Jesus did not call us to make converts – He called us to make disciples. The word disciple means learner. You are a disciple of someone and in our context that someone is Jesus. When you stop learning, you stop being a disciple. With discipleship we learn by following. That means we are literally following in the footsteps of another. It’s not mimicking or imitating a lifestyle. It’s not following a code of ethics. It’s actually a relational journey of trust and partnership with a person.
This relational journey of trust is powerfully illustrated in the crucifixion of Jesus. He gave Himself to die. His life wasn’t taken from Him, He gave Himself to die. He didn’t raise Himself from the dead – God, the Holy Spirit raised Him from the dead. So if you think about this for a moment, when Jesus gave Himself to become sin, He solved the most important problem in all creation and that is sin. I realize that the devil is a problem for us, but the devil has never been a problem for God. There is not this conflict in the heavens between God and the devil. The devil is a created being with a breath and he can (and will) be destroyed. So the devil was never the issue – sin was always the issue. Sin had only one possible solution and that was Jesus becoming the Lamb of God, Who lived a perfect life without sin so He could become an offering for us.
So picture this if you can: the greatest problem in all of creation is this one little thing called sin and Jesus became that sin so that when the Father poured out His wrath on sin, it actually fell on Jesus and it took the life of His Son. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death,” and that death was embraced for us, by Jesus. Now when Jesus offered Himself as an offering for our sin, it was the ultimate expression of trust because when you are dead, you are dead and unless God does something to bring you back to life, you will remain dead. So Jesus died, trusting that God would raise Him from the dead. The life of a disciple involves the same trust and it is a daily decision. The life of a disciple is,“pick up your cross, and follow me.” It is the daily decision that I am going to deny what I could do for myself, because I expect at the right time, God will do it. Discipleship is basically living out the reality of one verse:
Matthew 6:33 “… seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
Now throughout history we’ve done fairly well with one part of the gospel: we know what it is to “Seek first, the kingdom of God,” at least in part, and we love to see and hear of people in the body of Christ who have put the King and His kingdom first. So we know how to seek first the kingdom of God. But we’re not always happy with people for whom “all things are added.” But that’s the result of seeking the kingdom first. We love it when people “humble themselves under the mighty hand of God.” But we’re not always as happy with God, when He “exalts them in due time.” We love knowing the stories of people who have given sacrificially in secret. But we’re not always as happy with them, when they are rewarded in public.
Part of the issue of our calling to the cross is actually to deal with the issues of jealousy and selfish ambition. Because without that death to self, there can be no reward or resurrection. Or to put it another way: my job is the cross – His job is the resurrection and reward. I have no responsibility to make sure I get rewarded for my choices. I have no responsibility for God’s response, I only have responsibility for saying “Yes!” To walk redemptively in relationship, monitoring this part of my life, my inner world, is to make sure that jealousy or selfish ambition don’t consume my life. So if I see somebody promoted where I thought I should have been promoted, then I have an opportunity for the cross. I learned long ago that I should never turn down an opportunity to die to myself. We should never reject an opportunity to die because rejecting an opportunity to die is to reject your opportunity for resurrection and reward. Discipleship is a relational journey of trust. I can say ‘no’ here in this situation because I believe the issue is settled with God, in His time and in His way. So the one who gives in secret is rewarded openly in God’s time.
Sometimes the people who are criticized most often in the body of Christ, because they are outwardly blessed, are actually people who bore a cross in a very difficult situation and the Lord determined to reward them openly. But because we don’t always know the back-story, jealousy rises up and masquerades as discernment. Jealously masquerades as discernment, giving us information that is illegitimate. Bitterness and jealousy will always provide you with enough information to keep you in deception and it will feel like reason, but it’s not. What the cross does in the life of a believer is to go to the root of the issue. So if you have an ongoing commitment to die to self you will quickly identify jealousy and know that it’s not discernment. You will see that it’s self promotion and a long way from seeking first the Kingdom.
