disciple

Destined for Transformation

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BY DAVE STEEL

In his book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg introduces us to a cranky old guy named Hank. Judgmental and joyless, complaining and contemptuous, he’s “the man who never changed.” “But even more troubling than his lack of change,” says Ortberg, “was the fact that nobody was surprised by it.”[1] After all, Hank had spent his whole life in the church.

Some of us have grown so accustomed to the “Hanks” in the church—and our own lack of genuine transformation—that we’ve all but given up on seeing—much less experiencing—a transformed life.

But that’s a bit like enrolling in nursing school without expecting to become a nurse or securing an electrician apprenticeship without any hope of ever being an electrician. Jesus said,

“The student [disciple] is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” (Luke 6:40; italics added)

Jesus’ goal in calling you to follow him is to train you to be like him. This has been God’s plan from the start. As the apostle Paul put it, “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Now if you’re anything like me, then becoming Christlike definitely qualifies as a transformation! And this is the point.

If you’re a disciple of Jesus, you’re destined for transformation.

It’s what we signed up for when we said yes to Jesus. But we have to want this transformation if we’re going to experience it in this life. Paul explains the choice before us: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Our metamorphosis depends on our refusing the prevailing mindset of this world, while renewing our minds in the ways of Christ.

While the power for transformation clearly belongs to the Lord (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18), we have a responsibility in seeing it come to fruition. There’s no auto-pilot when it comes to discipleship. If we’re going to navigate a deformed world to our destination of a transformed life, we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves. We have to want it enough to make a habit of saying no to the prevailing mindset of this world and yes to what God tells us through his Word and his Spirit.

The process of becoming Christlike may seem slow, but we can draw encouragement from the small victories along the way, like the one my wife pointed out recently. It was Saturday, the day before I was to deliver a sermon at a pastor friend’s church while he was away. I was sitting at the kitchen table trying to finish my message when our twelve-year-old son burst into the room noisily lamenting a computer malfunction that had just ruined his Minecraft video mid-recording, which he had intended to upload to YouTube. He was devastated and wanted me to do something about it. I had no idea how to help, and frankly I was irritated by the interruption. So, with some stern words, I told him he wasn’t handling the situation very well and sent him to his room. I let out a sigh and returned to preparing my sermon on how to live a transformed life. But within a couple minutes I heard myself say to my wife (who was sitting at the same table and heard the whole thing go down), “I guess I didn’t handle that very well either.” I got up and went to my son’s room. I apologized for being impatient with him, and we had a proper conversation about his computer issue.

I sensed something significant had just happened, but it was my wife who later suggested that I had just taken a small step in my own ongoing transformation.

She was right. I'm on my way.

 

[1] John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 29.

The Special Sauce in Christian Discipleship

BY DAVE STEEL  

"Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame-seed bun." This classic jingle detailing the ingredients of the McDonald's Big Mac has been lodged in my memory since I was a boy. Four decades later, it still makes me hungry.  

You don't have to be a fan of the Big Mac to know that it's the special sauce that made this a culinary classic. Perhaps you've seen the McDonald's signs boasting "over a bazillion served," or something like that. How did that happen? Special sauce, that's how.   

In fact, the term "special sauce" or "secret sauce" is becoming the common shorthand for "the thing that helps someone or something flourish."1

So I'd like to suggest that there's a "special sauce" when it comes to following Christ.  

Spiritual disciplines may help us get a grip on things, a bit like the Big Mac's sesame-seed bun. But without the special sauce I'm referring to, there can be no flourishing.   

The special sauce in discipleship is something the Bible calls God's grace. Whenever we hear this term, we often think of God's forgiveness. And it's true that God's grace is the basis for our forgiveness. But the grace of God is much more than that. Think of his grace as the source of every blessing we ever receive, the enabling power behind every positive step we ever take on our journey with Christ.  

When the apostle Paul was at the end of his rope, Christ told him, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). And when the apostle Peter wanted to offer a parting blessing to the believers he loved, he said, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).   

God's grace is always a gift, always sufficient, always necessary.  

Charles Spurgeon put it this way:  

Every good thing that is in a Christian not merely begins but progresses and is consummated by the fostering grace of God, through Jesus Christ. If my finger were on the golden latch of paradise, and my foot were on its jasper threshold, I should not take the last step so as to enter heaven unless the grace which brought me so far should enable me fully and fairly to complete my pilgrimage.2

So thank God for his grace. Savor it. Rely on it. It's the special sauce that makes following Jesus so satisfying. Without it, there can be no flourishing. 

