In 1 Peter 4:10 Peter says, "As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." It's clear, every Christian has received a spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:4,11. The study of spiritual gifts is another valuable study, but one thing is clear, discipleship is not one of those gifts.
Every Christian is meant to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus. And every Christian has been gifted by the Holy Spirit. But the two, discipleship and gifts, are different things. Discipleship is a "calling" from Christ just as Peter, Andrew, James and John were called to follow Him. God calls all of His followers to be disciples. But God also gives all His disciples spiritual gifts to use in their respective ministries.
Two important things here: First, don't think of being a disciple is a "gift" given to a select number of believers. Every believer has been called to be a disciple.
Second, every disciple has a spiritual gift(s) to use for the Lord. Therefore, each disciple should get to know what gift(s) they have and learn how to use them as they live the life of a disciple. I use (s) after gift because most Christians will find that they have been gifted in several ways with one particular gift as their dominant gift. I know my dominant gift is exhortation, which speaks of being an encourager. My other gifts are preaching, studying, and teaching.
I want every Christian to know that they don't have to "wait" for a special gifting from the Holy Spirit to be a disciple. Each Christian is called to follow Christ using the gifts they have been given.
I remember reading a book about Disciplines. It may have been entitled as the "Disciplines of Discipleship", but I honestly forget. (My apologies to the author!) But I learned there was a need to organize my life with some good routines that would help me in my daily growth and allow me to be more effective in my ministry.
Now, we know that we must always rely on the Spirit of God to bless our work, but even He wants us to practice good habits in our lives. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27 ESV, "But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."
Good discipline in our lives does several things:
First, we build up our strength and endurance to be ready when trials and difficulties come along. We often think of "boot camp" for a young soldier. There he or she is expected to build up their bodies in strength and to practice hard at their routines so they will be ready to face an enemy. We see this also in sports when training camp does the same thing. I've often admired the good soccer players who just keep running almost the whole game! I am impressed with their endurance! But I realize that couldn't have happened without days and weeks of constantly running to build up their stamina.
Second, practicing good discipline helps us "...to be ready for every good work" Titus 3:1. Knowing the Word of God, enjoying intimate moment-by-moment fellowship with your Savior, keeping your heart clean and daily confessing your sin and confessing your need of God's guidance permits you to "be ready" for all the opportunities the Lord provides for you to serve Him. Paul said, "For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things..." 1 Timothy 4:8.
Third, we not only add to our lives good habits, but we discipline ourselves to avoid the things that can harm us. 2 Timothy 2:4 ESV says, "No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him." This is also reinforced when someone came to Jesus offering to "follow Him" but then spoke of other priorities. Luke 9:57-62 speak of three would-be disciples that didn't have the disciplines they needed to truly follow the Lord. They were preoccupied with other "priorities."
Now, discipline by itself is not necessarily that great. We can actually make more of discipline than our relationship with Christ. The point of discipline is not the discipline itself. It's to help us be used of our Savior effectively for His glory. But without a good relationship with Christ all our ministry is "service without love." And that's why the Lord was upset with the Ephesians in Revelation 2:4. They were more in love with their ministry than they were with Christ.
Keep your love intimate with Jesus and practice good disciplines that will help you to "serve Him in love."
Just a brief word during the time we celebrate our fathers. God is your Father. Sometimes being a disciple we think of the Lord as our Teacher and Master. True as that is we are never to forget that we follow our Father!
Remember those illustrations about following in your father's footsteps? That's what we do with our Heavenly Father. Paul put it like this in Ephesians 5:1, "Therefore be imitators of God as dear children." Did you catch that, "...as dear children"? We follow our Father's footsteps and learn from Him every day.
Being a "nothing" to others is being a "something" to God!
You're never without significance. You are always a person - a person created by God and loved by Him. God brought you into this world with a purpose and a plan in mind. Taking the step of determined discipleship puts you in a place where God's plan can be worked out in and through you, especially since you've surrendered your "rights" and yielded control of your life over to Him.
On "being a nothing" the very thought is repulsive to the self-centered nature of man. But for a dedicated Christian the idea of "being a nothing" allows us to see how God can make our significance all the more real when we see Him accomplish His purpose in our lives. What is God's purpose? Note the way Romans 8:28,29 play out: "And we know that all things work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren."
God does His work in us for His good purpose
God's purpose is to make us like Christ
Christ is the most important Child God has, "firstborn among many brethren"
Our becoming like Christ is the most important thing we could ever see happen.
Our becoming a "nothing" to ourselves means that we open up our lives to being a "something" to God! Our "being a nothing" allows Christ to be reproduced in us and glorified through our lives! What better significance could you want?
