Understanding discipleship under Jesus
In a world that promotes self-interest, the idea of discipleship is not always popular. Why follow someone else’s belief system when we can dictate life on our own terms? Christian discipleship is even more at odds with the world because Jesus said that His disciples must follow Him at all cost, even at the cost of our lives.
Mark 8:34-38 ESV And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
When we consider the nature of discipleship, it will become evident that we are all subject to discipleship of some kind – except that the word “discipleship” is not used.
From young, we would have learnt a set of family values and traditions from our parents and relatives. We undergo the most intensive “discipleship training” under our guardians simply through observation. If we were fortunate enough to be born into a godly Christian family, these beliefs would have been based on the Bible. However, if we are born into a family that is filled with adultery, domestic violence and family conflict, we will develop an entirely different set of beliefs.
Children invariably become disciples of their school values and curriculum. They may even pledge themselves to their school mottos.
3. Media personalities
The media provides a large pool of potential disciplers. We can model ourselves after a choice of singers, actors, movie characters and other celebrities. In the process of being someone’s ardent fan, we will invariably follow them in some way.
4. Life coaches and mentors
In life, we will subconsciously learn under the influence of close friends, school teachers, philosophers, martial arts instructors, yoga masters, counsellors, doctors, mentors, sports coaches etc. The imprint of their beliefs on us can be enduring.
5. Societies and clubs
Societies draw people with similar interests to celebrate their shared beliefs. Clubs, sororities, fraternities and cults all provide some form of discipleship.
6. Companies and bosses
Companies and supervisors also “indoctrinate” their employees by promoting a set of corporate values that they expect their staff to follow.
7. Religious groups and leaders
Needless to say, people who follow Buddhism, Hinduism, new age religion etc. become disciples of their faiths and their religious teachers.
Understanding true discipleship under Jesus
Some lessons we learn from worldly disciplers are actually very good, but are they helpful for people who want to be true disciples of Jesus? Let’s take an objective look at it from God’s perspective.
1. Have we fallen for value systems from the god of this world?
Before anyone put their faith in Jesus, God considered them “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” – whether we were intentionally rebelling against God or not. This is because we lived like anyone else in this fallen world, according to the desires of our bodies and minds. We indulged in all types of earthly pleasures and care primarily about ourselves.
Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind
As individuals, our minds can be so soaked in ungodly half-truths from this world that we think they are normal. Half-truths don’t bring us closer to God, they only confuse us and draw us further away. Take for instance:
- “If it feels good, just do it.” | Whatever offers temporary pleasure may lead to eternal spiritual death.
- “Work hard, play hard.” | God ordained a Sabbath rest. He does not condone striving.
- “You don’t answer to anyone but yourself.” | We all answer to God.
- “No one is watching.” | God is always watching.
- “You can do anything as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” | We damage our relationship with God when we sin.
- “You need to find yourself.” | We need to seek God.
- “Obey your parents.” | We are to obey God above everything.
The Bible says that Satan, the god of this world, has blinded our minds so much that we are unable to see the truth of the gospel. In fact, God’s Word warns that such worldly values, philosophies, human traditions and other doctrines are in reality, taught by demonic spiritual powers of this world. How much of our personal belief systems are based on God’s Word, compared to those taught by Satan?
2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Colossians 2:8 NLT Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.
2. Do we value our marriages and families over God?
All family structures on earth will eventually become obsolete in eternity. In God’s kingdom, grandparents, parents and children are all equal. Husbands and wives will just be brothers and sisters in Christ. The only relationship we develop on earth that will stay the same for eternity is our relationship with God. That is an amazing truth.
Earthly family legacies ought not to dictate our identities, lives and destinies. Only our Creator can do that. How well do we love our eternal God above all temporary relationships on earth?
Mark 12:25 ESV For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
3. Do we honour human traditions over obeying God?
Many Christians dress up for Halloween parties, decorate their homes with Santa Claus and Easter eggs, pay homage to their ancestors, pledge their allegiance to people or nations etc., all in the name of tradition – forgetting that God is watching everything we do.
Which of these human traditions truly glorify God? Is this the sort of example that Jesus gave us to follow? In fact, Jesus is recorded in Mark 7 as chastising the Pharisees for valuing their traditions over obeying God. Sadly, many of us today are no better than those Pharisees.
John 13:15 ESV For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
Mark 7:9 ESV And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!
4. Have any of our worldly disciplers died on the cross for us?
In life, we may come across people whom we admire and respect. But there is no one we should admire and adore more than Jesus Christ. No human being ever died on the cross for our salvation. Some believers have even fallen into the trap of adoring popular Christian leaders more than they know and love God.