 

1. http://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/words-we're-watching-secret-sauce.

2. Charles H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C. H. Spurgeon, vol. 15 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1908), 291. 

What Christ Followers Have to Offer a Weary World

BY DAVE STEEL

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened,” Jesus said, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29). No doubt our world is just as weary now as it was when Jesus first offered this invitation some two thousand years ago. It was intended for all of us, which is why Christ followers have something to offer this world. 

“The world can get on very well without you and me,” D. L. Moody said, “but the world can not get on without Christ, and therefore we must testify of him.” Jesus’ first disciples did just that, declaring, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). 

This, as it turns out, is Christ’s will for all his followers. Shortly before his ascension to heaven, Jesus solemnly charged his disciples with these words: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20). 

This final charge of Jesus is often referred to as “The Great Commission”--and for good reason. Notice that it’s backed by all authority. It extends to all nations. It encompasses everything Jesus commanded. And it remains in effect until the very end of the age. It’s a great commission. It’s our commission.

It means that to follow Christ is not just to know him but to make him known as well. Disciples of Jesus make disciples of Jesus. As Paul told Timothy, “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2).

Writing during the nineteenth century, Charles Spurgeon shared a timeless word about the joy of pursuing this commission: 

Even if I were utterly selfish, and had no care for anything but my own happiness, I would choose, if I might, under God, to be a soul-winner, for never did I know perfect, overflowing, unutterable happiness of the purest and most ennobling order till I first heard of one who had sought and found a Savior through my means. I recollect the thrill of joy which went through me! No young mother ever rejoiced so much over her first-born child, no warrior was so exultant over a hard-won victory. Oh! the joy of knowing that a sinner once at enmity has been reconciled to God by the Holy Spirit, through the words spoken by our feeble lips.

If you’re a follower of Christ, you have something significant to offer a weary world. Introduce them to the one who offers rest for our souls. 

What Awaits Us at the End of Our Journey?

BY DAVE STEEL

Why do we spend so much energy pursuing earthly carrots like affluence, accolades, and pleasure when we know these things can’t satisfy our deepest longings? And why is it that these things disappoint us so consistently? 

King Solomon gave us a clue when he said that God has “set eternity in the human heart” (Eccl. 3:11). Nothing temporal will ever truly satisfy us--not money, not the praise of others, not any earthly pleasure, trophy, or commodity. We yearn for something eternal, something transcendent. C. S. Lewis reasoned that, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

We were made for heaven. Followers of Jesus rightly consider it their home. Jesus said, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3). The apostle Paul certainly took this promise seriously. He wrote, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20; cf. Heb. 13:14). 

Ultimately, the reward that awaits us at the end of our earthly journey is Jesus himself. He’s what makes heaven so desirable. 

But the biblical writers also spoke of an inheritance that awaits us there. The apostle Peter calls it “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade--kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4). The apostle Paul adds that the indwelling Holy Spirit serves as a deposit guaranteeing this inheritance (Eph. 1:13-14). What these biblical writers are saying is that our heavenly inheritance could not be more secure.

Still, the apostle Paul also spoke of this heavenly prize as something worth striving for. He said, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). As Christ followers, we strain toward the finish line not to earn the prize but to claim it. Christ has secured it for us. 

For disciples of Jesus, then, this life is a journey to our true home. What awaits us at the finish line is a joyous reunion with our Savior. There we’ll enter into our heavenly inheritance. Disappointment with the fleeting pleasures of this world will give way to what is eternal, transcendent. Our deepest longings will be satisfied. 

We’re going home! 

The Secret to a Disciple's Resolve

BY DAVE STEEL

At one point in Jesus’ ministry many of his fair-weather followers found his teaching too difficult, so they quit following him. So Jesus asked his closest disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67). That’s when Peter came up with this profound reply: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God?” (vv. 68-69). 

We will always have unanswered questions--sometimes big ones. But there comes a time when we know enough about Jesus to be convinced that he’s our only hope of ever sorting it all out. It’s what keeps us following him when others call it quits. We simply have nowhere else to go. 

In a culture that values having lots of options, it may seem regressive to suggest that there’s only one person to whom we can go for eternal life. On the other hand, there’s something incredibly freeing about being done with dead-end pursuits regarding life’s big questions and discovering what we’ve been looking for all along. In any case, when you’ve just seen Jesus walk on water, as Peter had (John 6:16-21), it seems a little silly to keep your options open in case a more impressive teacher comes along. 

