Tag Archives: discipleship

What Are We Making?

One of the last things Jesus told His followers to do was Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…(Matthew 28:19.  Seems like a pretty straightforward directive, right?  Yet seldom do I get the feeling “making disciples” is of supreme importance among Christians or designated a lofty priority in our Savior’s churches.  I just don’t hear much about it.  It’s surely not that we don’t want others to find, accept, embrace and then enjoy the freedom and hope we’ve found by becoming followers of the Lord.  We look at the world’s massive problems and conflicts and feel sorry for those who don’t know that having Christ in one’s heart is the only antidote for despair and depression.  We long for everyone to surrender their life to Jesus and thereby discover the peace and assurance He provides.  So it’s not that we don’t want to “make disciples”.  It’s that we don’t know how.  Since that’s the case I reckon we should spend more time educating and training ourselves in that area of our faith.

 

Logic tells us we must first be disciples of Christ ourselves in order to be effective at turning others into the same.  In previous essays I defined what one is and how best to become one.  I stressed a person doesn’t have to have a Masters in theology to be a disciple, only an overwhelming yearning to spend the rest of their life apprenticing under the guidance of Jesus.  A.W. Tozer wrote, “I would emphasize this one committal, this one great volitional act which establishes the heart’s intention to gaze forever upon Jesus.  God takes this intention for our choice and makes what allowances He must for the thousand distractions which beset us in this evil world.”  Remember, God makes disciples, not human institutions.  Our job is to help and assist Him in any way we can.  We learn the craft of “disciple making” via imitating and utilizing the methods Christ employed to raise up His disciples.  The most obvious tact He used was proclaiming, manifesting and teaching them about the kingdom of God.  He brought it up frequently.  We should do likewise.  When Jesus spoke about it He made the kingdom out to be the most incredible, desirable place and state of mind to exist in.  But how often do we tell non-believers about the wonders of God’s Kingdom?  Or, for that matter, discipleship in general?  And when’s the last time you heard a sermon preached on those subjects?  Dallas Willard opined, “…with the disappearance of Jesus as teacher – replaced by the mere sacrificial Lamb or else the prophet of social and personal ‘liberation’ – the prospects for the making of disciples to Him become very dim indeed.  You cannot have students if you have no teacher.”  In accentuating the glorious advantages of being a citizen of the magnificent Kingdom of God, Christ was offering an alluring incentive for men and women to become disciples.  It seems apparent to me that somewhere along the way the church got distracted and ceased doing foremost what our Lord commanded before He ascended from the Mount of Olives.

 

Has Christianity mistakenly focused its energies on making converts instead of disciples?  I only have to look at myself to answer that question.  When and if I’m asked I normally describe myself as a Christian but not necessarily as a disciple of Jesus.  I was brought up in church and knew all about the disciples.  So at what juncture in my life did I stop striving to be a dedicated student of Christ, constantly stretching my intellect to expand my understanding of and usefulness to my Savior and settle for just being one of the “saved”?  If I’m being totally honest it happened early on, right after I turned 18.  I’m not implying that if I’d met my death at some point afterwards I wouldn’t have awakened in the heavenly realm.  I know for certain my name got written down in the Book of Life with indelible ink because when it comes to forgiveness, our Heavenly Father’s is inexhaustible.  Yet I have no doubt He’ll inquire of me one fine day why I waited so late in life to become a Christ disciple and I won’t have an acceptable excuse to give Him.  It’s reasonable to think discipleship was important to Jesus because it prepares God’s children for what heaven will actually be like.  Had I kicked the bucket even 10 years ago would I have been ready to devote all my love and fealty to Christ?  Sadly, no.  I was satisfied to be a believer, not a disciple, and I don’t think by merely entering the Pearly Gates I would’ve instantly been able to forget myself and worship the King of kings in the manner He deserves.  Having never confronted and worked on my many character defects, it’s probable I would’ve had no clue whatsoever what to do or how to act in His presence.  Finally deciding to become a disciple of Jesus was the wisest choice I’ve ever made – bar none.

