Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Called to be Disciples

By Dennis Pollock


When you read the life of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John you find a big emphasis on discipleship. The twelve men who followed Jesus around Israel were not called soldiers or buddies or club members - they were known as disciples. A disciple is a learner, a student, one who gains knowledge, skill, and experience by submitting to the tutelage of someone more knowledgeable and skilled than he or she. This master-apprentice relationship was never a democracy. The students considered themselves blessed to be under their master’s leadership and training, and his word was always final. This was precisely the relationship between Jesus and His twelve disciples. Jesus dictated where they would go, what they would do, and the nature of their "curriculum."


Another aspect of the discipleship had to do with the “entrance requirements.” Jesus had some very definite requirements before He would allow anyone to follow Him. While some leaders look for as many followers as possible, regardless of their level of commitment or character, Jesus was much tougher. He set the bar extremely high. Luke gives us three examples of this in chapter 9 of his gospel. He shares three different occasions with individuals when Jesus makes it crystal clear that total commitment was the only attitude he would accept among those who would follow Him.


The first man was very much willing to sign up for Jesus’ discipleship program, telling the Savior, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” To this man’s declaration, Jesus responded: Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay His head.”


Not an Easy Life


Jesus did a lot of walking throughout His ministry. He and His disciples did not ride in chariots, nor did they ride on horses. As they traversed the little nation of Israel, they walked everywhere they went. No doubt there were times when Jesus and HIs disciples would walk as far as they could for one day, and simply move off the road and sleep on the ground. The Son of Man truly had nowhere to lay His head. And Jesus wanted this prospective disciple to know what he was getting into. This was not going to be a life of luxury.


Today, ministers often seem to push the benefits of following Christ with great zest and passion, but rarely mention the hardships and difficulties of discipleship. Jesus took the reverse tack. He wanted everyone desiring to be His follower to know that they were not choosing a plush, comfortable lifestyle. He didn’t just warn them of this after a month or two of following Him. He told this man that things were going to be a bit unpleasant at the very outset. In another place He spoke even more clearly of counting the cost of discipleship, saying:


What king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? (Luke 14:31)


Jesus is not really talking about kings and wars here. He is talking about men and women like you and me! He is saying that if we plan on becoming one of Jesus' followers, we should determine at the beginning whether we are willing to go the distance, to steadfastly live for our Savior from our youth to our old age.


Go and Preach


Luke gives a second example of Jesus' demand for total commitment in discipleship. Jesus told one man to follow Him, and the man agreed, but said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." This probably would involve more than simply attending his father's funeral, but would also include making all the arrangements, inviting guests, preparing food, and so forth. Jesus could not wait for all of this, nor was He willing to allow the man the luxury of staying behind and later catching up with Him and the other disciples. He told the man, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God."


This seems pretty brusque, and not especially compassionate, but we must remember that Jesus was not only speaking to this particular man, but to every one of us. He was telling him and us that discipleship is all about PRIORITIES. There is no discipleship where Jesus is not given supreme priority in our lives. And even though God is extremely “pro-family” even here Jesus must come first.


Top Priority


Jesus says elsewhere: "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." Putting Jesus ahead of everyone else in our lives is not merely a suggestion; it is an indispensable requirement before we can even begin Jesus’ discipleship program. He must come first: His teachings override all the teachings of all the philosophers, thinkers, and intelligentsia our world has ever produced. His attitudes must become our own. His views of God and Satan, of heaven and hell, of morality and immorality must become bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. If Jesus’ views disagree with those of our mama or our favorite professor, or our world’s celebrities or news media, Jesus’ views must be embraced, and the others flatly rejected.


Cost of Discipleship


The idea of counting the cost at the beginning was a major aspect of Jesus’ words and counsel to those who were planning to follow Him. Strangely, many ministers of today suggest that there is no cost to belonging to Christ. No thought of discipleship, no mention of any cost to follow Jesus, no need to deny self and take up any cross, or put Jesus ahead of father, mother, wife, and children.


And since “by the mouth of two or three witnesses” every word is to be established, Luke gives us yet one more person who wanted discipleship. He tells Jesus, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” This appears a perfectly reasonable request. But Jesus seemed to detect a looking back, similar to Lot’s wife as the couple fled from Sodom. This man wanted discipleship but was perhaps not quite ready for total commitment. Jesus tells the man, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).


