Discipleship: Following JesusIntroduction
The word "disciple" simply means one who listens to, learns and lives out the teachings of another. Jesus, in his lifetime, had many disciples, both male and female. They followed him around Palestine, listened to his teachings, watched his behavior and tried to live out what they learnt.
The simplest description of a disciple is a follower. Jesus said, "follow me", i.e., do what I say and do what I do. A person who enters the Kingdom of God, finds that, as members, they have set before them a task-orientated program. This program is given for their own good. It serves to train them, to prepare them for their rule with Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven. The program is set by Jesus, the King of the Kingdom. He himself has lived out the program in his own life, and this serves as an example to his disciples. He has also revealed all the details of the program, both in his own teachings and in the teachings of his apostles, and these teachings are now recorded in the New Testament.
Our question in this paper is - "What does Jesus want us to do?", i.e., what does discipleship entail?
Jesus' key message to mankind is "The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe." As we have already seen in the notes, the Kingdom is a community blessed with God's presence, and ruled and directed by Him. It was Jesus' death and resurrection that made this all possible.
What response to this message did Jesus call for? In summary form, Jesus invited those who responded to his message to do the following:
Enter in the Kingdom, i.e., Join this community. The entrance fee costs us nothing; Jesus has done everything for us. If we want to go in we simply let go and ask him, or as the Bible puts it, "repent".
Live in the Kingdom, i.e., become an active member of this community. The prime requirement is "faith". In fact, this is the one and only law in the Kingdom. Faith, trust, belief, reliance on Christ, is the one and only requirement, the one and only demand that God makes of us, Rom.1:17. Yet ,along with this "law", those who live in the Kingdom are called on to accept, for their own sake, a series of expectations, responsibilities, which we should strive to shoulder. We might like to call them Christ's training program for eternity. These responsibilities may be summarized as: love God and love neighbor. So, although entry is free, membership costs us everything.
So, Jesus calls on his disciples to share the responsibilities of membership in his Kingdom. Discipleship involves living as members of God's new community.
Discipleship in the gospel of Mark
The following short Bible study will help us see the ideals that Jesus set for his disciples. Of course remember, ideals are aims, not expectations.
i] Mark 1:16-20. Leave all for Jesus. Drop what you're doing, team up with Jesus and do what he wants you to do.
ii] Mark 8:31-9:1. Everything for Jesus - a denial of self, even to the loss of physical existence. We have to be willing to get to and follow Jesus, i.e.. do what he did. We have to be willing to accept consequences which may be pretty lousy, even deadly.
iii] Mark 9:30-37. A servant of all - live for others, not for self. Stop being kings and be babies for Jesus.
iv] Mark 9:43-50. Rid yourself of anything that stands in your way of being a faithful servant. (cf. Mark 10:28-30).
The issue of compromise
As members of the Kingdom, we are to serve the King, live only for him; to follow our master and die to self, Jn.12:20-26. That means we must strive to apply all our resources to the job he has given us. Our time, talent and tinkle must be optimized for the Kingdom. This then is the ideal and it can be summed up in Jesus' command to "love" - we are to strive in our devotion to God and to live for others rather than self, maximizing our resources to that end.
Yet, at the same time, as members of God's beautiful world, we are to rightly share in the bounty of His creation. He made it for our happiness, for our enjoyment. It is not evil to participate in God's beautiful world, to enjoy it to the full. There is of course danger now that God's good world is corrupted, Rom.12:2, 2 Tim.2:4, 1 Jn.2:15. Yet, we are not called to deny the flesh as if our natural desires are evil in themselves.
It is impossible to live for others and at the same time live for self. In the end, we can only aim at ideals, never do them, and that's all Jesus wants us to do - he wants us to do what we can. Because of the limitations of the present, the ideals of the Kingdom can't be reached; they just don't work here. Imagine trying to apply "give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." The principles of the Kingdom are restricted by the limitations of our age and so force compromise upon us. It is also true that the powers of darkness, of temptation and sin, limit the effectiveness of discipleship in that we fail to live in total purity. So, compromise is often forced on us. As the apostle Paul put it, we are to serve Jesus "as free from worldly entanglements as possible." "I am not putting difficulties in your path, but setting before you an ideal." The rule of thumb is, "do what you can".
The training-manual for eternity
Biblical commands serve as a training program to prepare disciples for their rule with Christ in eternity, but first, there are three things we need to say about Biblical Law:
i] Although God's Laws don't work perfectly in a fallen world, e.g., "love your enemies", they are not given to spoil our fun, but rather to promote joy. The Bible is God's manual for life; trying to follow his instructions is best for us in the long run.
ii] We must be careful with ideals. They are not rules to be done; all we can do is aim at them.
iii] The doing of God's law does not gain or maintain our standing in the sight of God, gain his approval or advance us in our Christian life; God's grace sees to that.
1. A personal walk with Christ
i] Spirituality. We are to strive to develop our personal relationship with Christ. This we do through Bible study, prayer and in the loving touch of the brotherhood.
ii] Sinlessness. We need to look to the grace of God to progress the work of sanctification in our lives through godly living. This we do by trusting Christ's work of renewal within and daily seeking to live out that renewal in a life which is honoring to him.
iii] Simplicity. Against the complexity of daily life we need to maximize our resources of time, talent and tinkle for the realization of the Kingdom in our own life, that of our church and our broken world. Simplicity involves living for the day, rather than the future or the past - "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." It involves doing few things but doing them well.
2. Upbuilding our Christian community
The command of Christ is that we "love one another", Jn.13:34. This love is primarily exercised within the Christian fellowship toward our brothers and sisters in the Lord, 1Pet.2:17. This love within the Christian fellowship serves as the sign of the dawning Kingdom to a dying world, Jn.13:35, 16:7-8, 17:20-23.
Love is exercised within the Christian fellowship in two particular ways:
i] The business of caring for each other, 1Thes.4:1-12.
ii] The business of equipping each other for service through the exercise of spiritual gifts, Rom.12:1-8, Eph.4:1-16.
3. Reaching out to the lost
Disciples have been given the responsibility of gathering in the lost. Our task is to proclaim the good news of the gospel to the perishing. Those who hear and believe are saved - they enter the Kingdom, Jn.3:16, 14:6. So, believers are to equip each other with the pure gospel that each may give a defense of their faith when asked to do so, 1Pet.3:15.
There are two particular ways we facilitate evangelism:
i] By word. We get the gospel out through the mediums of communication available to us - the spoken word through to the electronic media.
ii] By sign. We show Christ to our broken world through his grace of love in our lives - "by this shall all men know that you are my disciples."
Think out how you could live simply for Jesus.