 

Therefore, if I’m reading Matthew 28:19 correctly, as a disciple of Jesus it’s imperative I make it my primary mission to make more disciples.  Instead of trying so hard to be “a good man that everyone likes to hang with” I should be more focused on introducing others to the greatest person I’ve ever met – Jesus Christ.  If folks can see that He means everything to me and that I’m happy with that fact, then chances are favorable they’ll want what I found in Christ for themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  That’s an extremely tough row to hoe for life in the “real world” will make it that way.  With his tongue firmly in cheek Henri Nouwen wrote: “We simply go along with the many ‘musts’ and ‘oughts’ that’ve been handed on to us, and we live with them as if they were authentic translations of the Gospel of our Lord.  People must be motivated to come to church, youth must be entertained, money must be raised, and above all everyone must be happy.  Moreover, we ought to be on good terms with the church and civil authorities; we ought to be liked or at least respected by a fair majority of our parishioners; we ought to move up in the ranks according to schedule; and we ought to have enough vacation and salary to live a comfortable life.”  Little wonder the modern church is guilty of paying such scant attention to facilitating the divine mandate to “make disciples”.

 

Could it be that 21st century Christians fear what would happen if we started concentrating on seeing an increase in the number of Christ disciples over gaining a new influx of “church members”?  I heard T.D. Jakes once preach, “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good.  He came to bring dead people back to life!”  In today’s PC culture most non-believers will take being called “dead in sin” an uncalled for indictment of their lifestyle but the body of Christ must be bold enough to warn them of the eternal consequences that stem from ignoring Jesus’ atoning blood sacrifice.  Courageous disciples, following the lead of the likes of Paul and Peter, will not be afraid to speak the truth in love.  But disciples won’t just appear out of thin air.  They must be cultivated and nurtured over time by the church itself.  As Willard wrote, “We should intend to make disciples and let converts ‘happen,’ rather than intending to make converts and letting ‘disciples’ happen.”  What a major shift in direction and emphasis that would be!

 

It’s worth noting Jesus didn’t imply there’d be anything easy about “making disciples.”  Needless to say, it’s getting harder and harder to do.  Today’s “information society” has no need for Christ or the Kingdom of God He promoted.  Intentionally or otherwise, the mainstream media has systematically eradicated any and all spiritual concerns from their secularist agenda.  To mislabel what they do a conspiracy is to invite unhelpful paranoia into the issue when what’s really behind it is way more powerful – a somewhat nebulous “authority” that stakes its claim of being truth-holders in what it firmly considers to be rock-solid, science-based knowledge and wisdom.  For instance, I recently came across a show on The Science Channel called “Space’s Deepest Secrets.”  I’ve always been fascinated with stuff having to do with astronomy so I gave the program a gander.  This particular episode was entitled “The Curse of Dark Matter” and it featured a plethora of cool graphics as well as interviews with a number of really smart men and women, most with “Dr.” or “Prof.” in front of their names.  It was all very “up to date.”  The bottom line, however, turned out to be the unavoidable truth that mankind still doesn’t know diddly about how the universe keeps from flying apart, much less how it came into existence at all.  All kinds of theories and conjectures abound but not once during the show did any of the brainiacs venture to surmise God Almighty has anything to do with overseeing and controlling the incredible forces and energies that surround us.  I got the impression that for any of the experts to make even the slightest reference to an omniscient, cosmic Creator/Administrator would be to commit scientific blasphemy.  They dare not mention the elephant in the room.  This is what the Christian community is up against and it’s a formidable adversary, indeed.

 

