Note: this is the first post in a series looking at being a disciple, part of a family, and missionaries to our city. The goal is to clarify and give depth to each aspect of our identity in Christ by looking at the theological basis, the example of Christ, and the empowerment of the Spirit.
I attended Concordia South (Luther College, Decorah, IA). Imagine our beloved private school in Moorhead, transplanted 390 miles away in Northeast Iowa. I’m very grateful for my time there, gained lifelong friends and learned lifelong lessons, most of which took place outside the classroom.
As with Concordia, all freshmen are required to take a course which is designed to challenge students and set them up for the rigorous educational process that awaits. It's difficult, and they throw a lot at you right away. Though it’s not their official, stated position, it is designed weed out those who belong and those who do not, if they made it through the application process. The course is called Paideia, and I hated it. But I survived and moved on with my education. I knew about the course going into it, but nothing could have prepared me for it until I sat in that room as a nervous 18 year-old.
As we get to Luke 9, we see the disciples as men who had been through quite a bit with their new Teacher Jesus. The Messiah had already been active before calling Simon Peter, James, and John to begin learning how to fish for men under his tutelage. Peter’s response to Jesus filling his net with fish in Luke 5 is wonderful, he sees the Christ whom he had just heard teach the truths of God’s kingdom. Obeying Jesus’ request, they push out from shore and his nets are filled. In astonishment, it becomes clear who he’s standing next to: the one and only Son of God.
“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” - Simon Peter, Luke 5:8
Jesus comforts him, telling him not to be afraid and laying out a very brief job description: “from now on you will be catching men.” So Peter, James, and John left everything and followed him. So it begins.
Jesus cleanses, heals, calls more disciples, and teaches. He’s teaching truths that are incredibly counter-cultural and challenging to the religious establishment. He alludes to the New Covenant being established in his blood (Luke 5:33-39), pronounces woes on the rich and haughty, and continued healing. He starts getting under the skin of a few Pharisees (Luke 9:36-50) and continued his teaching and miracle work. Jesus’ reputation is growing, eventually reaching Herod, the Roman ruler in the area. The situation is starting to get more and more interesting for the disciples, and Jesus lays out the nature of following him in chapter 9, verses 23-27.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
Here lies the essence of being a disciple, dying to self and living to God. Being transformed from obsession with self to obsession with Another. Going from self-preservation to self-denial. Going from pursuing the things of the world to pursuing holiness by faith. Changing from hating the truth of Christ to loving and needing more. A disciple has been made alive by the Spirit of God, awakened to the truth of the gospel making us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). To a born-again disciple of Christ, dying to self makes more and more sense.
Much like my freshman class at Luther, the disciples had an idea of what following this Teacher would mean, but in Luke 9 Jesus makes it clear. Following him would demand sacrificing themselves, dying to self and living to God. Given the chance to walk away in John 6, they saw that they had nowhere else to go (John 6:68). People counted the cost, and many stopped following him.
For those of us who have heard and responded in faith to the Good News, having counted the cost and remained with him, we are disciples and have entered the lifelong process of sanctification. Instead of seeking our own will, worshiping self and creation (Romans 1-3:20), we seek to discern and live in light of God’s will as an act of sacrificial worship (Romans 12:1-2). We will never arrive, so-to-speak, but we’re on the path of individual and communal discipleship.
Instead of seeking our own will (Romans 1-3:20), we seek to discern and live in light of God’s will as an act of sacrificial worship (Romans 12:1-2). Jesus has painted a picture of what being one of his disciples would entail, but at the same time empowered them to actually live this lifestyle.
Jesus as Forerunner
This empowerment stems from Jesus’ perfect obedience to the Father (Hebrews 4:15) and his continual desire to do his will (John 4:34). He lived by the Word of God (Matthew 4:4), prayed to his Father (Matthew 14:23), and submitted to the Father’s will even if it meant death on the cross (Luke 22:42). Jesus knew Scripture and taught it to others (Matthew 5-7, Luke 24:27) being an example of discipleship in community. He was in perfect unity with God the Father, doing only what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19-20, 30, 6:38, 14:31). Jesus is the empowerment of our discipleship as individuals and as a group.
Obviously, we’re not perfect like Jesus and we need help. That’s why he sent his Spirit to us, actually saying it’s better that he leaves and gives us the Helper (John 14:15-16, 15:26, 16:5-15)! Jesus is the empowerment, applied by the work of the Spirit in us. We grow in our faith, drinking spiritual milk and taking on more and more of the solid food of biblical truth (1 Corinthians 3:2, Hebrews 5:12-13, 1 Peter 2:2).
