What is a disciple?
Little Tommy was doing very badly in math. His parents had tried everything; tutors, flash cards, special learning centers, everything they could think of. Finally, in a last ditch effort, they enrolled him in the local Catholic School.
After the first day, little Tommy came home with a very serious look on his face. He didn’t kiss his mother hello, but instead went straight to his room and started studying. When his mother went up to check, she found books and papers spread out all over the room and Tommy hard at work.
To her further amazement, the minute he finished dinner he marched back to his room without a word and hit the books as hard as before.
This went on day after day, for the entire first term until Tommy finally brought home his report card. He quietly laid it on the table, went on up to his room, and hit the books. With some trepidation, his mom looked at it, but to her surprise and relief, little Tommy had an “A” in math.
Unable to contain her curiosity any longer, she went up to his room and asked “Son, what was it? Was it the nuns?” Tommy shook his head. “Well then,” she continued, “was it the books, the discipline, the structure, the uniforms, WHAT was it?”
Tommy just looked at her and said, “On the first day of school, when I saw that guy nailed to the plus sign, I knew they weren’t fooling around.”
You see, Tommy developed a COMMITMENT that changed his life! The funny part is that we all know Tommy’s commitment was based on a misunderstanding. Tommy was a learner, but not a disciple. His work was good – by man’s standards – but his motive was all wrong.
Commitment is like faith in several ways. Like faith, the object or reason for your commitment is what determines how significant it is. Like faith, commitment can be based on the wrong motivation. And like faith, commitment is important, and must be focused on Christ if it to have any value.
From the Homan Bible Dictionary: “In the Greek world the word “disciple” normally referred to an adherent of a particular teacher or religious/philosophical school. It was the task of the disciple to learn, study, and pass along the sayings and teachings of the master. Disciples of the rabbis could select their teachers.
“One can assume that Jesus used traditional rabbinic teaching techniques (question and answer, discussion, memorization) to instruct His disciples. In many respects Jesus differed from the rabbis. He called His disciples, saying, “Follow me”. He taught more as a bearer of divine revelation than a link in the chain of Jewish tradition.”
Disciples of Christ are called by Him – they haven’t chosen Him.
It’s the Heart of the matter
Here’s the unpleasant reality – behavior doesn’t necessarily reveal the heart. Tommy’s mother wanted him to do better in math. But no parent would want his child to have Tommy’s motivation as the reason for the proper behavior. That funny story points out a major problem in many people’s lives: they make major commitments based on misconceptions, we do the right thing for the wrong reason. When circumstances get difficult, the false premise of our commitment causes it to crumble. Like a house built on sand. Our boy Tommy probably lost his zeal for math after a few semesters. He may have found out the truth about the “guy nailed to the plus sign”.
What does the Bible say about those who would be Christ’s disciples? In Luke 14: 25 – 27 “And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” This is a standard traditional rabbis and other teachers did not require. But we Christians are to love Christ more than we love our Earthly family.
Matthew 28:16 – 20 The Great Commission: “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
This word, “teach” is the Greek word “math-ayt-yoo’-o“ (verse 19) or “didasko” (verse 20), both of which mean to disciple or instruct. One thing of interest here: Christ is telling His disciples to “teach all nations” – yet He is not telling each disciple to teach all nations. The church must evangelize and disciple the whole world, but only God Himself can tell you and I where and how we are to “go and teach”. It’s obvious that not every disciple can go to all nations. But the church can!
Luke 6:46 “why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” The Lord wants us to realize that our words must be backed up by our actions. We aren’t the first generation to live at odds with our professed beliefs. And the world is watching us, to see if we live on Monday in accordance to our “Amens” on Sunday.
Matthew 22:37 – 40 The Greatest Commandment: “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
If we are Christ’s disciples, we will love Him with the right motive and that love with be evident to others. If we don’t obey Him in the things that we know are His will, how can we claim to be His disciples?
Consider marriage, the most serious, sacred commitment one person can make to another person – created to give mankind a glimpse of Christ’s commitment to the church. Yet many marriages end in divorce and so often the reason – more properly, the excuse – is irreconcilable differences. Many people get married with prenuptial agreements in place. Plans already made and documented, detailing who gets what WHEN they divorce. These folk are planning to fail. Many people get married not realizing God is the author of the institution – whether they believe in Him or not. They get married thinking they are going to be able to change their mate into their own image. They get married thinking their own faults will be overlooked but they won’t overlook their mate’s. All of these misconceptions lead to unrealized expectations and frustrations. And failure. The sacred commitment is abandoned. One’s view of marriage reveals one’s view of God. This happens in the church as often as outside the church. By people focused on self, not Christ
The American Heritage Dictionary defines commitment as “A pledge to do. The state of being bound emotionally or intellectually to a course of action or to another person.” Why is it that our “pledge” to cherish until death often fails? Do we let the state of our emotions rule our intellect, creating irreconcilable differences where the Lord intended complimentary strengths and weaknesses? Many do, and the “life-long” commitment is abandoned.