1 Corinthians 3:4 ESV For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?
1 Corinthians 3:21,23 NLT So don’t boast about following a particular human leader… you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
Committing ourselves to one Discipler, God Himself
We cannot have multiple life teachers without committing “spiritual adultery”. Let us be faithful to our Discipler, God Himself, and honour the incredible price Jesus paid for a relationship with us.
Matthew 7:21-23 ESV “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 16:24 ESV Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
1. Repent of following or idolising worldly disciplers
No human being is sinless. It is dangerous to idolise any person and his or her beliefs. Why follow a fellow human being for our “life lessons”, when we can go to the One who created us all and whose wisdom is superior to anything on earth? We insult God when we chase worldly doctrines and disciplers over our relationship with Him. The Bible says “friendship with the world” makes us enemies of God. If we have made this mistake, we need to repent and cut off any ungodly yokes/spiritual ties with people, organisations or places in Jesus’ name.
1 Corinthians 3:19-21 ESV For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men…
James 4:4 ESV You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
2. Humble ourselves before God
God, our Creator, laid the foundation of the earth and determined its measurements. He is the One who holds the entire universe together and orchestrates everything for His purposes, even the evil in this world. This is the all-powerful, holy God who calls us to be His disciples. Let us completely humble ourselves so that He can teach us His ways.
Job 38:4-5 ESV “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
Proverbs 16:4 ESV The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
3. Invite the Holy Spirit to help us die to our old selves
Only the Holy Spirit can help transform our minds, hearts and souls to be more like Jesus. The Bible says that we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit after we repent and are baptised. That way, we will have the power to totally crucify our fleshly passions and desires to the cross and put on our new self. Praise God for His Spirit who dwells in us and helps us.
Acts 2:38 ESV And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 5:24 ESV And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
Ephesians 4:21-24 ESV … taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
4. Actively learn God’s ways
It is hard to become a new creation without knowing God’s master plan. God has already revealed part of His master plan for us through the Bible, and the rest of His truths will be revealed by the Holy Spirit. Dedicated disciples put in the time to study God’s Word and renew their minds so they will not be easily misled by worldly doctrines and disciplers. Let us be sanctified by both the Spirit and the truth.
Romans 12:2 ESV Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV … God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
Signs of true discipleship under Jesus
What do true disciples of Jesus Christ look like? No one is perfect after all.
Disciples of Jesus Christ will have their own struggles and may get disheartened, but they don’t remain dispirited for long.
True disciples have not been blinded into following value systems that have been orchestrated by Satan and don’t crack under peer pressure to follow the masses. They value their relationship with God over any human relationship or tradition. They rather choose the “narrow gate” than risk grieving their Heavenly Father and dishonouring Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and are always ready to explain their choices to other people with humility, gentleness and respect.
Matthew 7:13-14 ESV “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
1 Peter 3:15 ESV but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
2. Walking Bibles
True disciples will live life so radically and so positively that other people will be able to tell what the Bible teaches simply by observing them. Their hearts remain teachable and they love studying the Bible.
Colossians 1:10 ESV So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
Matthew 5:16 ESV In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
2. Fruit Of The Spirit
True disciples don’t harbour grudges, biases, grievances, bad memories and ungodly habits. They are not slaves to mood swings, other people’s words or their circumstances. There’s not much on earth that they will angst over. They simply flow with the Fruit of the Spirit. They know that God has redeemed them completely, including the bad and the ugly.
They use their words to edify and build people up, speak grace into conflict situations, and bring God’s truth and wisdom to the hurting and the lost. They withhold judgment and wait for God’s perfect timing and instruction before they act and speak. True disciples will deflect all praise to God and live in continuous gratitude.
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
True disciples will be actively serving God’s people, proclaiming God’s goodness and countering spiritual warfare. If it is not Satan who will try to discourage them, it is people who will be a source of persecution. Colleagues, friends and family members may mock and deride them for their Christian values. True disciples will praise God in all circumstances, even in the midst of persecution, knowing that the Light of God has and will continue to overcome the darkness in this world.
2 Corinthians 4:8-9 ESV We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.
True disciples are overcomers. Their worldview is eternal and their confidence in the Lord is not easily deflated and their faith is not easily shaken. They are not quick to complain or be discouraged. It takes a catastrophe to steal their love, joy and peace, and even then, they will praise God and get on their feet again with their Father’s help. They remember to put on their spiritual armour every day and stand in authority against Satan’s lies and temptations.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
May we all make it our life goal to be true disciples of Jesus Christ and enter His kingdom as good and faithful servants.
Matthew 25:23 ESV His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
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