Thoughts to Ponder

What does it take to be a disciple?

To answer this question we first need to decide what the word disciple means. If you look it up in the dictionary you will come up with something like this for a definition: One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another. Or: An active adherent, as of a movement or philosophy. To put it in plain English, it is someone who follows a person or teaching. So in our context it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

You might be thinking that being a disciple is the same thing as being a Christian and you are right to a certain extent. I say to a certain extent, because I think that the idea of being a disciple goes beyond what most people think of as being a Christian. That should not be true, but I am afraid it is. We become Christians the moment that we place our faith in Jesus Christ. We cross from death to life and become a new creation. However, that is just the start, the very beginning.

I want to look at what it takes to follow Christ. Just as with what it takes to be a Christian there are a lot of false ideas about being a follower of Christ out there. Our final authority should always be God's word. So let's start there.

(1 John 3:7-10 NIV) [7] Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. [8] He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. [9] No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. [10] This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. The first thing we see is that followers of Christ will not be living sinful lives. There are many people out there today who preach that salvation is a one moment event and nothing that happens afterwards matters. That is not biblical as we just read in this passage. If a person truly places their faith in Jesus Christ and becomes a child of God then their life will change.

I believe this is why Jesus made the following statement: (Luke 14:28-33 NIV) [28] "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? [29] For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, [30] saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'
[31] "Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? [32] If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. [33] In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple."
Jesus told the crowds following Him that they needed to carefully consider their decision. He used examples from every day life to show them that they needed to think about what it takes to finish following Him before thinking about starting. This is not a one time event, it is a lifestyle and a lifetime event. Jesus told them and us that if we are unable to complete what we start we are better off not starting at all. We must be willing to give up everything to follow Him. People seem to either misunderstand Jesus' point or totally dismiss it. It is in our Bible for a reason, we should pay attention and it is something that we should teach new Christians.

In Revelation we read the letters from Jesus to the seven churches. I want to quote just one small part from each of those letters. Notice the common theme: (Revelation 2:7 NIV) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

(Revelation 2:11 NIV) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.

(Revelation 2:17 NIV) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.

(Revelation 2:26 NIV) To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations--

(Revelation 3:5 NIV) He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.

(Revelation 3:11-12 NIV) [11] I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. [12] Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.

(Revelation 3:21 NIV) To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.

It is to the person who overcomes, or in other words who finishes what they started to whom Jesus makes these promises. Now let me ask you a question. What do you think happens to the person who does not overcome? Would they get to eat from the tree of life? Would they not be hurt by the second death? Would they be given the hidden manna? Would they be given authority over nations? Would they be dressed in white? Would they be able to sit down with Christ on His throne? If they were able to do all these things, then it would make no sense for Jesus to even have mentioned them. No, don't miss the warnings and promises here. We must continue and we must overcome.

So who is it that overcomes? (1 John 5:3-5 NIV) [3] This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, [4] for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. [5] Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. It is those who place their faith in Jesus Christ, but also who follow His commands. In other words, the person who continues to follow Jesus.

Jesus did not paint rosy pictures of what it takes to be a disciple. He was blunt and made it clear that there would be a price to pay for following Him. (Mark 8:34-38 NIV) [34] Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. [35] For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. [36] What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? [37] Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? [38] If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." We must deny ourselves. This is not the popular self-esteem message preached in many churches today. We have a choice, either Christ can be first in our lives or we can be first, but we cannot both be equal. Either Christ is first because we deny ourselves or we are first because we esteem ourselves. One leads to eternal life, the other to destruction. You can't be a follower of Christ and esteem yourself over Him.

Do my words seem too harsh? Too hard? They are not my words: (Matthew 10:37-39 NIV) [37] Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; [38] and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. [39] Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. If you have a problem with this message your problem is not with me it is with God. We have preached a sugary sweet gospel for way too long. It is a false gospel and will not lead people to true salvation.

Jesus does not offer nor promise us an easy carefree life. Instead He promises us trials and even troubles in our families: (Luke 12:51-53 NIV) [51] Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. [52] From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. [53] They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. The gospel is abrasive to those who are lost and in rebellion against God. Our love for Christ has to come before our love of family and friends. If it does then our family and friends will have a problem with us. If it doesn't then God will have a problem with us.

There are many Christians being martyred for their faith all over the world today. They understand that to follow Christ means to follow Him even if it costs your life. (Matthew 10:32-33 NIV) [32] "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. [33] But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven." These people are willing to die before disowning their Lord and Savior, yet many Christians in our country, where we have freedom of religion, will deny Him instead of being laughed at or thought less of by co-workers. What does this prove? It proves that they are not true followers of Christ.

Please don't misunderstand my point. God does not leave us alone in these trials. He will support and comfort us. But it is our responsibility to follow Him, even in tough times. (Isaiah 40:28-31 NIV) [28] Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. [29] He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. [30] Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; [31] but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Many people seem to think that if you are a follower of Christ that God just winks at your sins. They seem to think that He understands and over looks our shortcomings. Yet if you refer back to the beginning of this discussion you will see that God's word says that His children do not continue to sin.

Now look at what Jesus had to say about sin: (Mark 9:42-48 NIV) [42] "And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. [43] If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. [45] And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. [47] And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, [48] where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"

People will try to say that Jesus is speaking to non-believers. Does that make any sense? Will it help a non-believer to cut off a hand or foot to keep from sinning? Even if that would keep the non-believer from ever sinning again, they would still be under a death sentence for their past sins. So it would make no sense for Jesus to tell this to people who did not believe in Him. Plus look at the very first verse. He refers to little ones who believe in Him and how bad it will be for anyone who causes them to sin. If God takes our sin so lightly after our salvation, then why punish someone who causes a believer to sin? It is time to wake up and realize that God takes all sin seriously.

Yes we do have an advocate if we sin. (1 John 2:1-2 NIV) [1] My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense-- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. [2] He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. Don't miss the point here, this is not referring to habitual sin, or a sinful lifestyle. It is speaking of those times when we stumble and even fall temporarily, and when we come back to Christ in repentance.

John goes on to tell us who he is speaking about: (1 John 2:3-6 NIV) [3] We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. [4] The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. [5] But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: [6] Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

My heart breaks for all those people who have accepted the fluffy, candy coated gospel. They take sin lightly because they think God takes sin lightly. They take their commitment to Christ lightly, again because they think He takes it lightly. They are wrong on both accounts.

What I am preaching is not popular, but that is not the question. The question you need to answer is whether what I am saying is biblical or not. If it isn't then throw it out, but if it is then take it to heart.

(Hebrews 10:26-31 NIV) [26] If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, [27] but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. [28] Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. [29] How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? [30] For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." [31] It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

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These devotionals are written by Ralph Dettwiler, and reflect his views.

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July 2002