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by Susan Budensiek
1/04/2018 / Christian Living
Not for the lazy, apathetic or passive.
What about this thing called “discipleship” – what is it, why should I do it, and how would I go about doing it? Sad to say, discipleship isn’t taught much these days. You see, it carries a rather high price tag; not in dollars and cents but in sincerity, time, convenience, honesty, dedication, and things like that.
First, what is discipleship? It is a lot more than going to church every time the doors are open and maybe even singing in the choir, or better yet – being a deacon.
According to Strong’s Concordance, a disciple (3101) is a learner, such as a pupil. Digging a little further I found that Vine’s Expository Dictionary says quite a bit about it. A disciple is a learner from a root indicating thought accompanied by endeavor, hence it denotes one who follows one’s teaching; used to describe all who manifest that they are His disciples by abiding in His Word – John 8:31 cp 13:35, John 15:8, and in Acts, those who believed upon Him and confessed Him – Acts 6:1,2,7;Acts 14:20,22,28; Acts 15:10; Acts 19:1 etc. A disciple was not only a pupil, but an adherent; hence they are spoken of as imitators of their teacher. This “occupation” was not limited to men only as the female disciple, Tabitha, is mentioned in Acts 9:36.
It was the responsibility of the disciple to learn and study the teachings of the rabbi, teacher, master, etc. and then to pass these sayings and teachings along to others. There were disciples of John the Baptist (Mark 2:18), the Pharisees (Matthew 22:16) , false teachers (Acts 20:30) , and even Moses (John 9:28) , but we as Christians are disciples of Jesus Christ.
To be more accurate, I should say, we are supposed to be disciples of Jesus Christ. The obligation of a disciple was to be an “adherent” of the person they followed. They were to “imitate” their teacher and then to pass on the teachings and sayings to others. It isn’t too difficult to see these days that there are few “disciples” out there. Multitudes walk about claiming to be Christians but will be sorely disappointed when they hear “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” See Matthew 7:21-23 (CJB) where the Bible warns of the danger of profession without faith. People just don’t want to get serious about their Christian walk. They think that agreeing with what the Bible says is good enough and there is no need to really live it day-to-day. This is not discipleship.
Let’s take an example. I know people who claim to be Christians, yep, born again, the whole nine yards. They routinely drink themselves into oblivion, use the foulest of language, and somehow think they are in good standing with God because they don’t hurt anybody. Now that is a pretty extreme, although truthful, example. This is not discipleship.
I worked with a girl in her early twenties who claimed to be a Christian but was living with her boyfriend with no plans to change that arrangement. Although very common, this is not discipleship. It does, however, remind me of the Pharisees who outwardly did all the right things, but inside…
But much more numerous and by far the hardest to reach are the people who have made that trip to the altar to accept Christ, said all the right things, and now several years later are fine, upstanding church members. They are involved in all the church functions – choir, Sunday School, dinners, singings, board membership, organist or piano player, usher, homecomings, maybe even knocking on doors to find folks to invite to church. They might even make a stab at praying and are sure to say those correct words when they hear someone is having difficulty, “I’ll pray for you.” An extra $20 in the offering plate for the visiting missionary soothes any nagging of the conscience that may be saying something isn’t quite right with their Christianity. This is not discipleship. This is like those drivers on the highway as you are driving home from work and you think some people drive like they got their drivers license from sending in cereal box tops, neglecting the handbook. Many Christians conduct their Christian walk the same way – neglecting the Bible, and not giving it a second thought that that’s what they are doing. This is definitely not an imitation of our Saviour as a disciple is required to be. It’s as bad as Christian tailgaters – those who think they will get to heaven when they die because Mama was a fine Christian and they can get in on her coattails. This is not discipleship.
“The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity” describes discipleship in the early church like this: “Each of the four Gospels describes the discipleship of the Twelve. While there is much common material, each Gospel highlights different aspects of discipleship. In Matthew we find a manual on discipleship. In particular, the Sermon on the Mount gives explicit instructions for living a kingdom lifestyle: instructions that are often at odds with prevailing cultural attitudes (Matthew 5:1-7:28) . In Mark we find the concept of disciples as servants—those who give themselves for the sake of others (Mark 8:27-10:45) . In Luke following Jesus is synonymous with discipleship, but to follow Jesus requires counting the cost (Luke 9:23-26, 57-62; Luke 14:25-33) : it is to give up other attachments (such as wealth) and, instead, to love God and others (Luke 10:25-37) . In John the key characteristic of discipleship is acceptance of Jesus’ claims about who he is. Here the three marks of the true disciple are abiding in Jesus’ word (John 8:31-32), love for others (John 13:34) and a fruit-bearing life (John 15:8).
The second part of that question has a much shorter answer – why is discipleship in our job description as Christians? That one is pretty simple: because Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” This is where the term “discipleship” has lost its punch in our modern world. That first part of verse 20 – “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:” - gets ignored and forgotten. Jesus did not say, “get them to make a profession of faith and we’ll call it good.
Jesus spent most of his time of ministry on this earth with twelve men. These men were the first disciples of Christ. So if we are to disciple others in the way that Christ did, would it not make more sense for us to pour our time and effort into just a few people instead of just saying, "Jesus loves you" to many people and then never speaking to them again? If you disciple this way, Christ will send those who need this, your way.
In fact, my favorite translation of the Bible is directly from the Hebrew, without that stop made in Greek before we got it in English, because it makes things so plain (no fancy, centuries old, English for poetic effect) and the importance of some things like this is made so clear. It says that Matthew 28:19-20 reads this way: “Therefore, go and make people from all nations into talmidim, immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach HaKodesh, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember! I will be with you always, yes, even until the end of the age." Somehow, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:” just doesn’t pack the punch that “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” does. And I love that phrase in verse 19 that says, “immersing them into the reality of the Father”. It sounds more important, more serious than what we are used to.
Jesus said to a group of new converts in John 8:31-32, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” just as back in Jeremiah 7:23 God said, “But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.” It could be said very simply as being something God requires of us and truthfully, it is a small thing to do in return for God’s gift of salvation.
Finally, assuming you have the desire for a closer walk with Christ so you can be an effective disciple, how would one go about doing this?
Discipleship is accomplished by abiding in Christ , by being yielded to Him. That is the only “formula” there is. Romans 6 and 12 give a particularly clear picture of abandonment to Christ, being yielded to Him. Imagine a whole church totally yielded to Jesus Christ! We are doing well to find an individual truly yielded to Him. Unless we abide in Christ and are yielded to Him, we cannot present Him to others as we are meant to. It requires ambition and won’t happen without it. God’s People were made to be fighters, servants of God, and leaders: (I Kings 9:22), not lazy parasites. “But the people that do know their God shall be strong and do exploits.” (Daniel 11:32). God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7)
Trying to truly disciple many people at one time is like trying to fill 80 pint jars to the top with one gallon of water. It just doesn't work.
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