Do you want to be a disciple of Jesus? Are you ready to be a "nothing" in this world? Though the original 12 men called by Jesus to be His disciples are mentioned in the Bible, many others came and went and we know nothing about them. But, the impact of their lives will last for eternity!
Following Jesus means you keep you eyes on Him. Being a follower of Jesus means your life is "lost" as others watch the One you are following.
Jesus said in Luke 9:24 NLT - "If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it." Losing one's life isn't what most people want when they embark on a new adventure. They want to be noticed, recognized, rewarded, and remembered. All those desires are what a real disciple wants, for Jesus!
As John the Baptist said in John 3:30, "He must increase, but I must decrease."
"Follow Me" shouldn't be too hard to understand, but let me share a few thoughts that might help you realize there's a little more to "Follow Me" than just following!
1. Follow as in "imitate." Now, consider Ephesians 5:1, "Therefore be imitators of God as dear children." To imitate means to "mimic" in Greek. Take God's actions and imitate them. And the way the structure of the Greek suggests that what you begin to do, you continue to do always seeking to improve your imitating.
2. Follow as to "read the directions and follow them." Psalm 32:8a, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go..." This gives the idea of reading your Bible and obeying the instructions that are given. Good idea.
3. Follow as to "watch the One you're following." Psalm 32:8b, "...I will guide you with My eye." Some translations suggest God will "keep His eye on you while you're following Him." That's true in everything we do - God is always watching. But what I want to suggest is, instead of just reading the map, "look at the Guide!" If Jesus is with us, Hebrews 13:5, then why just read the Book and miss enjoying the Author's presence?! Look at Jesus as you walk with Him.
But more than just "look" the idea is to "look away from something or someone in order to really gaze at Another." That's the thought in Hebrews 12:2, "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith..." Verse 1 spoke of the "...so great a cloud of witnesses..." Hebrews 11 gave great examples of people who lived by faith. The writer is saying in verse 12 to take your gaze off the "cloud" and put your eyes on the Lord! Now, there's a great lesson to learn from the examples of others. But the key here is learning to "see Jesus!" This gets to the heart of discipleship. You're not just following a set of directions. You're following the Lord Himself! (More to come on this.)
Matthew 4:18 - "And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother...then He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."
"Follow Me" - that may be the simplest of all statements as to the meaning of discipleship.
Following Jesus carries with it a lot of meaning. But let's not jump too quickly into "all" the meanings. One thing is for sure: when you are a disciple of Jesus, you're meant to be a follower of Jesus.
Luke 6:12,13 - "Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles."
By this time, in the book of Luke, Jesus has already met a lot of people and a lot of people met Him. Jesus purposely called some to "follow Him" but it appears that many came without being called. But they came anyway. Did all these people "follow Him" in the same way? Not all of them. How do I know that?
John 6:66 - "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more." They started off thinking of following Jesus, but some just couldn't deal with some of the things He said. Did these receive a call from Him or was it because they thought it would be kind of exciting to follow this Man? And that can lead to another question: Can someone be called to follow the Lord and disobey Him? If so, are they still "saved?" Were they already saved to start out with?
Because of the nature of this study I'm not intending to be too lengthy each time I write. And something else: I'm not necessarily going to make comments each and every day. There may be times when a few days will pass before a new comment is posted. Not only do I want you to think about what has been said, I'm taking time to pray through these studies as I write. If you learn anything it will be because I'm learning something!
These studies are not meant to be outstanding or always provocative. Yes, I hope that some of the things you'll see here will prick your brain and your heart. I trust you will find, as I have, that being a disciple is a desire of the heart as much as a command to obey. Too many Christians have made the error of equating discipleship with salvation. They are not the same! And I'll gladly reinforce that Biblically throughout these studies.
Now, having just said that, let it also be understood that you received the LORD Jesus Christ as your Savior. He is not just "Jesus my Friend." Yes, by all means He is the best FRIEND you'll ever have, but becoming your Savior He also became your Lord too. Discipleship comes with salvation, but it does not replace salvation!
DISCIPLESHIP COMES WITH SALVATION, BUT DISCIPLESHIP DOESN'T REPLACE SALVATION!
And I'll also say some very disturbing, even controversial things along the way. Let me share a few more thoughts:
Can someone be a "disciple" of Jesus and still go to hell when they die? Think about that. My answer to that will come in these studies.
Can a person be a "disciple" of Jesus and still fail Him? I think you already know the answer, but think on that for a while.
What does discipleship mean? We'll get to that almost immediately, but it won't be just "one answer fits all" kind of thing. I think you'll find there's a lot of definitions people give about discipleship that will almost contradict other definitions. That's not too unusual considering the nature of discipleship teaching. There are a lot of opinions out there as to "What Really is Discipleship?"
Okay, that's enough for the moment.