Chapter 10 of Matthew’s Gospel is one of the more challenging chapters in the New Testament on the subject of discipleship. Jesus is just in our face and I love these chapters because I want my wrong thinking to be exposed. Every disciple should read these verses often – otherwise you’ll develop a form of Christianity that has nothing to do with the cross. Now, let me just clarify something here: in actual fact the resurrection is the Christian life, not the cross. However, you can’t get there without the cross, which is why the cross is so central to our faith and our ongoing life as a disciple of Jesus.
Matthew 10:38-39 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
Can you imagine if Jesus were around today, and there was no Bible, and He made that statement; just imagine what social media would do with it. There would be posts all over the internet stating that Jesus wants you to hate your parents and hate your children! I remember hearing a great illustration some time ago about this old man sitting in a rocking chair on his verandah. He’s very relaxed, rocking back and forth. On his lap is a very content cat and with each rocking movement the man strokes the cat the wrong way – from the tail towards the head. Somebody sees him doing this -one day and says,“You know you’re stroking that cat wrong?” The old man smiles and simply says, “If he doesn’t like it, he can turn around.”
If there are things that Jesus says which you don’t like, you’ll be the one that has to turn around. You have to adjust your position until what He says is the obvious expression of a good Father. Until that position is acquired, until you adjust the posture of the heart, then a lot of what Jesus says will constantly offend you. He doesn’t mind that. What He says will never contradict Scripture – of that we can be confident. But He doesn’t mind contradicting our understanding of Scripture. In fact, I think He delights in it. He also doesn’t mind creating conflict within Scripture. In this chapter, He says, “Don’t think I came to bring peace, I came to bring a sword.” But when His birth was announced, the angel said, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.” Both are true. The Bible was written in such a way that it’s actually only understood in the context of a relationship. You can get principles; you can discover a code of ethics for how to live an honest, successful life; you can get that without a relationship. But the full mystery of Scripture is only discerned in the context of a relationship between Jesus and a disciple. In Proverbs 26:4 it says, “Don’t speak to a fool, according to his folly, lest you be like him.” Then the very next verse says, “Speak to a fool, according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” Which one does He really mean? He doesn’t mind creating conflict, because then the only thing I have to do is draw nearer to Him in relationship to find out what He wants in this moment. He creates conflict in thought, as an invitation for me to pursue the One Who holds all mystery. To walk away offended is to miss the point.
When Jesus walked among us as a man He demonstrated this commitment to our relationship with God. He said He only did what He saw the Father doing and only spoke the words the Father gave Him to speak but how did He know either of those things, as a man? He spent hours in prayer. Sometimes He withdrew for a whole night to spend time in the presence of the Father. So when Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father,”He was not just stating the objective truth that He was God incarnate. That was certainly true, but as a man, He was saying, “I have drawn so close to the Father as a human being in relationship with God, that you can see and hear God when you see and hear Me.” This carpenter from Nazareth had drawn near to God and so aligned Himself with God that He could confidently say, “My heart is God’s heart; My dreams are God’s dreams; my mission is God’s mission; my will is the Father’s will.” This was not arrogance, this was the fruit of a close, intimate, daily relationship with God.
So it’s one thing for you to say to God, “I only want what You want – show me Your heart.”That’s not a bad prayer to pray at all. But what happens when God answers by saying, “What do you want?” That’s not something you expected to hear and you are not sure what to say then. “Me? What do I want? All I want is what You want.” God then replies and says, “No, that’s not the deal. I am trying to shape your heart with My heart and now I want to hear back from you. What’s your dream?”This is hard, so you say it again, “All I want is just to please you, Lord God – I just want your will.” Once again, God repeats. “I no longer call you a servant, I call you a friend and as a friend I want to know what’s in your heart?” But all the time we keep saying, “Just tell me what to do, Lord. Just give me a list. I’m good at lists – just let me tick off the boxes and please you.” But God is unrelenting here and He says, “That’s what servants do. I have called you My friend. The whole relationship has changed and I want you to share your heart and dreams and desires with Me as a friend and whatever shaping I do in your life will be done in and through our friendship.”