In other words, if a person grows up being taught in school that the very concept of there being a God is foolishness we Christians have a lot of swift rivers to cross to reach them.  As Willard wrote, “…in any case the point here is not so much about which beliefs must be challenged and changed as it is that to enable people to become disciples we must change whatever it is in their actual belief system that bars confidence in Jesus as Master of the Universe.”  If there’s a flaw in the Celebrate Recovery ministry I’ve been heavily involved in for over 8 years now it’s that we tend to put too much emphasis on getting people to stop doing destructive things to themselves or others and not doing enough to change their fundamental beliefs.  It’s a tricky proposition, though.  Most of the folks that come crawling into their first meeting are desperate to find out if there’s any hope left for them.  Many have never stepped foot inside a church except to attend funerals or weddings so the last thing they want to hear about is discipleship.  At the same time they’re very open to receiving some “Good News” and that’s where the Christ disciples in the room have an opportunity to reveal to them the healing, loving, merciful Jesus that perhaps they’ve never heard about.  If they feel welcome and not judged odds are they’ll come back for more genuine encouragement and, over time, they might come to realize it’s their own misguided belief about what it’s like to be a follower of Christ that’s been the biggest obstacle to finding purpose and fulfillment in their life.  Look, what we believe true about ourselves determines not only our personality and countenance but the whole of our outlook on life.  Back in the 90s I was able to pull myself out of the miserable throes of self-loathing simply by standing in front of a mirror every day and feeding my reflection positive attributes.  I found out I was what I believed I was.  It was all in my head!

 

More often than not it’s the ones who profess to be Christians who are most confused about what they believe.  If they get comfortable with coming to Celebrate Recovery and sharing in the small group gatherings they might take the next step and go through the soul-searching Step Study program.  That’s where they’ll be asked about what they believe in regards to God, repentance, the Bible, salvation, etc. – perhaps for the first time in their lives.  It’s not uncommon that many realize a lot of their core beliefs were based solely on what their peer group believed and that, in the final analysis, they didn’t truly believe what they thought they believed after all!  To avoid them becoming discouraged over what they’ll then be tempted to deem their “anemic faith” the course leaders will gently direct them into God’s Holy Word to obtain the necessary corrections.  The astonishing thing is all that was required to get them back on track was to ask them to express what they believed!  The sheer absurdity of their false assumptions about who Jesus is and what He wants us to do for Him while we’re here on earth suddenly become crystal clear in their minds without anybody having to tell them they were wrong.  This is frequently the breakthrough they’d been waiting for all their lives and they go on to discover the power of prayer, the joy of fellowship with other Christians, the enormous benefits derived from diligent Bible study, etc.  And down the line, due to the patient leading of the indwelling Holy Spirit, they might decide to become a disciple of Christ.

 

What all Christians must remember is that when Jesus told us to “make disciples” it wasn’t a suggestion, it was a command.  That means it’s not up for discussion.  He said, You are my friends if you do what I command you (John 15:14).  And we’re not to think we’re doing our Savior any favors.  Jesus said, So you too, when you have done everything you were commanded to do, should say, ‘We are slaves undeserving of special praise; we have only done what was our duty’ (Luke 17:10).  We who’ve been rescued from the tyranny of our own sinful nature have an obligation to meet whether we like it or not.  James S. Stewart wrote, “It is emphatically not an open question.  The great command settled it once for all.  And the man who still debates and argues it is daring to correct Jesus Christ.  That wrecks his position.  The Master’s ruling has been given, and He means it to be obeyed.”

 

Whether or not the church alters its overriding drive towards making Christianity more palatable and/or compatible with modern mores and ethics and returns to concentrating its efforts on doing what Jesus commanded – making disciples of all nations – isn’t something I can predict.  One thing I do know is that God’s perfect will is going to get done regardless.  Willard said it best: “The purposes of God in human history will eventually be realized, of course.  His divine conspiracy will not be defeated.  But multiple millions of individual human beings will live a futile and failing existence that God never intended.”  How sad and sobering that last statement is!  Makes me cognizant of how much “disciplining work” is left to be done by me and the body of Christ I’m grateful to be part of.

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How Much Does Discipleship Cost?

Salvation, due to God’s amazing grace, is free of charge.  Discipleship, however, can be expensive.  Thus a believer who decides to apprentice under the tutelage of Christ would be wise to examine the price tag before making a commitment.  Jesus didn’t conceal the fact the cost is steep.  At one point in His ministry He’d attracted a sizeable audience that followed Him around.  No doubt many of the folks tagged along because they’d heard about Him picking up the lunch tab for 5,000 and wanted to be around when and if it happened again.  Gratis feedings were as popular then as they are now.  Our Savior knew when it was time to thin the herd and exactly how to do it.  Now large crowds were accompanying Jesus, and turning to them he said, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14:25-27).  I figure at the mere mention of crucifixion hundreds backed away and headed home.  Public execution wasn’t part of what they thought they were signing up for.

