is the Hebrew word that begins verse four, which is translated in English as the word “hear.” It’s a great Hebrew word that’s used over 1,100 times in the Old Testament, but there’s not a perfect English word that compares to it. It doesn’t just mean to hear something audibly—just to listen to something. In other places, the same Hebrew word is translated as “learn.” The meaning of the word really focuses not just on hearing, but understanding what has been heard. It’s listening to something with intelligence—not just going in one ear and out the other.

Sometimes I tell my kids to do something, and it’s in one ear and out the other. When they’re not doing what I’ve asked them to do, it is not that they have a physical hearing problem. They have an intellectual hearing problem. They’re not paying attention to what I’m saying. Or they’re paying attention to it—and ignoring it. That’s also not Shema. There are other times when this same Hebrew word is translated as “obey.” Same word. This word carries with it a connotation that when someone hears what is said, they not only understand it, but they do it.

Going back to my kids, every once in a while—it doesn’t happen all that often—they disobey what I have said. So I’ll say, “You didn’t listen to what I said, did you?” The reality is they could look back and say, “Yes, I listened to everything you said. I just didn’t do it.” Of course, that would get them in more trouble, so they don’t say that. But the problem isn’t that they physically did not hear or understand. The problem is they chose to do the exact opposite.

All that to say, this is a beautiful Hebrew word that carries all these connotations, which is why I included in my sentence that describes discipleship the words “learn and obey.” So the sentence could say, “Shema the Bible,” but most of us don’t speak Hebrew, so I don’t think that would clarify anything for you about discipleship. “Hear”—just hearing—doesn’t seem to capture the essence of what the text really is saying. That’s why I’m going with “learn and obey the Bible,” God’s Word.

This is what God is saying over and over and over again, throughout the Bible and right here in Deuteronomy. Turn back to Deuteronomy 4 and let me give you a quick glimpse of this. I want you to hear the Word of God and how it emphasizes learning and obeying through all kinds of different words in the English language,. This is God, speaking through Moses. Listen to what He says in Deuteronomy 4, beginning in verse one:

“And now, O Israel, listen (so there it is, like hearing) to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you (so there’s teaching or learning), and do them (obey them; do them), that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments (there is it— obey; keep the commandments) of the Lord your God that I command you.”

Skip down to verse five: “See, I have taught you statutes and rules (so you can learn them), as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them( obey them) in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them (there it is again, obey them; keep them) and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” They’ve learned.

Go down to verse nine: “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children (help your kids and grandkids learn them) how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words (there it is again—hear), so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’”

Go down to verse 14: “And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them (obey them) in the land that you are going over to possess.”

You see it over and over again—learn, obey—in different ways. Then in Deuteronomy 5:1 we read the same thing: “And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them.’” There it is: learn and obey. We then have the recounting of the Ten Commandments in this chapter.

Skip to verse 32: “You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you.”

Now think about what we just read in Deuteronomy 6: “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments” —by doing them.

Then going past what we read, look at verse 17: “You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you.” Verses 24-25: “And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God.”

Do you hear this? Over and over again, God is making it very clear that this is the path to life in relationship with God, the path to flourishing in faith. You learn—you hear, understand, teach, be taught—and you obey. You do, you keep these commandments. You walk in these ways. Is it any surprise then, when Jesus comes on the scene in the New Testament and gives the disciples the Great Commission, that He sends them out on mission—and not just them, but by implication each of us— saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey”?

Again, it’s learn and obey. That’s the essence of discipleship. It’s the same thing in 2 Timothy 2:1-2, a classic text on discipleship: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also”—so they can learn and do them. That’s exactly what Deuteronomy 6 is saying. This is the essence of discipleship and it has been so since the beginning of God’s people.

So how do you grow in God? How do you flourish in faith? It couldn’t be any clearer: learn and obey the Bible, the Word of God. Both—not just one or the other. This is why we don’t define discipleship merely as a small group or a community group or anything along those lines. That’s not to say that a small group isn’t important. We’re going to talk about that in a minute. But there are all kinds of things that can pass for small groups or community groups in churches today that might even be“Bibleless.” They’re not learning the Bible, but are focused on listening to the newest pop psychology from the latest book in the Christian bookstore.

Or maybe they’re opening the Bible, but they’re not actually studying it—they’re just reading a passage and saying, “All right, what does this mean to you?” They start to twist the Bible and say all kinds of things it doesn’t mean. Or even in some groups that are studying the Bible accurately, it’s still often disconnected from obedience. We come to a Bible study every week where we increase in Bible knowledge, but we’re tempted not to put it into practice in our lives. We can actually become experts on Galatians in our minds without ever sharing the gospel. But that’s the whole point. It’s why so many Christians never make it to the “multiplying” step in their lives. They might spend years, even decades, doing in-depth Bible studies, but never be leading people to Jesus. That misses the whole point.

