Sunday, March 28, 2010

Discipleship

What is a disciple? A disciple in its most basic and generic sense, is a student or follower. A good example of the word in Scripture appears in John 9:28, where we read, “You are His (Jesus’) disciple, but we (the Pharisees) are Moses’ disciples.” A disciple is someone who endeavors, both in their learning and lifestyle, to emulate the one who is their teacher. In this case, the Pharisees implied that they were students of Moses and the Law Moses provided Israel. This reflected in their demeanor; for as the Law could not be merciful, in that it did not know how, neither were the Pharisees merciful. They were austere in their judgment, sharp in their doctrinal beliefs, and unforgiving of any transgression. John Bunyan, in his classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress, depicted the Law (in the form of Moses) as unyielding. One of the characters, Faithful, was nearly beaten to death by Moses’ character. When he pled for mercy at the hand of the lawgiver, Moses replied, “I do not know how to be merciful!”

Such it will it be for those who have a legalistic bent. The Pharisees followed the letter of the law in form and exterior practice, but Jesus revealed that their inner nature, the soul which was their true person, could not be cleansed or justified by law. The law was never meant to justify; it was meant to be the means by which God led Israel to accept Christ, Galatians 3:24. The law was a mirror given by God to reveal man’s sinful nature. It will do nothing but condemn those who choose to follow it, Galatians 3:19-23. Disciples of legalism today are either victims of despair, when they realize how impossible the burden laid upon them truly is, or victims of pride. If one walks circumspectly enough through external discipline to law, they begin to develop a critical eye that judges others by their own standard of achievement. Those who fail the test are oft-times rejected and scorned. Yet the only righteousness which God accepts is Christ’s, Romans 3:22. Christ’s righteousness is imputed only through faith, apart from the works of any law, Acts 13:39; Romans 3:21; Galatians 2:16. The righteousness they seek is inadequate to equal the requirements of God. God’s grace is distorted in this legalistic teaching, to generally apply only to those worthy of obtaining it by virtue of their conduct and obedience. On the contrary, Christ only came to save those who have no merit, and acknowledge it, Matthew 9:13; Romans 5:8. Legalistic religion, says the Holy Spirit, has an appearance of wisdom to men, but He is implicit that such man-made ideas are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh, Colossians 2:23.

Before anyone misunderstands me, allow me to say, as I have said previously, that I do not advocate antinomianism. Antinomian thought reflects a wanton abandon of rules for the sake of living freely—many times in gross sin. Christ set us free indeed (John 8:32), but not to indulge the flesh. Imagine the idea of saying you’re a disciple (student/follower) of Christ without following Him! You’re a student who doesn’t study; you’re a follower who has no intention of following. Such an oxymoron is extremely foolish. Paul asks this very question: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” Romans 6:15. To those who use their “salvation” as license to sin, Paul warns that you are either a slave of sin, leading to death, or a slave of obedience, leading to righteousness, Romans 6:16. Everyone alive was once a slave of sin. But for a Christian there comes a time when we obey the doctrine to which we have been delivered, Romans 6:17. Christ once said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments,” John 14:15. We are commanded as Christians, not to obey the Ten Commandments and keep the Mosaic Law, but to live so that our every action honors the Lord. We must love our neighbor as ourselves, and take the yoke of a servant role with other believers. For someone who merely “believes” in the respect that you trust Jesus with your salvation so you can live as the devil the rest of your days; I doubt the sincerity of your salvation. There are numerous warnings in Scripture where the writers caution believers to conduct themselves wisely, with love, mercy, and discernment. We are commanded (not suggested) to test ourselves, as to whether we are truly in the faith. “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you,” 1st Timothy 4:16.

A Christian is a disciple. We are disciples of Jesus Christ: the Apostle, and High Priest of our confession. As stated previously, we are students and followers. The word “disciple” is used over 240 times in the New Testament. It is interesting to note that the term “disciple” is only used in the gospels, and the book of Acts. Though the term is used to describe followers of Jesus, John the Baptist, the Pharisees, etc, it always means the same thing: a student or follower of the person or group in question. The term “Christian” is used only 3 times, by way of comparison. The use of the word “Christian” today has become void of meaning, since it is attached to anything pseudo-spiritual, or having any flavor of biblical truth in it. Once a word has been broadened to encompass a widening range of meaning, it loses any individual meaning it once possessed. Like the word “God” could be spoken by one hundred people, and one may expect one hundred different explanations of it. By this point one has to explain what is meant when we use words like “Christian” or “God”, because both have largely been robbed of any genuine meaning, but are simply static terms that compass a spectrum of beliefs; most of which happen to be drastically different from one another, and certainly far removed from the Bible.

If you open your Bible to 3rd John 1:12, you will read about a man named Demetrius. John testifies that fellow believers give this man a good testimony, but more than that, he has a sound testimony in regards to the truth itself. Since the truth itself is the revealed word of God, it is understood that Demetrius was apparently walking in a manner that was in accordance with the truth, so his lifestyle and conversation were congruent with his confession. In other words, he practiced what he preached. Here is the discipleship Jesus testified of. Those who love Him would keep His commandments and would truly prove themselves His disciples, students, followers. As Jesus once said, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” Luke 6:46. To return meaning to the term “Christian” we must understand that the word only applies to a disciple of Jesus Christ. To go a step further, the idea of the word “Christian” is a disciple intent and zealous to emulate his Master; the more like his Master he becomes, the better. But there is more than this. A Christian must believe the foundational doctrines of Christianity.