Commitment Isn’t Enough
You recall the case of three teenagers, named Hananiah, to Mishael, and Azariah. The king ordered all his people to worship an idol and these boys were committed to their God – not his – so they refused. The king had the boys brought before him and told them to bow down to the idol or be burned to death in the furnace. These teenagers, you know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Nebuchadnezzar was committed. He threw the boys into the furnace. But God had a plan working that the king could not see and did not anticipate, one that ultimately changed his plans to line up with God’s.
Mere commitment might have let them comply with Nebuchadnezzar because of irreconcilable differences between their religion and life itself. They could have rationalized this one compromise, because commitments are made to be broken. But their commitment had been left behind; they had surrendered their rights – abandoned their lives – to God and could not go back. Regardless of the outcome. The young men went beyond commitment – they were disciples. That’s the line that we must cross – leaving the future to God, obeying Him despite the consequences. Because we know Him and trust Him.
Abandoned to God
The American Heritage Dictionary defines abandon as “To surrender one’s right; give up entirely. To yield oneself completely.”
Commitment is good, but in our language today, it implies too much ongoing effort on our part. It is too often bound up in circumstances that shift as sand on the beach during a hurricane. As such, commitment falls short, leaving us free to re-evaluate our decision and change it as circumstances warrant. The call of Christ is for you and me to yield completely – no turning back. And commitment cannot take us as far as Christ would have us go in our walk. Like going to Europe – you can drive yourself to the airport, but you will have to trust completely in the airplane and its crew to get you across the ocean.
When a pastor calls upon you to make a commitment for Christ, he better be telling you to abandon your life to Christ. A former pastor of mine said, “God didn’t invade planet Earth to change your life, He came to kill you!” Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25) You cannot accept His gift of salvation on your terms – with an escape clause or an opportunity to bail out if times get tough. Life in Christ is complete – on His terms. With His unconditional love, Christ calls us to an unconditional surrender. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20” I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Nobody who was ever crucified lived. And there’s no turning back. Is your commitment strong enough to ensure you will never turn back? Mine isn’t and neither is yours. We’re men, our will is insufficient. As Dirty Harry puts it, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”
This is standard Jesus set with His own life. Philippians 2:6-8 “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” Yes, Christ was committed – perfectly. And there’s the rub – our commitments, and the efforts to keep them, are imperfect.
What was so special about the death of Christ that goes beyond commitment? He was arrested and dragged all over town during the dead of night, repeatedly beaten and mocked through six separate trails. Whipped 39 times with a whip of leather with knots holding bits of bone or balls of lead. Romans had scourging down to science, bringing the victim as close to death as possible. The balls bruised, the leather thongs cut open the bruises. Continued beating tore into muscles, tearing them such that bleeding flesh hung in quivering ribbons. Arteries, veins and muscles were torn open, at times even entrails were laid bare. Normally, a victim would faint after two and half minutes.
How many of us would find a way out of a commitment before we got to the whip? And He had yet to face the cross. And we deserve that death; He didn’t.
Mel Gibson’s movie did not exaggerate the cruelty of the suffering Christ submitted Himself to.
Prior to His arrest, Christ prayed “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Then He was led away, beaten, and nailed to the cross.
Abandon: “To surrender one’s right; give up entirely. To yield oneself completely.” Not my will, but His. This is the standard, the call of Christ to men.
Who Holds the Future?
Professional athletes are committed. They work hard, give of themselves and perform amazing physical feats. But how often do contract disputes, injuries, personal issues get in the way of their commitment? As remarkable as your favorite football player is on the field, his efforts fall short of perfection. Since Troy Aikman could not predict the future nor control the aging of his own body, his relationship with the Dallas Cowboys ended a year or two earlier than he planned. In spite of his passionate commitment to play baseball, Daryl Strawberry’s unplanned drug addiction was more powerful. These athletes are wonderfully talented, but they cannot control what is yet to come.
Your marriage will never be what you expected. No matter how hard you work, it’s a commitment that you may not be able to keep. Your life will never turn out how your planned it. Because we are not in control and cannot see the future, sacred relationships must be marked – controlled – by something that will not change. Something outside yourself, that is true whether you agree with it or not, is true whether you know about it or not. God’s Word is true, will never fail, will never change. Everything crafted by man will fail, will change.
