The Call to Discipleship - Part 1
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing the in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NET)
Jesus' final command to his disciples was emphatic and unequivocal: “go and make disciples.” How strange, then, that most Christians do not know what it means to make disciples—let alone be a disciple. If you find yourself unclear on what this commission means, or if you have found explanations of how this passage refers only to the preacher and the missionary insufficient, welcome. You are not alone, beloved.
The truth is, discipleship (that is, following Jesus) has been relegated to another church program or ministry when our LORD and savior made it clear that this mission was to be central to the life of each and every believer. I hope that this blog post serves to answer some misunderstanding about what it means to be a Christ-follower (a Christian). More to the point, I pray the Holy Spirit will give us ears to hear what the message is to the Church and our personal lives.
Before we begin, please come to the LORD in prayer. His Word is alive and active and able to convict us to repentance and draw us to embrace the will of our Father in Heaven. May the Holy Spirit illuminate our way, and may he draw us into a deeper relationship founded on love and submission to His patient plans.
Jesus called each of his would-be disciples out of their worldly lives and into his life. He upped the stakes—lest they think being his disciple easy or comfortable—by telling some (whom he personally called or thought to volunteer themselves) that the cost of discipleship was too great for them to bear (see Luke 9:57-62).
From Jesus’ point of view, discipleship is, as we shall see, the complete submission of one’s life to their master. It does not mean that you must have all your ducks in a row to begin, only that you let go of your determined grip on life and follow him. The gospel accounts and ecclesiastical letters are crystal clear on the nature and cost of discipleship.
But what if an outsider, seeking to define what it meant to be a follower of Jesus, only observed the western church? If we were to disregard scripture and only survey the modern church in the west, we might get a wholly different idea of what being a disciple of Christ means.
"Many people in the church have decided to take on the name of Christ and nothing else. This would be like Jesus walking up to those first disciples and saying, “Hey, would you guys mind identifying yourselves with Me in some way? Don’t worry, I don’t actually care if you do anything I do or change your lifestyle at all. I’m just looking for people who are willing to say they believe in Me and call themselves Christians.” Seriously? No one can really believe that this is all it means to be a Christian. But then why do so many people live this way? It appears that we’ve lost sight of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. (F. Chan, Multiply, p. 17).”
Have you been called to the ministry of Jesus’ body on this earth? If so, beloved, understand that it requires a great deal more than merely “identifying” as a Christian. It requires a self-sacrificial life, fully committed to loving your neighbor and your enemy. It is not an easily made decision. Consider:
Luke 14:28-30, 33 (ESV) 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 33 So therefore, anyone of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple (emphasis added).
A Personal Call
The call to a crucified life is central to the call of discipleship. Are you willing? Take time, now, to commune with God Almighty. Do not continue reading until your heart is on things above, and you are ready to loosen your grip on your own life.
If you are willing to do this, consider who in your life can disciple you. Who has always been a source of peace and goodness in your life? Do you know someone you admire for their Christlike life? Perhaps it’s time for you to go and ask them in humility to disciple you. If you do not know such man or woman, pray to our gracious LORD, “…that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14).
He does not desire for you to walk alone, but to be united in the love and peace of the Holy Temple—that is, Christ’s living and breathing body. Pray, trust, and keep alert. Watch for his hand!
“If You Would Follow Me”
To be a disciple of Christ is to follow him—to follow his commands, his manner of life, his self-
sacrificial love for sinners. That is what is generally meant when someone or another confesses to being a Christian. We can easily accept that this is the call of the new life in Christ intellectually. “But,” you would be prudent to ask, “what does it mean for me, personally?” Let us consider one of Jesus' warnings to those who thought becoming his disciple would be easy-going, comfortable, or even safe:
Then Jesus called the crowd, along with his disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it. For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life? Mark 8:34-36
Verse 34 is harsh but straightforward. If you would become a follower of Jesus (his disciple), you must deny yourself and accept the death of your flesh. Your life is no longer yours, and every part of your existence is willingly surrendered to the death of Christ.
If you are unwilling to do that, you cannot be Jesus' disciple. "But wait," you might be asking, "surely not all who profess faith in Jesus are called to such a harsh (if not impossible) demand?" Good question. We shall visit it a little farther along. For now, consider what Jesus says next.
The Crucified Life
Many who read verse 35 assume that the dichotomy is between those who would do anything for their fleshly, physical existence, and those who willingly become martyrs for the gospel... but that’s just not what the text says. In Greek, there are two important words translated as life. The first refers to one’s vitality (physical life), and the second, psyche, is the identity and individuality of a person.
In the above passage, the word for life is the second one each time. So then, the dichotomy is not between the self-serving and the martyr (who would give up his “vitality” for God) but between one who loves their ‘self’—their identity and individuality—and one fully submitted to Christ—whose ‘self’ is fully defined in Christ. Wow. Did you catch that?
Jesus is saying, ‘whoever wants to save his individuality will lose it, but whoever loses his individuality for my sake and for the gospel will save it.’
God will have all of you or he will have none of you. Are you ready to lose your identity—everything that your ego celebrates as being uniquely ‘you’—for the identity of Christ? Have you counted the cost?
Jesus warned that those who would become disciples must give up their own will and personality and fully submit to God's. That is no easy thing. I would hazard to say that no man alive or dead (apart from Jesus, of course) has done it fully. Does Christ, then, have no disciples? Of course not. It is, after all, by faith alone that we are made into God's righteousness. No man can successfully strive his way into obedience to the crucified life. It is only "by the power that is working within us [that He] is able to do infinitely beyond all that we ask or think... (Eph 3:20)." The beating heart of discipleship, then, is a relationship with God.
Love is Central
At the core of The Great Commission is The Great Commandment. “30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31). We must abide in the abundant love of Christ—and allow it to flow out from us to our neighbors. Abiding in God’s love enlivens us, it grows within us and breaches the banks of our lives. To do these great commandments is to be a disciple.
“Keep your relationship right with Him, then whatever circumstances you are in, and whoever you meet day by day, He is pouring rivers of living water through you, and it is of His mercy that He does not let you know it. When once you are rightly related to God by salvation and sanctification, remember that wherever you are, you are put there by God; and by the reaction of your life on the circumstances around you, you will fulfill God's purpose…” (O. Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, emphasis added).
Beloved, how is your love relationship with God? Like all human relationships, our passion and desire ebb and flow. Are you in a dry and desolate desert? Run to your bridegroom! He desires to be with you night and day. He holds only forgiveness in his breast for you, oh beloved of the Most High. Take time to be with him now.
Stop everything else if this one, vital relationship is not right.
Next time, we'll dig into what it means to be a disciple and answer the question, "Are all believers called to this self-sacrificial life?" Grace and Peace be with you, beloved.
 For those who wish to understand a bit more, the Greek words I am referring to are psyche (pronounced psoo-kay), and zoe. 1. zoe is the possessed vitality every living thing has (the beating heart and firing neurons) 2. psyche is the individual, unique life (the mind, will, and heart of a person; its identity and individuality).