For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist…Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds, 2nd John 1:7, 9-11. Also see 1st John 4:1-3.
The foundation of Christian testimony, paramount to being a disciple of Christ, was given by John. What does it mean that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…all things were made through Him…in Him was life…as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth…grace and truth came through Jesus Christ, John 1:1, 3, 5, 12-14, 17.
As the tabernacle in the wilderness housed the glory of God during Moses’ time, Jesus’ human body housed the glory of eternal, omnipotent deity. This majesty was briefly glimpsed by the Apostles on the mountain where Jesus was transfigured, Mark 9:2-8. Without this foundation there is nothing to build upon. Paul contributed to the essentials of Christian faith. He attests that the gospel he preached was the sole gospel which we must hear and receive, the one in which we stand, and by which we are saved. It is summed up by him: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1st Corinthians 15:3-4. Like Demetrius, we must believe the truth of these things, and live by the light of such truth daily. The more clearly we see God through Jesus Christ, the less prone we are to sin, and the less desirous we are to rebel. When we see Christ clearly and He perfects us, we will sin no more, 1st John 3:2. Believers who are most susceptible to sin’s call may well be the same who are not adhering to the doctrine laid down by the foundation of the Apostles and prophets. We need a clear picture of our Savior, of His person and accomplishment before our eyes daily; which is why we are commanded not to forsake public assembly, or private reading and prayer.

To be a disciple of Jesus means to surrender rule of our lives, our very bodies, to Him, Matthew 16:24-25; Romans 12:1-2. To confess that Christ is our Lord indicates no less than this. We were never truly autonomous to begin with; so one is no fool to give up that which he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose. There was a point in the gospel of John that many of Jesus’ disciples, when His teaching became too difficult to follow, turned away and left Him, John 6:66. Do we fall under the broad category of a student, its most generic sense which affects our head but never reaches our heart? Scripture warns that knowledge without faith is condemnation; one must believe what you have learned, or else you are an ineffectual hearer only, not an effectual doer of the word, Hebrews 4:1-2; James 1:22-25. The true disciple of Christ will bring what he has learned into daily life with him. We are to look into the perfect law of liberty, as James describes, and continue in it. Doing so will result in blessing and reward for the genuine Christian. This is not salvation (salvation is a gift, not a reward), but peace and joy here on earth, given by the Spirit of Christ, and a crown of reward at the judgment seat of Christ.

Jesus told us, “blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it,” Luke 11:28. He also once asked, “When the Son of Man comes (at the Second Coming), will He really find [the] faith on the earth?” Luke 18:8. Jesus is asking, “Will Christianity as I established it in the first century remain when I return? Will apostate “Christianity” have overrun all the church?” As doctrine fades into obscurity, and compromise abounds in the church, the professing bride of Christ, one begins to understand that this question is rhetorical. Revival is not the state in which Jesus will find the professing church prior to His return, but apostasy, 1st Timothy 4:1-3; 2nd Timothy 3:1-5; 4:1-4.; 2nd Thessalonians 2:3.

The path of the disciple is submission to the Spirit of God, by the will of God, revealed in the word of God. It is by sound doctrine we know that Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, came as a man and suffered death on the cross to redeem us to God. We know only by sound doctrine that anyone who believes on Jesus Christ (who He is and what He has done for us) receives eternal life. We know we receive the Holy Spirit as a seal and guarantee of our redemption. It is the Holy Spirit and His indwelling presence and power that will lead us in triumph in Christ, and allow us to live out the Christian life victoriously; for it is the Spirit of Christ living through us. The disciple must hear these things, and appropriate the truth of these things by faith, Romans 10:9-10, 17. We are taught by the written word of God that the saints must persevere in the faith, and that our perseverance yields great reward, Galatians 6:9; Philippians 3:14; Colossians 3:23-24. It is solely by the living Word of God, Jesus Christ, that we are enabled to exhibit such a life. The Holy Spirit is a living Witness within us of the victory and majesty found only in our Lord; when we read the Bible He will draw our attention to the person and perfection of our Savior, who suffers no rival, nor has any equal, save the Father and Holy Spirit, Philippians 2:6. This is the life-giving power and authority found only in God’s word.

To anyone who is a disciple of Jesus Christ, He has said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” John 8:31-32. There is freedom to serve God in Christ; not from obligation or hopeless debt, but in a spirit of filial love. The bondage of the law has ceased, for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes, Romans 10:4. To everyone earnestly seeking, take care which “Christ” you find yourself a disciple of. To those who are called believers, persevere and preserve sound doctrine; God’s grace is sufficient for us, 2nd Corinthians 12:9. God bless.

1 comment:

  1. >To be a disciple of Jesus means to >surrender rule of our lives, our >very bodies, to Him, Matthew >16:24-25; Romans 12:1-2. To confess >that Christ is our Lord indicates >no less than this.

    Great point!

    ReplyDelete

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