Peter would later testify publicly that, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Likewise, the apostle Paul declared that, “There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Tim. 2:5-6). 

All this is corroborated by Jesus himself, who declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). 

As disciples of Jesus, we may not be able to explain everything Jesus said. We may not understand everything he’s doing even now. We’re still learning, still growing. But regardless of what we still need to learn from him and about him, we know this: Jesus holds the keys to life’s ultimate questions. 

Herein lies the secret to a disciple’s resolve. Even if we’re confounded by something Jesus says, we continue following him because of what we do understand: he has the words of eternal life. He is the Holy One of God.

Where else would we go if not to Jesus? Then again, he’s all we need. 

A Dozen Reasons to Meditate on the Scriptures Often

BY DAVE STEEL

From time to time, we all need to be reminded just how crucial it is to read and reflect on the Scriptures as disciples of Jesus. In case it’s been a while since you’ve thought about it, here are a dozen reasons to meditate often on the Word of God. Let these thoughts stoke your desire to live for Christ.

1.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to listen to the voice of God.

All Scripture is God-breathed . . . (2 Tim. 3:16)
Prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet. 1:21)

The Bible is no ordinary book. If you’re fortunate enough to have a copy, you can read the words of God himself!

2.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to embrace what is right and true.

For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. (Ps. 33:4)
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)

What is truth? Only by squarely facing this question can we live well. Jesus said that the Bible is truth.

3.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to reveal the true state of your heart.

The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb. 4:12)

Don’t be surprised if you start becoming more honest with yourself when you take time to reflect on Scripture. That’s what it’s supposed to do.  

4.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to invite God’s blessing into your life. 

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Josh. 1:8)

For a Christ follower, the obedient life and the successful life our bound together. Meditating on the Scriptures in order to obey what it says is a formula for true success.  

5.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to equip yourself to resist sin.

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. (Ps. 119:9)
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Ps. 119:11)

How will you keep your heart from being stained by the evil of this world and by your own sinful desires? Scripture keeps us on the right path.

6.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to build your life on bedrock.

Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. (Matt. 7:24-25)

How will you prepare for the storms of life? Meditate on the Scriptures and you’ll be shoring up your foundation to withstand whatever comes your way.

7.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to anchor your life in what’s reliable and enduring.

Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Ps. 119:89)
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matt. 24:35)

Want to leave an enduring legacy? Scripture will teach you how to live for what lasts.

8.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to feed your spiritual growth.

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation (1 Pet. 2:2)

When an infant’s growth is stunted due to lack of nutrition, doctors call it “failure to thrive.” Tragically, this also happens in the spiritual realm when we neglect God’s Word.

9.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to shine a light on where you’re going.

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Ps. 119:105)

Have you ever felt like you were in a dark cave, confused and unable to see the way forward? That’s when the Bible becomes a headlamp.

10.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to be trained to serve God well.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Meditating on Scripture forges our character and trains us in the ways of God.

11.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to fight the good fight.

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:17)

The Bible is the one offensive weapon God gave us to fight off those unseen forces that would discourage and destroy us. We must learn to wield it skillfully.  

12.  To meditate on the Scriptures is to be a faithful conduit of God’s truth.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)

Being a faithful disciple of Jesus includes sharing with others what he’s teaching us. This requires careful listening and learning on our part, which is another reason we meditate on God’s Word.

There are a dozen reasons to meditate on the Scriptures often. Can you think of some others?

Discipleship Starts with Repentance

BY DAVE STEEL

I was on my way to an important meeting in an unfamiliar part of town. Though I had never been to this particular sandwich shop before, I had a rough idea where it might be, based on the street address. Yes, I had a GPS with me, but who needs one of those when you already have a vague idea where you’re going and an ill-founded confidence that you’ll get there?

(You know where this is going, don’t you?)

I got lost. When I could deny it no longer, I consulted Maggie (that’s what we called our GPS, though I don’t think that was her real name). She had four words for me: Turn around when possible.

Not bear left. Not slight right.

Turn around. It was Maggie’s way of saying I was going the wrong way, and the sooner I reversed course the better. Confronted with this reality, I changed my mind about the direction I was headed. I made a U-turn and followed Maggie’s instructions. To use a biblical term, I repented.

