Foundations of the Faith: What It Means to Be a Disciple of Christ

Foundations of the Faith: What It Means to Be a Disciple of Christ

The initial call of Christ to the men with whom He planned to associate in His purpose of world evangelization was a call to discipleship.

The word disciple means “a learner,” but Jesus infused into that simple word a wealth of profound meaning. As used by Him and by Paul, it means a learner or pupil who accepts the teaching of Christ, not only in belief but also in lifestyle. This involves acceptance of the views and practice of the teacher. In other words, it means learning with the purpose to obey what is learned. It involves a deliberate choice, a definite denial and a determined obedience.

Today, one may be regarded as a “Christian” even if there are few signs of progress in discipleship. It was not so in the early church. Then, disciple­ship involved the kind of com­mitment Peter spoke about when he protested to the Lord, “We have left everything to follow you!” (Mark 10:28).

The temper of our times is for instant gratification and short-term commitment—quick answers to prayer and quick results, with a minimum of effort and discomfort. But there is no such thing as easy and instant discipleship. One can commence a walk of discipleship in a moment, but the first step must lengthen into a lifelong walk. There is no such thing as short-term discipleship.

In his message to the crowds concerning the conditions on which they could be His disciples, Jesus employed two illustrations:

“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? … 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?” (Luke 14:28, 31).

Jesus employed these illustrations to demonstrate His disapproval of impulsive and ill-considered discipleship. Like the builder, He too is engaged in a building program. “On this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Like the king, He too is engaged in a desperate battle—against the devil and the powers of darkness.

In this building and battling, Jesus desires disciples who will not turn back when the fighting grows fierce. Are we disciples of this caliber?

The message Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship—not to faith alone but to faith and obedience. Jesus gave a solemn warning: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Obedience is evidence of the reality of our repentance and faith. Our obedience does not achieve salvation, but it is evidence of it.

There are three indispensable conditions for true discipleship:

An Unrivaled Love

The first condition of discipleship is an unrivaled love for Christ. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

The use of the word hate here has been the cause of considerable misunderstanding. The word Christ used is far removed from the normal connotation of the word in today’s usage. Hate here means simply “to love less.” So the disciple is a follower of Christ whose love for Him transcends all earthly loves. 

An Unceasing Cross-Bearing

“Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38). 

People speak of some physical infirmity, some temperamental weakness, some family problem, as their cross. Those are not the circumstances the Jews would have associated with a cross—they are just the common lot of man. They would have thought of the cross as an instrument of agonizing suffering and eventual death.

What did the cross mean to Jesus? It was something He took up voluntarily, not something that was imposed on Him; it involved sacrifice and suffering; it involved Him in costly renunciations; it was symbolic of rejection by the world.

It is to cross-bearing of this nature that the disciple is always called.

An Unreserved Surrender

“Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). What was the Lord really asking for? I do not think He meant that we are to sell all that we have and give it to the church, but He was claiming the right of disposal of our possessions.

There are two ways in which we can hold our possessions. We can hold them in our clenched fist and say, “These are mine to do with as I like.” Or we can hold them with our hand inverted, the fingers lightly touching, and say, “Thank You, Lord, for loaning me these possessions. I realize I am only a trustee, not an owner. If You want any of them back again, tell me, and I will let them go.” The latter is the attitude of the disciple.

In view of the stringency of those conditions, it may be asked, “Has the Lord the right to demand them as conditions of discipleship?” The answer is that He is asking nothing that He has not first done Himself. 

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, NIV 1984.

Adapted from Spiritual Discipleship (pages 7-8 and 21-25), by J. Oswald Sanders, ©1990, 1994 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Used by permission. Sanders (1902-1992) was a Christian leader for nearly 70 years and authored more than 40 books. He was instructor and administrator at the Bible College of New Zealand and later became general director of the China Inland Mission (now Overseas Missionary Fellowship). 

Above: Guests study the Bible at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. 

Photo: ©2016 BGEA

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