“So you want to be a disciple, do you?”
Text: Matthew 28: 16-20
Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all ethnic groups, making them His students and to teach them to obey all His commandments. The words here are teach and baptize disciple and not merely convert. How infrequently have we heard that not only are we to be disciples, we are to disciple others. This is our position and this is our critical task. You have probably heard me say that conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not the work of man. Evangelists preach the good news of Jesus Christ-what it is that He came to accomplish. They make Jesus appear magnificent, beautiful and desirable, as no doubt He is! But if we stop at this point we play into the hands of the enemy. We present a consumable Christianity, one that you go into for what you can get out of it: hell insurance, forgiveness, peace, purpose, or meaning in our life as servants. These things are wonderful, they even are some of the benefits of our having faith in Christ Jesus; but they are not what Christ has commissioned us to do. He said, “Be disciples, and make disciples.”
On a certain level being someone’s disciple is not so difficult to understand. It’s part of what Jesus was driving at in John 8 where He says, (v.38) “I speak that which I have seen with my Father; and you do what you have seen with your father.” And, again, “If you were Abraham’s seed, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill me, a man that has told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this Abraham did not do.” The Jews were not mastered by Abraham, they did not walk in his faith and they did not tolerate the truth of God. Apparently, they were not merely poor disciples; they were the disciples of someone else. Jesus presses the point home: (v.42)“If God were your Father, you would love me.” Then, to remove any doubt as to whose disciples they actually were, Jesus declares (v.44) “You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there was no truth in Him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar and the father of lies.” So we are either the disciples of Jesus Christ, or we are the disciples of someone else and our lives are a confession of whom that master is! All of us demonstrate what we have learned from those who have taught us what we do, or should do.
All of us, in fact, are the product of many somebody’s who have shaped us—some for ill, and some have brought inconsistency and incoherence into our lives because of heir confused counsel—whether that be hypocritical behavior, or simply an alien, unhealthy value system. These people formed our standard responses in thought, feeling and action. We strive to enact the manhood that we saw enacted in our fathers, uncles, older brothers, teachers and other authority figures. And if these figures were cruel, abusive or dysfunctional, we have some hope that a healthier “master” may appear in our lives and correct that negative influence. And all of us begin life in a discipleship relationship with our parents which can be anything from good to mildly handicapping to disastrous. Parental alcoholism leaves life-long scars and some people greatest traumas can be related to drunken, inappropriate and out of control behaviors by those you need most to trust and respect.
Next in life’s sequence, we become the disciples of our peers, our playmates. Peer approval is a major issue in our lives; some people never escape the terrors of rejection and fear of disapproval. At this tumultuous time teachers may re-emerge as soul-shaping influences. They have the impact of setting in stone certain self-perceptions. This is an awesome responsibility and one in which parents rightfully should have significant input: a careless or cruel teacher can inflict terrible suffering on his/her pupils. Teachers function as image brokers and their students are vying for critical turf in the schooling years. After high school we still run into “masters,” some glamorous and powerful people. Instructors in the armed services, college professors, some public figures attain this status and they convey to their disciples a worldview, a life map of what human existence is all about. Boundary issues with these people, who are often unaware of their influence on others, are terribly important. They are the ones who help us find our orientation, our balance, and our sense of direction in life, in our careers and relationships.
When we become mature, we learn now to evaluate the influence of all these “masters.” We learn to evaluate the results in us of their teaching. This is important, intimate and scary business. But unless we attempt some kind of conscious assessment of these influential personalities, we shall never approach the place when we choose better masters—and this includes the greatest and best Master of all, the Lord Jesus Christ. And that is the point, of course, we are here to make disciples of Him. We are to labor as disciple’s in the hope of being passed by so that our charges may become His charges.
The essence of the Christian calling is that we live our lives as his students and as co-laborers. That’s what disciples of Christ do. This cannot happen if we do not find our Lord admirable in every aspect—wise, powerful, beautiful and good—so that we constantly seek to be in His presence. We must hunger above all to be guided, instructed and helped by Him in every aspect of our lives and that happens best in the community of the redeemed, the eternal community of prayerful love of which He is the Head, and Chief Shepherd. What we need to master is the art of handling every situation as He would were He in our place.
Jesus allows no reason that we should not be able to do what He commands. None. And what He tells us to do is always the best. No one is wiser, or knows better. No one. Can you imagine standing before Him and trying to explain why you did it your way? Not this pastor! No, every decision that we make needs to be shaped, forged hammered out on the anvil of confidence in Him, of trust in His teaching, of full acquiescence to the rightness of His ways. But we should learn to do everything we do “in the Name of Jesus.” (Col. 3:17) Remember His gospel is a gospel for life and for discipleship. He wants us to live with a bold and holy confidence. "“All the power, treasure and resources of heaven are yours right now. These things make it possible for you to change, to obey, and to serve.” Personal change, and spiritual transformation, there are the stuff of a disciple’s life because we are daily being transformed into the likeness of Him. And the glimpse we have of Him is Scripture is wholly adequate to impress on us the necessity of our changing—but you wouldn’t believe how many folks there are out there who seek to change even Him rather than to submit to personal change themselves!
