What Is Discipleship?
While every disciple is a believer, not every believer is necessarily a disciple.
Many may think that the term disciple refers only to the early followers of Christ. We know that they were a praying, worshipping, loving, giving, and evangelizing group of men and women who refused to keep the truth of the gospel to themselves. Yet, God still desires disciples today—ordinary people like you and me whom God can use to do extraordinary things.
The Christian experience of the believers in the first-century church may seem radical to many in the church today, but to those early believers, it was normal Christianity. And these men and women—empowered and motivated by the Holy Spirit—turned their world upside down for the sake of Christ. In short, they were true disciples of Jesus Christ.Back to Top
Are We True Disciples?
If you are a true disciple, your Christian walk will be challenging and exciting, and you will have a sense of purpose and direction. But if your Christian experience can be described as dull, unfulfilling, and even boring at times, you need to seriously examine the statements Jesus made concerning what it means to be a disciple. After all, how can we expect to fulfill the Great Commission (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19) to go into all the world and make disciples if we don't even really know what one is? It literally takes one to make one.
A disciple is defined as a learner, a pupil, one who comes to be taught.
The relationship between the disciple and his teacher is not merely that of a student listening to a lecturer, or a passively interested listener. A disciple listens with attention and intention. He drinks in every word of his teacher, marking every inflection of voice with an intense desire to apply what has been learned.Back to Top
The Requirements of Discipleship
In Luke 14:25–35, Jesus laid out the tests and requirements of discipleship. Jesus saw a large crowd gathering. He knew that these people believed and accepted His message in principle. Prior to this point, Jesus had shown how the message of the gospel was for everyone. He had exposed the Pharisees as the religious hypocrites that they were. As a result, He had become enormously popular. Now He wanted to weed out those who were following Him for the wrong reasons.
Some wanted to be dazzled by Jesus' miracles, while others came looking for a free meal. A few even hoped that He would overthrow Rome and establish God's kingdom. So Jesus turned to the multitude and preached a sermon that deliberately thinned out the ranks.
Jesus seeks quality over quantity
Jesus makes it clear that when it comes to personal discipleship, He is more interested in quality than quantity. The words He spoke that day are perhaps the most solemn and searching words that ever fell from His lips.
Why would Jesus say such things to all those people who followed Him? It seems that He is intentionally trying to get rid of them. In a sense, He is trying to get rid of at least some of them.
A similar account is found in Judges 7:1–22. There God wanted to give His servant Gideon a victory in battle against the Midianites. But the Lord wanted the glory for the victory. So, through a series of tests, God whittled down Gideon's original army of 32,000 to 300. God knew that He could do more with 300 alert, committed men than He could with 32,000 half-hearted ones.
Three times in the course of this message in Luke 14, Jesus used the phrase, "cannot be my disciple." In other words, Jesus was laying out some absolute requirements for discipleship.Back to Top
Requirement #1: Love God More Than Anyone Else
Jesus begins with some very strong words: "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26).
Jesus was not advocating that in order to be disciples, we must actually hate family, friends, and ourselves. In this verse, Jesus was using sharp contrasts to make a point. Here He uses the word hate as the opposite of love. He did not choose something easily hated, like sin. Instead, He chose the most noble love we could have in this world—the love of family. He uses this analogy to show that our love for God must take pre-eminence over all others.
Your love for God should be so strong that your love for others is like hatred by comparison.
We see how personal relationships can conflict with the call of discipleship in Luke 9. There, Jesus asked someone to follow Him, but the man responds with this excuse: "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." (Luke 9:59)
Right there, a conflict arises. If He is truly Lord, then He is first, not us. This man was essentially saying, "Lord, let me wait until my parents grow old and die. I don't want to create any conflict. I'll follow You at a more convenient time."
Jesus answered: "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:60)
In this life, you either will have harmony with people and friction with God, or harmony with God and friction with people. You cannot have it both ways."Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" (Matthew 10:34-35).
You must decide which way it will go. If you choose harmony with God, the conflict you experience with others may ultimately lead to the awareness of their own need to find harmony with God.Back to Top
A Test of Devotion
Jesus wants to test our hearts. He wants to be sure that we love Him more than anyone or anything else.
