Many churches equate discipleship with knowledge. Churches who view discipleship as information transfer seek to stuff as much information about the Bible into as many people as quickly as they possibly can.
I realize this sounds noble, but the essence of discipleship is transformational not informational. Jesus did not merely ask us to teach everything He commanded. He asked us to teach people to obey everything He commanded, and the difference is massive (Matthew 28:19). The end result of discipleship is not merely the knowledge of all Jesus commanded but the obedience to all Jesus commanded.
If knowledge equals discipleship then Judas would be the poster child for discipleship. Judas was filled with information about Jesus, but he proved to have never truly been transformed by Jesus. In Matthew 26, Judas admits with his own words that he has never been transformed.
When evening came, He was reclining at the table with the Twelve. While they were eating, He said, “I assure you: One of you will betray Me.” Deeply distressed, each one began to say to Him, “Surely not I, Lord?” He replied, “The one who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl–he will betray Me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Then Judas, His betrayer, replied, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” “You have said it,” He told him. (Matthew 26:20-26)
Jesus tells Judas, “You have said it. You have just admitted that you’re the one who will betray me, the one who is not truly my disciple.”
What did Judas say?
Notice the language in the passage. The other eleven disciples respond to Jesus’ statement that a betrayer is among them with, “Surely not I, Lord?” But Judas responds very differently, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” The other disciples had surrendered their lives to Jesus. He was their Lord. To Judas, Jesus was a Rabbi he respected, spent time with, and learned from, but Jesus was not the Lord of his life. Judas never surrendered His will to Jesus. He was informed but never transformed.
From Judas we learn that religious heritage does not result in true discipleship. Judas had a strong religious heritage, as he was associated with a Jewish political party known as the Isicarii (Iscariot was not Judas’ last name but his known affiliation with this party). The Isicarii hated the Romans occupying their land, and they were committed to the freedom of Israel. Judas wore the title Isacariot proudly because of his religious and national heritage, but his heritage never transformed his heart. Making true disciples is much deeper than convincing people to join a religious or political tribe.
From Judas we learn that knowledge about Christ alone does not result in true discipleship. Judas knew all about Jesus. He heard every sermon Jesus preached. He personally saw Jesus confront the religious and welcome sinners. Judas saw Jesus put light into the eyes of blind men, tell paralyzed men to pick up their mats and walk, raise children from the dead, heal lepers, and cast out demons. He saw first hand the power and love of God perfectly displayed in Jesus.
He knew everything about Christ, but Judas did not personally know Christ. James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one; You do well! The demons also believe — and they shudder.” Judas respected Jesus as Rabbi, but never trusted Him as Lord.
Judas learned from Jesus’ teaching, but never allowed Jesus’ teaching transform him. And Jesus would not be Judas’ Savior because He was not Judas’ Lord. AW Tozer wrote:
The Lord will not save those whom He cannot command. He will not divide His offices. You cannot believe on a half-Christ. We take Him for what He is – the anointed Savior and Lord. He would not be who He is if He saved us without the understanding that He can also guide and control our lives.
Churches that are transformational in discipleship help people encounter Jesus as Lord and Savior, not merely as Rabbi. For discipleship is much deeper than information alone.