Discipleship is Always Necessary
Because we do not reach perfection ourselves, we are in a continual process of repentance and faith, believing the truth of the gospel more and more (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). We will never arrive, but our love for God will grow as we see his faithfulness in various seasons of life. This will result in transformation by the power of the Spirit as we behold the glory of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).
This happens individually and corporately. We study the Bible alone and in community. We pray alone and for others. We gather to hear the Word of God preach. As disciples of Christ, we take advantage of the means of grace, showing us truths of God, believed on in our hearts and minds by the Spirit, and resulting in transformed lives giving worship and praise to God instead of idols.
We’ve counted the cost, seen Jesus as worthy and deserving of our physical and spiritual lives, and respond. When confronted with the glory of Christ and the call to die, we respond like Peter who had nowhere else to go. My prayer is that we are a church of people who respond like this, and follow Jesus, loving God and loving others (Mark 12:28-34).
To close, here are a variety of passages outlining our response as disciples:
- Psalm 1:1-6...planted by streams of water, delights in God's word, yields fruit.
- Psalm 2:1-12...acknowledges Jesus' reign as King, takes refuge in him.
- Psalm 119:9-16…knows and delights in God’s word, seeks holiness.
- Matthew 6:9-15…prays for self & others.
- Matthew 6:19-24…lays up treasures in heaven, not in love with the world.
- Matthew 5:6 & 6:33…hungers and thirsts for righteousness.
- Matthew 13:44-46 & Philippians 3:8-11…treasures Jesus.
- Matthew 18:7-9 & Hebrews 12:1…kills sin in their life by looking to the finished work of Christ.
- Matthew 22:34-40…loves God, loves others.
- Matthew 28:20 & Romans 15:14…teaches/instructs others to observe God’s commands.
- Luke 5:1-11…beholds Christ’s glory, lives intentionally toward others.
- Luke 9:23-27…dies to self, follows Jesus, knows his words.
- John 15:1-17 & Philippians 3:9…abides in Christ, looking to him for righteousness.
- Acts 2:42-47, Hebrews 3:12-15 & 10:24-25…Christ-centered fellowship.
- Romans 12:1-2, 2 Corinthians 5:9, Colossians 1:9-14, & 1 Peter 4:2…discerning God’s will, living in light of it as worship.
- Romans 13:11-14 & Colossians 3:1-17…putting on Christ, making no provision for the flesh.
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-4…holding fast to the gospel.
- 2 Corinthians 3:18…beholding the glory of Jesus, being transformed by the Spirit.
- Galatians 4:1-7…redeemed son/daughter & heir, knows their new identity.
- Galatians 5:16-24…walking by the Spirit, bearing fruit. Christlike attitudes toward others.
- Ephesians 5:22-33…healthy, self-sacrificial, God-glorifying marriage.
- Ephesians 6:10-20…wearing armor of God, fighting with the truth of Christ’s imputed righteousness.
- Philippians 2:1-11…Christlike humility toward others.
- Philippians 2:12-13…trusts God, takes sanctification seriously.
- Colossians 3:13…forgives as they’ve been forgiven.
- 1 Timothy 6:11-16…fights the good fight.
- 2 Timothy 2:2…disciples others.
- 2 Timothy 3:10-17…knows the Word, ready for persecution, equipped for every good work.
- Hebrews 5:11-14…practices distinguishing good from evil.
- Hebrews 12:28-29...lives in light of Jesus' kingdom, grateful for it, results in worship.
- James 1:5-8…seeks wisdom, asking in faith.
- James 1:22…Doer of the word, not only a hearer.
- James 2:14-26…has faith, shown in works.
- 1 Peter 1:13-21…ransomed with Christ’s blood, pursuing holiness.
- 1 Peter 3:15…prepared to give defense for the gospel.
- 1 John 1:5-10…walks in the light of Christ.
- 1 John 3:4-10…finds victory over sin as they fight.
These all flow from the person and finished work of Christ. Jesus would never command his disciples to do something or give an imperative that's not grounded in his finished work and empowered by faith in the gospel. He'd never call his disciples to something outside or apart from their identity and he'd never call them to something that they'd get the glory for. It's all about him, for him, and through him (Romans 11:36). This does not mean as his disciples we ever assume the gospel and discontinue preaching grace clearly, early, and often. But this does mean that we view each imperative as something Jesus did perfectly already and by faith can live out as well, obeying and abiding more and more as our identity in Christ is clearer and clearer.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. — Ephesians 3:14-19