Jesus used that word repent a lot. Scripture says that early in his ministry Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 4:17). What did Jesus mean by calling us to repent?

Essentially, he was calling us to change our minds (that’s what the Greek word metanoeō means[1]). It was an appeal for us to admit that we’ve gone the wrong way and to turn around and pursue a new direction, because it’s the only way we’ll ever get to experience the gracious rule and reign of God.

Eugene Peterson described repentance this way:

Repentance is not an emotion. It is not feeling sorry for your sins. It is a decision. It is deciding that you have been wrong in supposing that you could manage your own life and be your own god; it is deciding that you were wrong in thinking you had, or could get, the strength, education and training to make it on your own; it is deciding that you have been told a pack of lies about yourself and your neighbors and your world. And it is deciding that God in Jesus Christ is telling you the truth. Repentance is a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts. Repentance is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and become his pilgrim in the path of peace.[2]

Had I disregarded Maggie’s directive to repent, I probably would have missed my lunch appointment. That would have been an embarrassing mistake, but one from which I would have recovered. That’s more than can be said when someone chooses to disregard Christ’s call to repentance.

Until we repent we’re still going our own way, which means we’re still lost. 

 

[1]BAGD, s.v. “μετανοέω,” 511-512.

[2]Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, 2nd Edition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 29-30. 

Ten Reasons We Can't Do Without the Holy Spirit

BY DAVE STEEL

In some Christian circles he may not be talked about as much as the other two members of the Trinity, but the Holy Spirit is active in and around us, being mentioned several hundred times throughout the Bible. Jesus once told his disciples not to go anywhere without the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). Here are ten reasons we can’t do without him.

1.       The Spirit gives us life.

The Bible says it was the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. He’s the source of our life too.

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you (Rom. 8:11).

2.       The Spirit reassures us of God’s love.

. . . because sometimes you just need to be reminded that God’s got you.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (Rom. 8:16).

3.       The Spirit helps us in our weakness.

Have you ever felt so confused or powerless that you didn’t even know what to pray?

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans (Rom. 8:26).

4.       The Spirit gives us wisdom and guidance.

It’s good to know where to go for wisdom anytime you need it.

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives (Col. 1:9).

5.       The Spirit makes us better.

In light of what’s going on in your life right now, what character trait do you most need today? Chances are it’s on the list of what the Spirit wants to produce in you.   

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). 

6.       The Spirit transforms us.

What do you want to be when you “grow up”? What if you could be just like Jesus? That’s what the Spirit intends to do with you and me.

We all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).

7.       The Spirit qualifies us for ministry.

When it comes to who gets picked for certain ministry opportunities, it’s about who you know. Only those who are full of the Spirit qualify for certain jobs.   

Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them (Acts 6:3).

8.       The Spirit equips us for ministry.

The Spirit not only qualifies us for ministry. He also equips us for ministry by endowing each believer with a special spiritual gift for serving the body of Christ.

There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit distributes them. . . . To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Cor. 12:4, 7). 

9.       The Spirit empowers us to witness for Christ.

Even after spending three years with Jesus and seeing him after his resurrection, the original disciples still lacked the one thing they needed to effectively share the good news about their Savior. Jesus told them,

Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. . . . You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses (Acts 1:4, 8; cf. 4:31).

10.   The Spirit gives us courage.

What would you do with more courage? The Spirit is ready to provide it.

The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power (1 Tim. 1:7).

This list of reasons why we can’t do without the Holy Spirit is far from exhaustive. But it reminds us of the Spirit’s essential role in enabling us to live the supernatural life Jesus is calling us into.

Of these ten reasons we can’t do without the Holy Spirit, which one speaks most urgently to you right now? Turn it into a prayer for the Spirit’s work to be done in you today.

Have We Underestimated People's Interest in Spirituality?

BY DAVID STEEL

An interesting paradox is at work in our culture. On the one hand, some researchers are suggesting that religion in America is becoming passé—perhaps even on its way to extinction.[1] Such dire predictions, coupled with the erosion of morality in our culture, are enough to plunge some of us into a mild depression over the apparent disregard for anything spiritual.