 

Jesus continued to preach to those who stuck around: For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t sit down first and compute the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish the tower, all who see it will begin to make fun of him.  They will say, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish!’  Or what king, going out to confront another king in battle, will not sit down first and determine whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  If he cannot succeed, he will send a representative while the other is still a long way off and ask for terms of peace.  In the same way therefore not one of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his own possessions (14:28-33).  Needless to say, there’s a lot of misunderstanding and confusion regarding why Christ chose to use the shocking word hate.  God doesn’t desire that His children hate anything other than sin.  Keep in mind Jesus often employed over-the-top exaggerations to snag people’s attention (a camel passing through the eye of a needle, planks of wood sticking out of one’s eye socket, etc.) and that’s the case here.  Dallas Willard wrote, “The entire point of this passage is that as long as one thinks anything may really be more valuable than fellowship with Jesus in His kingdom, one cannot learn from Him.”  Use common sense.  Our Lord didn’t hate His mother and He wasn’t advocating we hate ours, either.  Context is always essential to acquiring full understanding.

 

Yet this raises a legitimate question.  Who in their right mind would willingly accept an often thankless job that demands everything from them?  What’s the upside of taking on such an all-consuming, lifelong task like that?  Obviously a man or woman would have to be so enamored and impressed with Christ’s merciful majesty that no warnings or scare tactics could dissuade them from enlisting in His army of servants.  Jesus described what that profound infatuation is like using two relatable illustrations.  He taught that The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, hidden in a field, that a person found and hid.  Then because of joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.  When he found a pearl of great value, he went out and sold everything he had and bought it (Matthew 13:44-46).  Frederick Buechner, in discussing these twin tales, remarked: “Almost always when Jesus speaks of the kingdom of Heaven, there is this note of surprise: it’s so much more wonderful than anyone could have dared hope, so much more within reach than anyone could have dreamed.  And there’s the sense too that once we’ve glimpsed this kingdom, tasted this life, we understand that nothing else matters – that all other pearls, next to this one, were only pearls, that every field we ever walked before was only weariness.”  Now, if you have no clue whatsoever what our Lord and Savior was getting at in these vignettes; if you’ve not encountered something or someone so mind-blowingly incredible, beautiful and exhilarating that you’d drop everything in a heartbeat to obtain more then perhaps discipleship isn’t for you.  Not just yet, anyway.

 

Notice that in both scenarios the cost involved didn’t matter because it was inconceivable for the buyer to pass up a bargain so enriching.  The option of not going “all in” was absurd.  It never entered their brain.  That’s the kind of motivation those who want to become a Christ disciple must own to take the plunge.  They must feel no trepidation whatsoever.  As Jesus said, “…No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).  Through faith the dedicated disciple is convinced the benefits derived from their decision vastly outweigh any and all inconveniences or hardships it may invite.  A.W. Tozer wrote, “Let any man turn to God in earnest, let him begin to exercise himself unto godliness, let him seek to develop his powers of spiritual receptivity by trust and obedience and humility, and the results will exceed anything he may have hoped in his leaner and weaker days.”  The treasure they’ve gotten a partial view of is worth risking ridicule to possess.  Now, non-Christians will tell them they’re ruining any chance they might have to succeed in the secular world.  That to be beholden to anything other than their career, their family or their financial security is sheer insanity.  They’ll roll their eyes, strongly advise that the fee for discipleship to an invisible God is simply too high and then do their level best to talk them out of it “for their own good”.  You will meet with heavy resistance, that’s certain.  But for those who can’t imagine not being a disciple of the Son of God – the most remarkable, extraordinarily unique person to ever trod terra firma – nothing will deter them.  For, as Walter Wink once said, “If Jesus had never lived; we would not have been able to invent Him.”  The impact Christ made on many of us is indelible – permanent – and we can’t fathom following anyone else.