Now, let me be clear. This is not to say that Bible studies or small groups or community groups are bad. But it is to say that they’re only good insofar as they help us to learn and obey the Bible. For now, hear this. This Book is the key to growing and flourishing in faith. Every one of us, if we want to experience life to the full, needs to learn and obey the Bible. We need to learn and obey the Bible personally. We have the Shema, “Hear, O Israel,” learn and obey, from the one true God. Then in Deuteronomy 6:5-6. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” Just think about this! See that the God of the universe has created you, right where you are right now, for a relationship with Him marked by love.

Life is found in loving God

If that doesn’t knock you out of your seat, you didn’t hear me. The Bible says this is where life is found. Life is found in loving God, more than you love your wife or husband, more than you love your kids, more than you love your comforts, more than you love your home, job, possessions, achievements, reputation, safety or security. More than you love your own life. Jesus says the exact same thing in the New Testament. Quoting from this passage in Deuteronomy, He says the greatest commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

I ask do you love God? I mean, really love God? Not, do you love His gifts? God has given us many, many good things in each of our lives. But if we’re not careful, we can all fall into the temptation of loving those gifts more than we love the One Who gives them. God knew this would be a temptation for these early Israelites. He’s promising them land and descendants, knowing they’d be tempted to focus on those things in such a way that they would forget Him. That’s why He said what He did right after what we read in Deuteronomy 6. Listen to what He said beginning in verse ten:

When the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Do you see this tendency in your own life? I see it in mine. We all have a tendency to enjoy the gifts—and forget the Giver. We need to constantly remember that the greatest gift God gives us is not our spouse. It’s not our kids. It’s not our friends or our family. It’s not health or wealth. No, the greatest gift God gives us is Himself. A relationship with God revolves around knowing and experiencing that through supreme love and affection for Him. Whenever we give that affection or attention to someone or something else that God alone deserves, do you know what the Bible calls that? It’s idolatry. It’s focusing on the gift and missing the Giver.

That’s exactly what God warns about here in Deuteronomy 6. Look at verses 14-15: “You shall not go after other gods…for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God.” We’ve talked about that before. Jealous is not a picture we usually associate with God. For that matter, jealousy is not an attribute we think about positively at all—and with good reason. In our lives, jealousy is most often wrong. It’s often driven by pride or covetousness or some kind of insecurity in us.

But there is a good sort of jealousy that is driven by love, which is exactly what we see in God. God is not insecure. He knows He is infinitely good. He loves His people so much that He wants us to experience our greatest good. He knows that when we focus on gifts and wander after other gods, it will not be good for us. He wants to keep us from that. Remember, God’s covenant with His people is like a marriage relationship.

I think about my marriage. I love my wife. I want good for her. She and I both know that God has designed our marriage for both of our good. Which means I am jealous for her affections. Even the thought of her giving her affections to another man is not good. That’s why anyone or anything that threatens to steal her affections from me as her husband will be met with the strongest of opposition. Is that clear?

This is good. This is the way marriage is supposed to be. This is the way our relationship with God is supposed to be. He’s infinitely good. He’s infinitely loving. And He’s called us to experience that love in a relationship with Him, because it’s in that relationship that we will experience our greatest good. God has created us for a wholehearted love relationship with Him.

You need a personal relationship with God

Now, the reason I emphasize that here under “personally” is because we want to grow personally in our love for God. We do that by growing in our understanding of His love for us. Listen to John 15:9, Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” That’s a great picture. As the Father loves the Son, so He loves us. That’s a lot of love. He then says, “Abide in my love.” He wants us to experience His love.

So how do we do that? Listen to the next verse: “If you keep my commandment (learn and obey, right?)… “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” How do you experience love in relationship with God? By learning and obeying His Word. Jesus goes on to say, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Jesus isn’t saying, “Learn and obey My Word, because you have to—just do it.” Jesus is saying, “Learn and obey, because this is so good for you, for your life.”

We’ve talked about this over and over again. We know that people who spend at least four days a week in God’s Word, learning and obeying the Bible, have radically different lives. You can see the effects. Please download the “Beyond Sundays” app. Have some kind of regular exposure to God’s Word, where you’re hearing it, learning it, obeying on a daily basis—personally. Nobody falls in love with somebody else by proxy, nor grows to love somebody else by proxy.