So whether it’s hearing from God, abiding in Christ or aligning ourselves with God in every area of our lives – it all happens in and through our relationship with God, in Christ, by the power of the Spirit. This relational journey of abandonment and trust that is so uncomfortable to many of us is actually the central reality for every genuine disciple. When you are born again into the kingdom of God, He starts looking to you as a son or a daughter. He starts shaping things inside you and before long you find yourself dreaming of things you never dreamt of before; you find yourself praying about things that never bothered you much before; all of a sudden you start praying certain prayers that you’ve never prayed in your life and you don’t know where they come from. Well that is the Lord discipling you. You are praying those prayers and dreaming those dreams because they are in God’s heart and as you walk with Him and talk with Him, He reminds you that you are His friend and He shares His heart with His friends day after day until we become the daily expression of His heartbeat. That is what a disciple is.
A disciple embraces the cross, because that’s our responsibility. The resurrection, the reward, the fruit on the vine is all God’s job. So our job is to seek first the Kingdom of God and then God’s job is to add all manner of things to us. And the challenge of our life is to make sure those things which are added to us do not become our focus – but just a reason to give thanks. The moment we turn our attention away from seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness to focus on the rewards of our past choices, it all unravels.True discipleship is a divine romance; it’s a sacred dance; it’s a journey of surrender; it’s a daily journey to the cross. It’s about us embracing the most privileged opportunity we have been given which is to die to ourselves and trust God for our resurrection and reward. He says, “Humble yourself under My mighty hand and I will exalt you in due time.” I don’t ever want to get to a place where the resurrection and reward God gives me turns me away from seeking first the Kingdom to God and His righteousness. In simple terms that means that nothing is held closer to my heart than God Himself. So when Jesus said, “If you love your mum and dad or you love your kids more than you love Me, you’re not worthy of Me,” He wasn’t punishing us or putting us in a position to be irreverent or inconsiderate or disrespectful toward our family. He was simply saying that, “If you put Me first in everything, you’ll be much more able and empowered to love them as I love them.” The best thing you could ever do for your family and certainly your children is to put God first. Your love for them will be life-altering if your love for God is the most important thing in your life.
Over my forty plus years in ministry I have probably come across a thousand books, sermons or videos on discipleship. One author or teacher will give us twelve steps to discipleship, another only has six steps. In fact, there has been so much teaching on discipleship that the whole concept has become overwhelming for many in the Church. How sad is that? We should not be surprised though. The enemy of God is always active in the Church trying to complicate what is simple. If Satan can turn one task into many and convince us that we are not true disciples until we have ticked all the boxes, then he has won a major victory in his mission to disempower the Church.
When you drill down through all the waffle, all the legalistic rules and requirements and the confusing theological language about discipleship, you find one simple reality: relationship. It’s all about our relationship with God. The source of all those wonderful qualities of a good disciple which we are exhorted by well-meaning preachers to achieve through hard work and discipline, is our relationship with God. We will never align ourselves with God by our hard work, diligence and human effort. We can only align ourselves with God by spending time with Him and getting to know Him as a friend. It’s great to worship God as our Creator, Redeemer and deliverer . . . but His greatest desire and our greatest need is to draw near to Him and enter the ‘holy of holies’ of His heart – that place where we know we are His friends and even more than that, we are His sons and daughters – He is Abba, Father. Let me just remind you of three verses from our last two sermons:
Jeremiah 29:14 “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord …”
John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
John 15:15 “No longer do I call you servants … I have called you friends.”
Our greatest need is God Himself. Our greatest desire should be God Himself. Our moment by moment responsibility is to die to ourselves and intentionally live for God. We are not called to seek the rewards and blessings of God, we are called to seek God Himself, in His essence. We are not called to produce fruit, we are called to abide in the vine and the fruit will come naturally in the context of relationship. So our deepest need and our most important prayer should be, “Lord, I want to know You more.”
If that is where you are at this point in your journey, then I invite you let this song pierce your heart as these words become your words.
Click HERE to play the song.