 

It’s why Jesus preached discipleship isn’t to be entered into lightly, that we must “…sit down first and compute the cost as it were.  The early disciples knew their devotion could cost them everything but they nevertheless deemed their mission worth it.  I love what James S. Stewart wrote: “Knowing Jesus as they now knew Him; they couldn’t conceive any lower place for Him than the throne of the whole earth.  Jesus, they saw, must be Master and Lord of life.  So they dedicated themselves to the magnificent, amazing adventure that was to carry the cross in less than 300 years from the ignominy of Golgotha to the throne of the Caesars.  On the face of it, it seemed impossible that these few men, with no weapons to wield save one, the weapon of love, should make any impression on a world that had the weapon of force and was determined to use it.  It seemed impossible that they should stand up against the vested interests of materialism and secularism, the ‘principalities and powers’ of which Paul spoke, and the entrenched selfishness of the world.  When they first set out, with their unheard-of dream looking out of their eyes, the world simply laughed them to scorn.  And when in spite of laughter and scorn they kept going on, marching indomitably from town to town and land to land until they were knocking at the gates of Rome, the world began to take them seriously and tried to bar their way.  But by this time blazing fire and torturing rack and furious insult were all in vain.  The dream prevailed, and the world was at their feet.”  Oh, to be as courageous and determined as the early disciples were!

 

If we’ve carefully weighed the cost of discipleship and found it well worth going into debt over then we must investigate how to become one.  The first thing to do is to get on our knees and ask God for guidance, stamina and fortitude.  Jesus said, Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).  This doesn’t mean to ask once and then sit back and wait for enlightenment to alight.  On the contrary, we should convey our yearning to be a dynamic follower of Christ several times a day for the rest of our life.  Dr. Larry Crabb wrote, “Approach Him [God] with an awareness of who He is that makes you both tremble and draw close.  Approach Him knowing you’ve got a long way to go in becoming a really good person.  Approach Him in your emptiness and desire.  And that could mean saying something as simple as, ‘I really want You.  I want lots of other things, but I want You most.’”  Timothy Keller’s thoughts also broached the subject of discipleship.  He said, “A Christian is, literally, ‘Christ’s one,’ someone who isn’t just vaguely influenced by Christian teaching, but who has switched his or her most fundamental allegiance to Jesus.  Christians understand the all-or-nothing choice that’s forced upon us by the magnitude of Jesus’ claims.  …If Jesus was not a lunatic, then our only alternative is to accept His claims and center our entire lives around Him.  The one thing we have no right to do is to respond to Him mildly.”

 

It’s vital we utilize any means available to get to know Jesus more intimately, as well.  And no source of truth about Him tops the Holy Bible.  A disciple should consult it daily.  Our Lord confirmed it when He said, If you dwell in my word, you really are my disciples.  And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).  To dwell in something means “to linger over it in thought or speech”, thereby allowing it to saturate an individual’s mind completely.  Tozer opined, “If you would follow on to know the Lord, come at once to the open Bible expecting it to speak to you.  Do not come with the notion that it’s a thing which you may push around at your convenience.  It’s more than a thing; it is a voice, a word, the very Word of the living God.”  And we mustn’t be only readers of the Scriptures but doers of what it tells us.  In the beginning this will be difficult because the old person with their hurts, habits and hang-ups will demand equal time but we must trust that Jesus will assist us in bringing the urges of the new creation to the forefront.  Willard wrote, “Where His word is, there He is.  He does not leave His words to stand alone in the world.  And His loveliness and strength will certainly be personally revealed to those who’ll simply make the effort to do what His words indicate.”

 

