Simplicity Series #13

The True Disciple

“Then He [Jesus] said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself,
and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.’” Luk 9:23
Recently, I have been working on a series of studies on discipleship for the upcoming conference in Perth, Western Australia. This topic has captivated my thinking for some time and will no doubt be reflected in the next several offerings for the Simplicity Series.
As we look at the definition of a disciple, as given by Jesus, we must ask ourselves the question: “Am I a disciple?” And lest we be discouraged, we should also understand that the standard set is intentionally so high that no one could ever say, “I have arrived.” As Paul made so clear in his own self-evaluation, “Not that I have already attained … but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phi 3:12–14).
Believers and Disciples
Jesus made a distinction between those who had believed on Him and those who would prove to be disciples. This distinction is missed by some and denied by many. In Joh 8:31, we read that Jesus exhorted Jews who had believed in Him to abide in His Word, to become “disciples indeed.”
Even as late in His ministry as the Last Supper, Jesus spoke to His disciples, urging them to bear much fruit, “so you will be My disciples” (Joh 15:8). The idea seems to be that by consistency in fruitfulness they would “keep on being,” or even, “prove increasingly to be” His disciples.
While the grammatical definition of a disciple is “a learner,” the historical meaning refers to “one who follows,” or “a follower.” In short, one cannot learn unless he follows the Master, to learn how to follow better.
Jesus made it clear that learning was dependent on the intent to follow in obedience, when He said, “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine …” (Joh 7:17). Here is a principle of hermeneutics not found in many training manuals: that the truth will not be revealed except to those who intend to live it out.
The Will to Follow
The first criteria Jesus lays down for discipleship is the desire to follow. While He walked on this Earth, this meant physical proximity, leaving everything behind to live in His presence and share His hardships. For us, living two thousand years later, this is expressed in the desire to maintain spiritual fellowship and intimacy.
Discipleship begins with the realization that to depart from the teaching, even to the smallest degree, is to break that bond of communion. Every passage that we read, every truth revealed to us from Scripture, demands an active response. What is “worked in” to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, must now be “worked out” by dependence on that same Spirit (Phi 2:12–13). The very same faith that receives “the implanted word” must now actively move us to be “doers of the word” (Jam 1:21–22).
So often, we pride ourselves on what we have learned of God’s Word, but in reality, the process of learning is incomplete if the truth does not lead to action in life. The goal of the Sower of seed is always a fruitful harvest. Since the goal of the disciple is to “make disciples” (Mat 28:18–20), it is essential that revelation has a transforming effect on every human relationship. Both the act of “being” a disciple, and the effect of “making” disciples, requires a relationship that results from obedience to the teaching of our Lord and Savior.
The Cost of Discipleship
The desire to follow must be matched by the denial of self. This is often confused with the idea of “self-denial.” In this error is born every form of asceticism—the pursuit of spirituality by self-imposed hardship and limitation. This is not what Jesus demands here.
As will be seen in a later post, no amount of self-denial can compare with the totality of Jesus’ demand. In the denial of self, we are not giving up “things,” we are instead relinquishing all claim to our very selves. The central letter of “sin” is “i,” and to claim any right to our lives is to remain in the darkness of sinfulness. Any time the focus of the Christian life becomes “me,” no matter how high-sounding may be the claim, it is an affront to Christ and a repudiation of discipleship. Self-righteousness is an equal evil with self-indulgence.
To deny myself is simply to recognize, once and for all, that I am no longer my own. My life is not mine to plan and organize—it belongs to Him who bought me at the price of the cross (1Co 6:20). As Paul says, we no longer live for ourselves, “but for Him who died for [us] (2Co 5:15).
The best way I know for this transaction to take place is through prayer, going into the presence of the Father to declare that I relinquish all claim to my life—asking that He would dispense with me as He sees fit, for His glory. Clearly stating that all that I am and have belongs to Him, and recognizing that whatever He has blessed me with belongs to Him. As His caretaker (steward), praying that by His grace and the guidance of His Spirit, I will be found faithful in using everything He has given me to His eternal purpose and glory. And then, to live in the light of that surrender day-by-day, reaffirming my commitment at each point of failure.
Taking up the Cross
Just as the cross of Christ was His willingness to sacrifice Himself on behalf of sinners, so our cross is the surrender of our lives that we might bless and benefit others.
The fact that this needs to be done “daily” indicates the moment-by-moment nature of the life of discipleship. Unless we are attentive at all times to maintain our vigilance regarding the priceless gift of fellowship, we are sure to “drift away” from it (Heb 2:1). This is the point of Paul’s exhortation in Rom 12:1–2. Just as the lambs were slain in ancient Israel “morning and evening” (Exo 29:38–39), so our self-offering of unconditional surrender becomes a daily habit of surrender on the altar of the will of God and His purpose for our lives.
Much more to come!

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