This week I will go on a date with my wife and will not be asking a surrogate to go in my place— to talk to her for me. “Tell her how much I love her. Don’t forget that.” No. I’m going to do that myself. That’s what a relationship is all about. So then, why would anybody be content just to come to a worship service or a Bible study to hear somebody else talk about God’s Word—but not experience it yourself? We’re going to talk in just a minute about the value of this in small groups, but there’s nothing like being alone with God, hearing His Word.

Just this morning I woke up, went into a room alone and let me tell you what I got do to this morning. I was talking with the God of the universe. He was listening to me. I was talking and He was listening! Sure, He was upholding Mars at the same time, but He was also listening to me. He was not just listening to me, He was speaking to me. I was sharing with Him things that were heavy on my heart, crying out for help and He was listening. That’s awesome!

We have this privilege all the time. So if all you do is come to service once a week, or even the majority of Sundays—or even attend a small group or Bible study—but you’re not spending time alone with God and His Word, you will miss out on discipleship. Learn and obey the Bible personally. I would urge you to make whatever changes need to be made in your schedule this week to have at least some time in the Bible on the majority of your days. Even for a few minutes—just start there. Learn and obey the Bible personally. Let His Word be on your heart.

Biblical discipleship involves both small and large community

Then the last part of our main sentence: “…in small and large group community.” . It’s interesting here in Deuteronomy 6 that right after God talks about His Word being on our hearts, He then talks about infusing it into our relationships. First at home—you should teach them diligently to your children, talking with them when you sit in your home. Then He expands it to everyday life: When you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up—that pretty much covers it. Rise, walk, lie down. You should bind them as a sign on your hand. When do you not have your hand with you? All the time. They should be as frontlets between your eyes. When do you not have your eyes with you? You are to write them on the doorposts of your house, or on your gates. Some of the language is obviously figurative here, but the point is clear: let God’s Word saturate your life and your relationships.

So discipleship—growing in love for God, learning and obeying His Word—doesn’t just happen in those moments when we’re alone. It also happens in community. I put small and large group community here, because, well, think about the context. This is Moses in Deuteronomy 6 speaking the Word of God in a large assembly of God’s people. If you look back at 5:1 you’ll see that Moses summoned all Israel and said these words to them. We’re observing a giant worship gathering where God’s people are assembled together in a large group, hearing His Word and worshiping Him.

We could turn to all kinds of places in the Old Testament where we see that happening, plus we can turn over to the New Testament where we see disciples gathering together in churches. That’s actually what the Greek word for “church” —ekklesia—means. It’s an assembly or a gathering of the disciples of Jesus.

So what we’re doing right now in this room is worshiping, praying, giving offerings and learning the Word. It’s being taught and we’re hearing it—hopefully with a heart toward obedience. We’re doing that right now in this assembly of people all across Washington. As long as His Word is at the center of what we’re doing, this is discipleship.

So Christian, don’t say, “I’ve never been discipled.” Hopefully you realize this is what’s happening right now. God Himself has designed gatherings like this for us to grow in Christ, which is why we need this. There are so many temptations and challenges in this world, which is why God set it up for His people to gather together once a week like this. [We’ll talk about that more when we look at biblical worship in church.] This is why we don’t just read the Bible on our own or live the Christian life as a lone ranger. It’s not possible. God has designed us to gather together with the church. A few weeks from now we’ll see how God has designed us to gather together primarily with one church. But suffice it to say at this point, discipleship is happening in the larger gathering.

Then obviously what God is saying here in Deuteronomy 6 is that when you scatter from this large assembly, you need to be in smaller communities where you’re learning and obeying the Bible together. It starts in your homes, but then it extends to everyday life. God is saying, “You need this kind of smaller community around My Word.” This is so key. This large group time is so helpful, but by itself it is not sufficient. One of my greatest concerns when it comes to a church the size of ours it that it’s possible for people to come, sit down in a service like this, then get up and walk away, remaining pretty anonymous. They can be detached from relationships marked by the kind of “one anothers” we see in Scripture.

We’ll talk about this another week too, but it means loving, caring, serving, encouraging, supporting, praying for and bearing burdens for one another. We need relationships where those “one anothers” are happening in our lives. We need to be with other followers of Christ who are encouraging us with the Word and we’re encouraging them with the Word, doing Deuteronomy 6 here. This can absolutely happen in a small group. This can happen in a community group. This can happen in any number of places. It could be formal. It could be more informal. Part of what the campus pastors are going to do next week is help us think practically about how we can experience this level of community.

I want to encourage every person in this church to have an outlet for all three of these. One, learning and obeying the Bible personally. Two, learning and obeying the Bible in large group community, such as gathering together with this church. Then three, learning and obeying the Bible in some form of small group community—formal or informal, small groups, community groups, informal relationships, whatever. The point is having real relationships with other Christians who are learning and obeying the Bible alongside you.