A Christ disciple should become familiar with various translations of the Bible in addition to the writings of gifted Christian authors who provide educational and supplemental perspectives and insights.  I try not to be judgmental but I do have a problem with believers who’ve graduated from high school yet still give as a lame excuse, “I’m not a good reader”.  There’s so much wisdom to be gained from respected writers; from C.S. Lewis to Ravi Zacharias, from Billy Graham to Brennan Manning (just to name a few out of the many I admire) and anybody can buy one of their engaging books for less than lunch at Applebee’s!  Don’t let laziness keep you from growing and maturing as a follower of Jesus.  One can’t amass too much wisdom.  J.P. Moreland said, “Wisdom is the application of knowledge gained from studying both God’s written Word and His revealed truth in creation.  If we’re going to be wise, spiritual people prepared to meet the crises of our age, we must be a studying, learning community that values the life of the mind.”  There are also TV and YouTube sermons preached by servants of the Lord (like T.D. Jakes and Joyce Meyers) that’ll inspire and elevate your spirits on a regular basis.  And, of course, there’s your local church that’s indispensable to your ongoing training in discipleship.  You shouldn’t just attend, you should be involved.  What I’m trying to say is this: The more of God we absorb into our life the less this crazy, mixed-up world will be able to infiltrate and corrupt our divinely-ordained purpose for taking another breath.  Discipleship is a full-time job, not a hobby.  But what I found in my own spiritual journey is the better I got to know Jesus the more I wanted to be one of His “fishers of people.”

 

But when it comes right down to it becoming a Christ disciple isn’t something that just happens to us whether we intend to be one or not.  No, it requires a sober, deliberate decision be made of our own volition.  God will indeed call us but He’ll never coerce us.  He respects our free will explicitly and will abide by the choices we make regardless of His preferences for us.  No one achieves disciple status by accident.  Becoming an adherent of our Savior has to be our #1 ambition with everything and everyone else coming in a distant second.  It can’t be kept a secret, either.  Willard wrote, “We should apprentice ourselves to Jesus in a solemn manner, and we should let those around us know that we’ve done so.”  Otherwise we’re spinning our wheels, wasting precious time pretending to be something we ain’t.  Discipleship is the biggest responsibility a saved soul can take on during this mortal phase of existence.  It’s the greatest honor a born again Christian can acquire.  It’s worth every difficulty that comes along.  As Jesus said, Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry (Matthew 11:29-30).  Face it; everybody ends up with a yoke of some kind to shoulder throughout this earthly life.  I’ve found that Christ’s is the lightest of all.  So discipleship?  Where do I sign up?

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What’s a Christ Disciple?

One of the last things Jesus said before His ascension was “…go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) so it makes sense we define what one is.  To me it’s a person who does their daily best to pattern every aspect of their life after Christ.  It’s a man or woman who finds no cause to hide their allegiance to the King of kings because it denotes who they are; who possess an unshakable surety of what their purpose for being on earth is; who won’t let anything or anybody steal the inner joy that springs from knowing their Savior has gone to “…make a place…” for them (John 14:2) in the Heavenly Father’s magnificent mansions; who trust fully that their final exhale in this fallen realm will be followed immediately by their first inhale of paradise air.  I could go on but you get the point.  A Christ disciple is one who can’t even fathom apprenticing under anyone other than Jesus and considers the designation of “Jesus Freak” a high honor.  I reckon that makes me one, too.

 

I must mention there are some denominations that cast doubt on one’s ability to know if they’re even saved.  That’s because in the New Testament one can find multiple allusions to “the elect” and those “chosen” by God before time began.  If the subject intrigues you there are hundreds of scholarly books available that delve deeply into predestination and you’ll discover many contradicting opinions about it.  (Norman Geisler’s Chosen but Free is a fine one for starters.)  As for me I’m content to rely on what Paul and Silas told their trembling jailer: Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).  Jesus didn’t endure the agony of the cross to make salvation more complicated.  But I don’t want to digress.  The aim of this essay is to define what identifies one as a disciple.  I think most will agree you can be a Christian without being a disciple.  In other words, if somebody asked me the name of one writer I’d love to be as proficient as I wouldn’t hesitate to answer.  It doesn’t mean I strive in every area of my life to imitate everything about them.  There’s a lotta folks in this world who truly believe in the Lord Jesus but they’d be the first to tell you they’re not disciples.  They’re definitely saved but far from committed.  This isn’t to imply that those of us who want with all their heart to be dedicated apprentices of Christ are superior in any way, shape or form to anyone else.  Perfection is a goal, not an attainable human condition.  Paul made it clear: For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24).