Abraham of the Old Testament seemed to struggle with this. God gave him a son, Isaac, in his old age. The boy was precious to Abraham's life, the joy of his heart. This young man was a physical representation of everything sacred to Abraham's heart: the covenants God had made and the physical link to the coming Messiah.
As Abraham watched Isaac grow from a little baby to a strong, young man, perhaps this child began to fill the spot that Abraham had previously reserved for his friend, God. Perhaps, at this point in his life, had he been asked whom he loved more—Isaac or God—it would have been difficult to answer.
A.W. Tozer writes, "It was then that God stepped in to save both father and son from the consequences of an uncleansed love." So God said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you" (Genesis 22:2).
Abraham passed the test.
When Abraham so wonderfully passed this test, God blessed him and spared his son (Genesis 22:3–18). In essence, God told him, "It's all right, Abraham. I never intended that you actually kill Isaac. I only wanted to remove him from the temple of your heart that I might remain unchallenged there."
After this test in Abraham's life, there was nothing in his life that was not committed to the Lord. He still had great wealth, flocks, and possessions. He still had his son Isaac. He had everything, but he possessed nothing! His grip was very light on these things, and tighter on the eternal. Again, to quote Tozer: "Everything is safe which we commit to Him, and nothing is really safe which is not so committed."
God is still looking for men and women who will shake their world, men and women who will be His disciples. I urge you to make that step. If you do, our world will never be the same again. English evangelist John Wesley once said, "Give me a hundred men who love God with all of their hearts and fear nothing but sin, and I will move the world."
A personal thought
Will you dedicate your Isaac to the Lord today? It could be a family member or friend you love more than God. It may be a relationship you are in at the moment. It may be some sort of pursuit you are afraid to give up.
Will you step out from the fickle multitudes and fair-weather followers today and be a true disciple of Jesus, loving Him more than anyone or anything else?
The Cost of Discipleship
If ever there comes a time when the call of the highest earthly love and the cross of Christ are in conflict, the call of Christ must prevail. According to Jesus, a disciple is someone who loves God more than anyone else—even family and friends.Back to Top
Requirement #2: Deny Yourself and Take up the Cross"And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:27)."If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me." (Luke 9:23)
The greatest barrier to discovering all that God has for us is our preoccupation with self. We have become a self-obsessed society—Jesus' mandate goes against the grain of popular culture. In fact, many in the church today have been advocating that the answer to most of the problems in our society is to build up our self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.
Our self-love versus our sinful nature
The Bible plainly teaches that we have an inherently sinful nature (Proverbs 20:9; Romans 3:23; 5:12–13; 1 John 1:8). The apostle Paul seemed to have pretty low self-esteem when he cried, "O wretched man that I am!" (Romans 7:24).
The Bible makes it clear that it is not a lack of love for oneself that causes problems in society; it is the obsession with self. In fact, this love of self will be one of the earmarks of the last days, leading to a host of other problems (see 2 Timothy 3:1–5).
Scripture acknowledges the fact that we already love ourselves. Ephesians 5:29 says, "After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it" No, Jesus did not say that we need to love ourselves (we already do that). He told us to deny ourselves. To better understand the significance of this, we must first understand what that means.
The word denial means to repudiate; to disdain; to disown; to forfeit; to totally disregard.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, "The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or you see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether."
What is the positive outcome of denying yourself? Jesus goes on to say,"For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it" (Luke 9:24). The word for "life" in the original Greek was psuche, meaning "soul life"—literally your will, ambition, goals and desires. When you give that up to allow yourself to be conformed into the image of Jesus, you will discover His plan and purpose for you.
Bearing your cross means dying to oneself.
Why did Jesus use this particular illustration? He used a radical symbol to get people's attention. He was not simply speaking of an individual's personal problem or obstacle. In that day and age, a person who was bearing a cross was walking to his death. Bearing your cross means dying to self—laying aside your personal goals, desires and ambitions so that God can reveal His desires, ambitions and goals for your life. In essence, it is living life as it was meant to be lived: in the will of God.
Samuel Rutherford said, "The cross of Christ is the sweetest burden that I ever bore. It is a burden to me such as wings are to a bird or sails are to a ship to carry me forward to my harbor.""In every Christian's heart there is a cross and a throne, and the Christian is on the throne till he puts himself on the cross; if he refuses the cross, he remains on the throne. Perhaps this is at the bottom of the backsliding and worldliness among gospel believers today. We want to be saved, but we insist that Christ do all the dying. No cross for us, no dethronement, no dying. We remain king within the little kingdom of Man's soul and wear our tinsel crown with all the pride of a Caesar; but we doom ourselves to shadows and weakness and spiritual sterility" (A.W. Tozer).