All or nothing, burn your bridges behind you, total commitment… However you say it, Jesus demanded it. He seems once again to be focused on quality rather than quantity. Apparently He would rather have twelve totally sold-out disciples than 1,000 casual ones. He was on a mission from God and wanted only like-minded men and women with Him. None others need apply!


Tower-Building & Commitment


Later in Luke, Jesus spells it out plainly:


Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 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 - lest after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying “This man began to build and was not able to finish?” (Luke 14:27-30)


Jesus plainly declares that half-hearted, good-intentioned but not radically committed folks CANNOT be His disciples. Their request to follow Him is met with "permission denied!"


Discipleship is a big deal to Jesus – so big, in fact, that He warns us to count the cost at the very outset. This brings us to the ultimate question: "Is getting saved, or in other words, being born-again, a "sign-up" for discipleship? Do these tough qualifications that Jesus insisted upon in the gospel accounts apply to us today? It sounds a bit out of line with the idea of being saved "by grace through faith." If the call of salvation is a call to "only believe" then can we not dispense with this business of putting Jesus ahead of all others, of taking up our cross to follow Him, and counting the cost before becoming His follower?


The answer which Christians have believed since the earliest days of Christianity is that discipleship and believing in Jesus are one and the same. Any so-called believing in Jesus that does not include the willingness to follow Jesus, to take up the cross, and to love Him supremely above all others is no faith at all. Some have foolishly decided that Biblical faith is a mere intellectual belief which does not produce discipleship, does not transform the heart and life, and does not lead to truly following Jesus at all. "Only believe" to them means "only believe – without any intention of ever becoming a disciple."


Salvation without Obedience


Imagine someone coming to Jesus back in the days He walked the earth and telling Him: "Lord I want to be saved. I want to go to heaven. And so I am going to believe on You. But I want You to know that I have no intention whatsoever of following You or obeying You. I will still lie, steal, and fornicate as usual. I will not pay attention to the least thing you say. But I am expecting to go to heaven, because, though I will never serve you, obey You, or listen to you, at least I do believe in You. So thank You for the free pass to heaven, and I’ll see You when I get there."


Never, in the history of the church, would evangelical Christians accept such nonsense - never, that is, until today. These days there has arisen a bizarre teaching which divorces faith from godliness and suggests that mere intellectual belief is all that is necessary - no discipleship required, demanded, or expected.


These believe-but-don’t-change folks love the apostle Paul. After all, he emphasized faith in his epistles. And since Jesus made these annoying calls for discipleship and total commitment, they have decided that we must follow Paul and ignore Jesus. Surely Jesus was talking to somebody else, some others, but not to us grace-Christians today.


Making Disciples


But Jesus’ call to discipleship has never been nullified. We see this clearly in His famous "Great Commission" given just before ascending to heaven. With a gathering of His disciples around Him, Jesus charges them (and every Christian who would follow them):


Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19)


He did not say "Go and get as many people as you can to say the sinner’s prayer." He did not tell His followers: "Now I know that I required discipleship of you, but that has now changed. All people must do now is to believe. No need to actually obey Me, or serve Me, or follow Me. Only believe in Me, and go on with your sinful, selfish, wretched lives, as usual."


No, Jesus told them to go and make disciples, learners, students, apprentices of Himself. He also added the words "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you." And how were they to do that? How do you "make a disciple?" You do that by preaching the gospel. You do in fact encourage men and women to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, but that includes believing all that He taught, believing and embracing His values, His attitudes, and yes, even His demands. This kind of belief is a transforming belief. It grips the soul and changes the heart. With this kind of faith, the "fruits of repentance" will always become evident in our lives.


Paul’s Demands


The apostle Paul, the foremost exponent of grace in the New Testament, understood this well. He stated: "(I) declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance" (Acts 26:20).


To believe on the Lord Jesus is to enter His discipleship program. This powerful faith can never leave us the same. We take up the cross daily, we put God’s will ahead of our own, and we make Jesus the ultimate priority of our lives, placing Him above father, mother, spouse, and children. We read His words, study His life, and treasure His values. And we actually obey Him, never quite perfectly, of course, but as close as can be done while living in these earthly vessels of clay.


This is the real faith; this is the faith that saves and provides us an entrance into heaven without shame or condemnation. This is true discipleship.




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