On the other hand, there are those who speak of a rising tide of spiritual interest here in America and in Western culture in general. A few years ago, American pollster George Gallup, Jr. wrote, “One of the most profound yet perhaps most overlooked trends in the U.S. over the last decade, clearly identified in national surveys, is the surge of interest in spiritual matters and an intense hunger for God.”[2] Similarly, Anglican theologian Alister McGrath writes,

There has been a remarkable growth in interest in the general area of spirituality in recent years. A resurgent cynicism concerning the value of material possessions has led to much greater attention being paid to the spiritual dimensions of life. . . . Alongside a gradual general decline in appeal of institutionalized forms of religion in western culture, there has been a clear rise in popular interest in spirituality, including the various forms of Christian spirituality.[3]

If these respected authors are correct, then regardless of the state of religion in America, spirituality seems to be thriving. And if spirituality is thriving, then perhaps our culture is more open to learning the way of Christ than we think.

Wanting to get a view from the balcony, I recently graphed the number of books published annually since 1980 on the subject of “spiritual formation,” according to the WorldCat online catalog.[4] Check out the impressive trajectory in the graph below.

Books Published Annually on Spiritual Formation

Below is a similar graph of books published under the keyword discipleship.[5] While the trajectory is not as steep here, the graph line has definitely headed north over the past fifteen years.

Books Published Annually on Discipleship

I’ve believed for a long time that people need Jesus, though I’ve sometimes wondered how much people want him these days. But if the rate at which books on spiritual formation and discipleship are cascading off the presses is any indication, this is a great time to point people to Jesus.

We’re riding a wave of spiritual interest right now. Cowabunga!

 

[1]Daniel M. Abrams, Haley A. Yaple, and Richard J. Wiener, A Mathematical Model of Social Group Competition with Application to the Growth of Religious Non-affiliation, Cornell University Library, last revised January 11, 2011, accessed November 4, 2014, http://arxiv.org/abs/1012.1375.

[2]George Gallup, Jr., foreword to Becoming a Healthy Disciple: Ten Traits of a Vital Christian, by Stephen A. Macchia (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 11.

[3]Alister E. McGrath, Christian Spirituality: An Introduction (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1999), 1.

[4]WorldCat, accessed May 5, 2016, http://www.worldcat.org.

[5]WorldCat, accessed May 5, 2016, http://www.worldcat.org. 

The One Thing about Following Jesus We Must Never Forget

BY DAVE STEEL

Discipleship was not invented by Jesus. Various secular and religious forms of discipleship were already well established when Jesus called his first disciples.[1] And yet Jesus’ brand of discipleship was different in one very important respect.

In the ancient world, a disciple of some master or movement was someone who was committed to learning a particular skill, acquiring some body of knowledge, or pursuing a certain way of life.[2] By the time of Christ, discipleship increasingly emphasized the relationship between the disciple and the master,[3] who embodied the ideals the disciple wanted to emulate. Still, the master was, strictly speaking, a means to an end.

The reason the Pharisees of Jesus’ day considered themselves “disciples of Moses” was that, in their own words, “we know God spoke to Moses” (John 9:28). The goal here was to hear from God, and Moses was a means to that end. Even though they self-identified as Moses’ disciples, they considered it blasphemy to make Moses the ultimate goal of their discipleship, as if he were God himself. We know this because that’s how they responded to Jesus’ claim to being the ultimate goal of his brand of discipleship. They picked up stones to stone Jesus, telling him it was “for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33).

In saying this, they put their finger on the uniqueness of discipleship to Jesus. The one who calls us is not just a wise teacher or even the personification of the noblest of ideals (though he is both of these). Jesus points us to the highest goal of all. He points us to himself.

Oswald Chambers points out that, “There is a difference between devotion to principles and devotion to a person. Jesus Christ never proclaimed a cause; He proclaimed personal devotion to Himself.”[4]

So here’s the one thing about following Jesus we must never forget:

While the fruit of our discipleship to Jesus is a transformed life, that’s not the ultimate goal. Jesus is not a means to an end. He is the end.  

“But wait a minute,” someone will say. “Didn’t Jesus come proclaiming that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)? Isn’t eternal life the ultimate ideal Jesus points us to?”

Indeed it is. And what is eternal life? Jesus answered that question when he prayed, “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). The ultimate goal of discipleship to Jesus is knowing him. No amount of knowledge about him or service to him can substitute for the sheer joy of knowing him.

The apostle Paul speaks for every disciple of Jesus when he says, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). 

May we never forget it.

 

[1]For a thorough discussion of this topic, see chapter five in Michael J. Wilkins, Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).

[2]Wilkins, 72-75.

[3]Wilkins, 76.

[4]Oswald Chambers, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1960), 16-17.