Requirement #3: Forsake All That You Have"So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:33).
To forsake means to surrender your claim to; to say goodbye to.
Until I recognize that everything I have belongs to Jesus Christ, I am not His disciple. Consider Jesus' encounter with the rich young ruler who asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17)."Jesus answered, 'You know the commandments: Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not testify falsely. Do not cheat. Honor your father and mother.' 'Teacher,' the man replied, 'I've obeyed all these commandments since I was a child.'""Jesus felt genuine love for this man as He looked at him. 'You lack only one thing,' He told him. 'Go and sell all you have and give money to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven. Then come, follow me.' At this, the man's face fell, and he went sadly away because he had many possessions" (Mark 10:19–22 NLT).
Jesus was not implying that to follow Him, we need to take a vow of poverty. He asked this man to "sell all he had" because He could see that possessions were the god of this man's life. If something else had been on the "throne of his life," Jesus would have asked him for that.Back to Top
Requirement #4: Count the Cost"For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it" (Luke 14:28).
Jesus underlines the importance of counting the cost of discipleship. Many people make impulse purchases without even considering the cost, or they rush into marriage or a career. Sadly, some do the same in their commitment to follow Christ.
This point is illustrated in Luke 9:57–58: "Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, 'Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.' And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.'"
The man in this story did not even wait to be called. He hastily volunteered. He seemed to have a good heart, but he was impulsive. No doubt he had been watching Jesus with great admiration, and now wanted to walk with Him. But he had not counted the cost!
This man did not know what lay in his future, but Jesus did. By the nature of Jesus' statement to him, it would appear that this man, in contrast to the one who wanted to avoid friction with family and friends, was too concerned with material things in general. In essence, Jesus was saying to this man (and to all who would be His disciples), "Whatever would dull your desire to serve, quench your hunger for the Word and thirst for prayer, or make the world more attractive must go."
Jesus is not asking if you will commit 20%, 30%, or 50% to Him. He is asking you to commit everything. Billy Graham has said, "Salvation is free, but discipleship costs everything we have."Back to Top
What Is the Cost of Discipleship?
I must pay the price for the sins that I may now cherish.
As a disciple of Christ, I cannot cling to a single sin and pretend that I am following Him. In the place of those sins, I can enjoy walking in fellowship and friendship with God, living a holy and happy life.
I must pay the price of this world's fellowship.
In other words, I must no longer allow secular and worldly philosophy to color my thinking and living. "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold" (Romans 12:2 Phillips).
As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I must pay the price of this world's friendship. I will be laughed at for my convictions, mocked for my beliefs, and scorned for trying to live by what the Bible teaches. At the same time, in place of the world's friendship, I will have God's.
I must pay the price for the plans of my life.
We all have ideas of what we want to do and who we want to be. These are not evil or wrong. Still, I must be willing to give them up if asked to do so by the Lord. And in the place of those flawed plans, I will have God's perfect plan for my life.
What Are the Benefits of Being a Disciple?
Yes, there is a cost to discipleship, but what we gain in the place of the things we give up is infinitely better.
- The disciple is the one to whom God reveals more as that individual drinks in His every Word, marking the inflection of His voice with the desire to obey.
- The disciple is the one who lives the Christian life in all its fullness, receiving all God has for him.
- To the disciple, each new day is a fresh opportunity to walk with God.
- To the disciple, life has definite purpose and direction. It is life abundant.
It costs to follow Jesus Christ, but it costs more not to. If you are settling for anything short of discipleship, you are missing out.Back to Top
You have a choice to make.
You love God, and you want to follow Him. Now you have to choose:
- To live for yourself or to deny yourself.
- To ignore the cross or to take it up.
- To seek to save your life and ultimately lose it, or to lose (or invest) your life and ultimately find it.
- To gain the world or to forsake the world.
- To lose your soul or to keep it.
Though our numbers as disciples are small, we must press on and stand together. God may purge our ranks, but it is only to make us stronger as we pursue His plan and purpose to make an impact upon our world.Back to Top
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version™. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ™. NIV ™. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by biblical, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.