Welcome back! This week we’re talking about being a disciple which is the basis for this podcast so I probably should have done this podcast earlier, but I didn’t, so let’s get started.
I view discipleship in two ways. Personal discipleship or being a disciple of Jesus and discipling others or group discipleship. Being a disciple is us imitating Mary in John 14? We are sitting at the feet of Jesus and we are learning what it means to love him and let him be part of our lives. Group discipleship is when we are learning with others in what Gregg Ogden calls a micro group of no more than four people. Our example for the group style is Peter, James, and John again with Jesus. Jesus set these guys apart and they in turn lead the others.
Being a Disciple
Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.
Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (Affiliate Link)
That was written by Richard Foster in 1978. I read that paragraph for the first time 20 years ago when I was leading a monthly men’s book study. That paragraph started me down a road of fumbling and stumbling, fits and starts, and everything in between. I wanted to be a deep person. I can honestly say I have yet to become a deep person, but I have become a changed person.
Being a Disciple Takes Time
Personal Discipleship is the choice we make as Christians to grow in our relationship with God. Let’s face it, we can’t love God with all our heart, soul, and mind if we’re not spending time getting to know him. When we meet someone we like and want to get to know, we will go to any length to know them better. I have friends I make time to be with, every month because I want to know them deeper, not just as acquaintances.
In Luke 10 we read the story of Mary and Martha. Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear his teaching. Martha chose to prepare the food and exhibit hospitality to their guests. I don’t think Martha was any less a follower of Christ than Mary. Mary made a very specific choice to devote herself to be as close to Christ as she could and learn directly from him at that moment. We see this happen again when Jesus returns to their home after he raises Lazarus from the dead. John 12 says that Mary anointed his feet with oil and dried them with her hair as Martha again serves the meal. Martha is not doing anything wrong, Mary is CHOOSING the better according to Jesus.
I get it. Someone has to serve the meals. Someone has to go to work every day and make enough money to support a family. Nothing is wrong with working and making money. I think the reason I have to qualify this so hard is that we have lost all sense of what being a disciple really is. Giving up a little of our free time each day to just sit and share life with God through the Holy Spirit isn’t asking a lot. I think it is what I am about to say next that people find hard to hear.
Being a Disciple Takes Self-Denial
In a 2011 article titled, Self-Described Christians Dominate America but Wrestle with Four Aspects of Spiritual Depth the Barna Group stated this
... most churches encourage people to engage in an increasing amount of religious activity, asking them to pour themselves into efforts related to the “core six” spiritual dimensions: worship, evangelism, discipleship, stewardship, service, and community. While growth in those areas is important, Barna expressed two related concerns. The first was that people often fail to realize that the end game of spiritual development is godly character, not worldly accomplishments. God does not need His followers to achieve things on His behalf in order for them to become more acceptable or valuable to Him. The research also indicated that sometimes people get so wrapped up in finishing church programs or producing specific religious results that they lose sight of the purpose of their faith, which is to have a life-changing relationship with Jesus. Barna noted that it becomes easy to substitute laudable religious activity for intentional and simple engagement with God. American Christians, in particular, have become known for doing good works and religious exercises rather than simply being friends and imitators of Christ.
When we become disciples, we become imitators of Christ. Self-denial was at the center of Jesus’ ministry. ‘he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. ‘Philippians 2:8
We are choosing to humble ourselves and let our will become God’s will. In Luke 14 Jesus says that we need to count the cost of being a disciple. We need to understand that it won’t be easy because the world will not like us if we love Jesus. If we love him, we will keep his commandments which aren’t necessarily what the world wants us to do (John 14-16). We pray that God’s will be done when we pray the Lord’s prayer, Jesus prayed specifically that God’s will, not his will be done in the garden before he gave himself up for the cross. But, it’s not hard when we put our whole trust in him. Matthew 11 says, Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Progress Not Perfection
Paul states this fact so well in Romans 7
‘We know that the Law is spiritual. But I am merely a human, and I have been sold as a slave to sin. In fact, I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate. Although I don’t do what I know is right, I agree that the Law is good. So I am not the one doing these evil things. The sin that lives in me is what does them. I know that my selfish desires won’t let me do anything that is good. Even when I want to do right, I cannot. Instead of doing what I know is right, I do wrong. And so, if I don’t do what I know is right, I am no longer the one doing these evil things. The sin that lives in me is what does them. ‘ Romans 7:14-20
Jesus says that if your arm or your eye causes you to sin then remove them from your body. He knows that it’s not the parts of our body that cause us to sin, it’s the sin in us. When we begin to be disciples we see that what we think, is worse than what we want to be. I think understanding that we are powerless over our sin frees us to put our trust in God. We are going to fall just like Paul did but the Holy Spirit lives in us and guides us. When we fall the Holy Spirit comforts us. When Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within you, he meant it. God is not out there, he is right here with us every hour of every day and all we have to do is ask for him to help us want to be disciples and he will.
We Have A Choice
We have a choice as to how we live. In Romans 12 Paul tells us to fully give ourselves over to God like living sacrifices. Not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. I thought for a long time that the renewing of my mind was through learning. I thought that the more knowledge I acquired, the better I would be. It’s not about knowledge. All knowledge did was make me think I was better than some other people because I knew more than they did. Renewing our minds is about being disciples. It’s about letting God change us and make us into the men and women he wants us to be.
Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. HarperCollins World, 2003.
Ogden, Greg. Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time. IVP Books, an Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2016.