This sounds so lofty. But, dear friends, you should hear what it actually comes down to very plainly and simply. Jesus expects routine obedience in little everyday things. Daily, humdrum conformity to His will . . . no splashy headlines, no popular acclaim, no fireworks even. A fervent and direct decision to do what He says, that’s all . . . that’s discipleship. Some of us would rather climb Mt. Everest than practice courtesy . . . we would rather die than give our walk on the dark side. Our flesh protests loudly and we, thoroughly intimidated, give in and continue to walk in our old habits. We practice conditional submission, which is truly not submission at all, but a clear and stubborn determination to walk on our own counsel alone! We refuse newness of life, preferring the curse of the known. He offers us life in His Kingdom and we prefer the hell in our hearts, or our homes, often snatching spiritual defeat from the jaws of victory. The narrow gate is more a matter of obedience, I think, than it is correct doctrine. You can be doctrinally correct and yet have a heart full of hatred. You can know your bible and yet live in unforgiveness. So it is a matter of he kind of person that you have become through your association with Jesus Christ and those who name and love Him. Doing what Jesus tells us to do gives us a safe, indestructible, because it is eternal, and invincible life. A life secured by the very will of God and His divine purposes.
The way to this is unbelievably simply: just be with Him. Be with Him to learn from Him and be with Him to imitate Him. How? By a life of invitational openness to the Holy Spirit, we can come to know Him now. See John 14. This helper is invisible, unlike the Jesus who was teaching His disciples these things. The world rejects this spiritual of truth because it cannot “see” it as if seeing it were essential to knowing something. We actually accept many realities that we cannot “see” with our physical eyes. We don’t for instance “see” personality, but God is personality. He is an interactive Being who speaks and communicates—primarily in His Word. If we will come before Him in silence and solitude, He will speak. Jesus spent forty days working on the advantageous transition, which was about to occur, as He left the visible realm for heaven beyond our physical eyes. Sometimes He was present, sometimes He was not—conversing sometimes through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:2-3) and sometimes in person with the disciples. And at Pentecost they were engulfed with a power from on high that was loosed from visible position, it was unattached to a particular place, say, Jerusalem, and transferable to all those places where the Name of Jesus would be named. It did, however, take several persecutions to persuade them of this change in God’s plan to advance His Kingdom. The gospel was to go forth from Jerusalem, not merely be brought forth in Jerusalem. The Kingdom of God was not to be limited to locality even though it continues to be manifested locally. It is a hidden and inner reality, a source of power which cannot be canned, controlled or produced upon demand. It cannot be merchandized. It is obvious as inner rightness, peace and joy. The Kingdom of the Heavens is ours in history, in the daily moments of our earthly existence if we know Jesus as Lord, Master, Teacher regardless of where we are from initial faith to the life of fulfillment and routine obedience.
When we sing “They will know we are Christians by our love,” the love in view must never be merely that of our fellow human beings. It must also be radiant love of God; Father, Son and Holy Ghost. A love that delights in the submission of our wills to His will, a childlike because it is trusting love, that is the kind of love that proves we are disciples of Jesus and not merely name only, salvation only converts to what seems spiritually advantageous. We may not be perfect, but we are determined, dedicated and delivered disciples. It would be far, far better to be known as Christians because we are like our Master, because we own the same accessible, available, powerful and merciful Father God. “Oh,” people might remark, “you remind me of Jesus.” It would be excellent if people saw that we lived in the Kingdom as He lived in the Kingdom, looking out for the good of others, and seeking opportunities to invite them in! “You know of Jesus, the one from Nazareth. And you know how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and Power. He went about doing good and curing all those under oppression by the devil because God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38) What Jesus did is just as important as what He said. We are called to be like Him, not just to quote Him! A disciple is someone learning how to do everything he does as Jesus did everything he did . . . with faith, power and clarity of purpose. Do everything for Christ’s sake and not our own sake.
How important it is to remember that Jesus’ teachings presuppose a life. That life is what we want!
As Dallas Willard writes: The teachings of Jesus in the Gospels show us how to live the life we have been given through the time, place, family, neighbors, talents and opportunities that are ours.” (The Divine Conspiracy, p. 284).. So we live our lives as a joint life with Him; He lives in us, and we live in Him. We bring Jesus to breakfast with us in the morning, we tuck Jesus into bed at night and we pray together all through the day. We take Jesus to work and we pray for Him to be glorified in what we are asked to do, and in how we ask others to do things either with us, or for us. And we explain ourselves openly by virtue of our spiritual relationship with Him. Our work is of central importance to God. It should be done well and we should aim at the highest possible good in our labors. We should desire that others benefit greatly from our work because that is what Jesus would do, not because we are looking for approval, or advancement. And, if we do this well, our responses will become predictable. People will say, “Of course, he wouldn’t lie, or cheat, or curse . . . Jesus wouldn’t. Of course, he values women and other workers, of course he is considerate of the handicapped . . . of course.”
Loving the Lord with all our strength, mind, heart and soul and breaking the bondages of sin in our bodies (habits of mind, heart and action which enthrall us with evil), these are the twin engines that drive the life of the disciple. Loving the lovely and finding spiritual liberty in our whole lives, these are the positive and dynamic elements of the Christian walk. These things enable us to enact our humanity in all its created splendor. They are a foretaste of what is yet to come. But these two objectives, loving God and breaking bondages, also help me pull together these thoughts on Christian discipleship:
· We are commanded to be disciples and to make disciples.
· We are the disciples of someone. Who is it? And is what we learned working out in our lives in a way that pleases God?
· We may need to exchange masters and choose Jesus to be our Lord and Master.
· We need to focus on how admirable our Teacher is and out of love and respect for Him completely submit to Him. We must want to be like Him above all.
· All this lofty stuff plays out in our daily living through routine obedience.
· A disciple is someone who chooses to live in his Master’s presence. We do that now through the operation of the Holy Spirit.
· People should know our Christianity by our likeness to Him. When we love as He loved, the meaning of love is redeemed from mere love of mankind and embraces love of God as well.
· Taking Jesus to work with us redeems the workplace. Where we are tempted and tested is also where He has the greatest victory and winsomeness.