 

To be a disciple of someone is to aspire to be as good at something as they are.  So what was Jesus “good at”?  Dallas Willard wrote, “The answer is found in the Gospels: He lives in the kingdom of God, and He applies that kingdom for the good of others and even makes it possible for them to enter it for themselves.”  As the apostle Peter explained it to the Roman centurion Cornelius: “…With respect to Jesus from Nazareth, that God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power.  He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him (Acts 10:38).  Who among us wouldn’t want to be known as someone who went around “doing good”?  I certainly wouldn’t protest having that carved on my tombstone.  So as a follower of Christ I consciously attempt to learn every day how to better live in the kingdom of God as He did.  That means whatever task I undertake during my waking hours I’ll endeavor to do it to the best of my ability like Jesus did.

 

However, being a Christ disciple is far different from learning a profession, trade or craft.  It involves a complete transformation of one’s mind and heart and it takes more than a lifetime to complete.  It’s a matter of becoming what God intended me to be, not what I set out to be when I entered adulthood long ago.  And discipleship has very little to do with “getting religious.”  Hey, the Pharisees and Sadducees who coerced Pilate into sentencing our Lord to a gruesome execution were as religious as they come.  For that matter, radical Islamic jihadists are extremely religious.  They make sure they pray to Allah five times a day and then plot to murder all the infidels they can.  What this confused planet so desperately needs is more Jesus, not more religion.  And, as followers of Christ, it’s never been about what we do as much as how we do it.  Look, our Heavenly Father wants us to be the unique individuals He created.  Thus He’s not interested in us turning ourselves into some kind of “cookie cutter Christian” indistinguishable from any other believer.  Not at all.  God gave each of us particular talents, aptitudes and personality traits that make us who we are.  We therefore have a specific function in His master plan that no one else can fulfill as well and there’s a quite a bit of dignity to be found in that fact. You’re not a fluke of nature.  You’re not a mistake.  Your life is yours to live.  But only by following the leadings of the Son of God can any of us unleash our true potential.

 

The great thing is this: the teachings of Jesus that instruct us on how to live the life God wants us to live/experience have been faithfully preserved throughout the centuries.  We have what we need.  Now it’s up to us to do what He told us to do.  Think of how different modern civilization would be if more folks adhered to what Christ laid out in His Sermon on the Mount alone!  It ain’t rocket science, either.  Jesus spoke about sinful things we either do ourselves, encounter or hear about every day – injustice and hatred, anger and contempt, lusting and coveting, rejection and mistreatment by others, etc.  He didn’t preach about lofty philosophical concepts only intellectuals could grasp, He talked about stuff we can all relate to, especially those who opt to be numbered among His disciples.  A Christ disciple sees beyond devoting most of their energy towards not doing or contemplating sinful things and more towards staying focused primarily on performing unselfish acts that benefit the most people as well as magnifying God’s glory.  They take to heart what their Savior commanded them to do to others as if it was He Himself they were ministering to.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me(Matthew 25:35-36).

 

One thing about being a disciple of Jesus is that you don’t have to necessarily go somewhere other than where you are or do something other than what you’re doing to be of valuable use to Christ.  Chances are you already have a job or a career so it’s probable you’re right where God wants you to be.  You don’t need a theology degree to make a difference.  That’s encouraging news for simple folks like me because, “…God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27).  Consider it this way: you’ll likely spend at least a third (if not more) of your workweek days earning a paycheck.  True, you may not stand in a pulpit or be a church elder or a monk chanting in a monastery but you are in a position to be perhaps the only Bible your coworkers and/or associates will ever read.  Your “calling” may have little if anything to do with “religious activities” and a lot to do with reflecting God’s light onto others who don’t know how marvelous and gracious He is.  You can be an influential Christ disciple in an office cubicle just as effectively as you can teaching a Sunday school class.  Bear in mind many folks will still consider you an oddball fanatic because they won’t understand how a person can be indwelt and led by God the Holy Spirit.  That’s okay.  There are worse things to be labeled.

 

Turning our place of employment into a platform from which we can demonstrate Christian brotherly and sisterly love will take some effort and tact, to be sure.  Nobody will become intrigued to know more about Jesus if we start being the resident holier-than-thou goody two shoes, the un-appointed rule-maker of what’s to be deemed “politically correct” behavior and the final determiner of moral ethics for the whole crew.  If Jesus had given off any hint of that unpleasant vibe no one would’ve given Him a second thought, much less a moment of their time.  There’s not a trace of uppity self-righteousness in any of His teachings.  Willard opined, “A gentle but firm noncooperation with things that everyone knows to be wrong, together with a sensitive, non-officious, nonintrusive, non-obsequious service to others, should be our usual overt manner.”  That’s excellent practical advice right there.