If you need help finding those relationships, we want to help you. This is a bold statement, but I make it with confidence in what we’re reading here in Deuteronomy 6: I guarantee you that if you are learning and obeying the Bible—personally and in small and large group community—you will grow to experience the life God has intended you to live. This will be a reality for you. You will be like a tree, strong, flourishing, multiplying.

Turn over to Deuteronomy 30. You need to see the very end of this book. This is so good. This is the last time God speaks through Moses in this book and I want you to hear what God says, because it is a fitting conclusion to what we’re talking about here. It summarizes what’s at stake and why this matters. It addresses the question: so what? Listen to this, beginning in verse 11:

For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

As we’ve talked about today, this is not some hard-to-reach concept that nobody can do. It’s just learn and obey the Bible—personally and in small and large group community. Every one of us can do this.

Now listen to these words:

See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.

Please hear this. What we just read is so different than every other message in the world this week. You will hear, “Get money; that’s life.” “Get position; that’s life.” “Get achievement; that’s life.” “Fix these circumstances, get this worked out, that will be life.” Don’t buy it. It’s not true. It’s not true. It’s not true. Based on what God’s Word is saying you have two choices. Every single person has two choices. You can choose life, or you can choose death.

If you ignore this Word, if you do not listen to it and obey it, then you will choose death. You will not experience life as God has designed you to experience it. But he’s saying, “Here’s my Word. If you hear it and obey it, if you learn it, it will be life for you.” I just want to urge you, amidst all the other messages in this world that are lies, to hear the truth: this is life. This is where life is found. I want to encourage you to experience it and embrace it every day. If you have never trusted in the Word of God, in His promise to save all who turn from their sin and trust in Jesus, I invite you: choose life. Choose life today!

Then once you’ve trusted in Christ, don’t just act like a baby out in the street trying to make it on your own. You won’t make it. He’s given you His Word. He’s created you for a love relationship with Himself. So I exhort you, choose life. Learn and obey God’s Word personally and in small and large group community.

Know that we together, as McLean Bible Church, are going to work hard at biblical discipleship. Why? Because we’re a family. We have God as our Father and we don’t want anyone to flounder in their faith. Faith is not easy in this world. I want us to help each other flourish in faith, because ultimately we want to help each other find life in loving God with all our heart and soul and strength. That’s where life is found and that’s where we want to go.

Let’s pray.

God, we want to choose life. Help us. We are so prone to turn away from Your Word. We’re so prone to forget You. We’re so prone to enjoy Your gifts and ignore You as the Giver. We’re so prone to love other things more than You. God, help us to love You with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. Help us as a church to encourage one another toward that end. Help us to be the family You’ve designed us to be so that we are a people who are flourishing, growing and multiplying. O God, may it be. Help us to learn and obey Your Word in our lives and in community together. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

How can we apply this passage to our lives?

Question 1

According to this sermon, what is a helpful summary sentence of discipleship?

Question 2

What is the danger of “Christian Community” that is not dictated by God’s Word?

Question 3

In what ways are you tempted to treasure the gifts God has given more than your union with Him?

Question 4

Do you have a plan in place to ensure that you are personally spending time being exposed to God’s Word? What does that look like?

Question 5

How are you discipled by gathering with the church weekly?

Deuteronomy 6:1-9, “Now this is the commandment – the statutes and the rules – that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it – that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Learn and obey the Bible personally, and in small and large group community.

Learn and obey the Bible . . .

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.”

Deuteronomy 4:5-6, “See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”

Deuteronomy 4:9-10, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children, how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’”

Deuteronomy 4:14, “And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess.”

Deuteronomy 4:40, “Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.”

Deuteronomy 5:1, “And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them.’” Deuteronomy 5:32-33, “You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way, that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.”

Deuteronomy 6:1-9, “Now this is the commandment – the statutes and the rules – that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Deuteronomy 6:17, “You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you.”

Deuteronomy 6:24-25, “And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.”

Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

2 Timothy 2:1-2, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

. . . personally . . .

Matthew 22:37

Deuteronomy 6:10-12, “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant, and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Deuteronomy 6:14-15, “You shall not go after other gods . . . For the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God.”

John 15:9, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”

John 15:10, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

. . . and in small and large group community.

Deuteronomy 5:1, “Moses summoned all Israel and said [these words] to them . . .”

Deuteronomy 30:11-20, “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical, a ministry that exists to equip Christians to be on mission.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the following volumes in the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series: Exalting Jesus in MatthewExalting Jesus in JamesExalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, and Exalting Jesus in Galatians.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Resources from David Platt can be found at radical.net.

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