He calls you and me to walk in obedience as sons of the most high King of kings. He says if we love Him we will obey His teachings. We should be able to say, “I’m abandoned to the One who love me and gave Himself that I might have life eternal.” So great a gift – all the world’s riches could not buy it. Such a small price for me to pay – not to earn it, but to demonstrate that He’s given it to me – obey the perfect will of my Father in heaven, rather than my myopic, self destructive will. And He promises peace and joy – something the whole lost world is dying for and cannot deliver. How could we refuse?
No Turning Back
When Hernando Cortez landed his Spanish fleet on the shores of Mexico in the spring of 1519, he considered his mission too critical to quit. So when the difficulties in the New World proved to be more than his crews envisioned, he ordered them to burn the ships that brought them the new world – and could take them back to Spain. It may be that he had heard the legend of a Greek general who torched his ships so his army would not be tempted to retreat in the heat of the battle. Whatever his reason, Cortez took the commitment he and his men had made and turned it into being completely yielded. No turning back – abandoned to the mission.
Why does this matter?
Everyone wants to live a life that matters. Every godly man wants to leave a godly legacy. What does it take to do so?
Consider Goodyear, Rockefeller, Pulitzer, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Macy, Gould, Crane, Astor. Names you know. In 1886 some of the East Coast’s most prominent millionaires purchased a coastal island near Georgia for a hunting preserve and winter family retreat. Members of the exclusive, clannish Jekyll Island Club, they controlled one-sixth of the world’s wealth, forging together an alliance that virtually controlled America’s corporations and government. As an example, in one of the elegant private rooms of the secluded Jekyll Island Clubhouse, top government officials hammered out the first draft of the Federal Reserve Act.
The first transcontinental telephone call was initiated from the Jekyll Island Clubhouse to President Woodrow Wilson in Washington and Alexander Graham Bell in New York. J. P. Morgan twice financed the teetering United States government, staving off federal bankruptcy. The Jekyll Island Club was the absolute highest form of a temporal kingdom. These men were committed – devoted – to worldly success and had achieved it!
Though they once commanded one-sixth of the world’s wealth, these power brokers have two things in common with every other man of their era: All their plans have come and gone, and they are all dead.
Today, the Jekyll Island Club is history. Curious visitors wander among a half-dozen restored buildings scattered around the grounds. The overgrown weeds, the peeling paint, the shattered glass – all vividly illustrate the futility of man-made kingdoms. Except those restored for tourists, the posh winter “cottages” lay in ruin, representing the final destiny of all the kingdoms of man.
“What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). All the benefits of prosperity are temporal. All the risks of prosperity are eternal. Tread lightly in temporal kingdoms, for all our plans will come to an end, and then we die. The only profit that matters is an eternal one. Are you spending your wealth for Earthly pleasures or are you sending it ahead to heaven by building the kingdom of God?
What are you committed to? If your commitment is to reform your flesh – compelling yourself to bigger and better things – your focus is on the wrong target and you will fail. Your commitment, if you are to succeed, must be in Christ – plus nothing. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…” “Be anxious for nothing …” Not “Me first!” Where’s your focus? Your commitment? Want success in the battle over your sinful flesh? “Walk in the spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
Commitment? Go farther. Mere commitment won’t take you where Christ calls you to go. You want success in your walk with the Savior and your marriage? Deny – abandon – yourself to a higher calling. Are you willing to answer His call? Want to leave a godly legacy? The legacy you leave will be the legacy you live. You don’t build a legacy in the last six months of your life. As the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt one stone at a time, your godly legacy will be built one day, one decision, at a time. You can’t microwave it, buy it from L.L. Bean, or fake it. Live for Christ! Walk in the spirit and you will fulfill His plan for your life. Only at the end of such a life will you or I have the legacy we yearn to leave for our children and grand children.
In 1994, a team of Christians arrived in Stravopol, Russia to distribute Bibles. A local resident recalled seeing Bibles in an old warehouse – they had been confiscated in the 1930s when Stalin was persecuting the church. Amazingly, the Bibles were still there!
Among those who showed up to load them into trucks was a young agnostic student who was simply looking to earn some easy money. But he soon slipped away from the job with a Bible he had stolen. Some time later, a fellow worker found him in a corner, weeping. Out of the hundreds of Bibles, he had stolen one that bore the handwritten signature of his own grandmother. Persecuted for her faith, she had no doubt prayed for her family often. God used that woman’s Bible – preserved for 60 years – to convict her young grandson of his sins.
Romans 10:17 – “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” It is the Word of God that convicts people of their sin and brings them to Godly repentance. We must know this or else we will fear failure about our ability to witness and evangelize adequately.
Want success that matters? I do. Abandon yourself to Christ and let Him direct your work, use your wealth, and secure your future. There is hope in none other and in Him alone is there eternal security.