 

To be or not to be a disciple.  That’s a choice every Christian makes.  Does one have to be a disciple to enter the Pearly Gates?  I don’t think so.  As the aforementioned verse in Acts 16 confirms, belief in Jesus is the sole requirement in order to be saved.  However, our Lord taught that there are rewards in heaven for the good we accomplish down here and Paul clarified it.  He wrote, If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward.  If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss.  He himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:14-15).  Now there are a slew of Bible experts out there who know a lot more than I do regarding what Paul was getting at but I’ll tell you what I think, anyway.  If at some point in your life you accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior you automatically became an accepted member of His “herd”.  Jesus said, My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand.  The Father and I are one (John 10:27-30).  It’s true that no one gains salvation through their works.  Nobody earns heaven.  We’re saved by grace.  Period.  Therefore there’ll be some in heaven who got there not because they were devoted disciples but simply because they accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior while alive on earth.  But, as Paul said, they’ll be akin to someone who narrowly escaped a burning building.  Personally, I don’t want to be one who gains access to paradise on a technicality.

 

Can someone lose their salvation?  That’s another controversial subject but I have to believe that if a saved person deliberately goes out of their way to sin on a regular basis, never repents and never gives God the time of day they’re severely testing our Creator’s tolerance and that has to be dangerous.  Furthermore, if a man or woman publicly disavows/denounces their faith in Jesus and calls their conversion a sham, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be standing in their shoes come Judgment Day.  Nobody pulls a fast one on God.  He knows if we’re being sincere when we surrender our hearts to Christ or if we’re only taking out fire insurance.  It’s doubtful the thief on the cross next to our Savior ever performed a charitable deed in his whole wretched life.  Yet when he recognized Jesus as the Messiah he asked Him for mercy.  Christ responded with, I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).  Obviously the thief wasn’t a disciple, only a last minute believer, but he got saved nonetheless.  Some, including a couple of my close relatives, think his was a “special case” and that all the “rules of justification” changed after the Resurrection but I have yet to find that expressed in the Scriptures.  To be sure, many things did change when Jesus walked out of His tomb but not HimJesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever! (Hebrews 13:8).  Thus a heartfelt deathbed surrender to Christ’s care and forgiveness of all sins most certainly does count.

 

It’s hard for me to imagine someone becoming absolved of all penalties for their iniquitous trespasses and not wanting to demonstrate to their gracious Redeemer gratitude by doing all they can to do what He commanded.  But that’s exactly what I did for decades.  Yes, I was a selfish ingrate.  While I know there’ll be no tears in heaven I suspect I’ll have at least a few regrets about how unthankful I was for my salvation for so long.  Jesus’ Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 illustrates that those who wisely invest their God-given gifts to further His kingdom will be rewarded with many more gifts while those who took their gift for granted (like me) will have divine repercussions to deal with.  Needless to say, my overriding ambition nowadays is to make up for all the time I wasted pursuing my own plans instead of God’s.  Note that in the 6th chapter of Matthew, right in the middle of His famous sermon, Jesus teaches about giving, praying and fasting being evidences of one’s faithfulness to God and He ends each segment with these same words, And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”

 

Therefore it seems there’s an advantage to being the best Christ disciple we can be.  Not only do we receive blessings in the here and now due to imitating the impeccable, perfect life Jesus lived for 33 years in Israel but we’ll be very glad we did in the next phase of our immortal soul’s existence.  However, we should never make heavenly rewards the sole reason for living like Christ.  Brennan Manning wrote, “Christianity consists primarily not in what we do for God but in what God does for us – the great, wondrous things that God dreamed up and achieved for us in Christ Jesus.  When God comes streaming into our lives in the power of His Word, all He asks is that we be stunned and surprised, let our mouths hang open, and begin to breathe deeply.”

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