Archive for September, 2011

Discipleship, The Craft of Following Christ

Christ calls us to an active and progressive life of growing, serving and becoming like Him.  Following Christ is a matter of becoming a “practitioner” of His form of living.  We become “apprentices” of Jesus.


Did you know that the name “Christian” was not a name we gave ourselves?  The Gentiles in Antioch called the disciples that in New Testament Times and it stuck.  It means “little Christ’s” or “Christ-people.”  It sounds a lot like the terms “Jesus People” and “Jesus freaks,” which were coined in the 1970’s.


Christians got this name because of the practice of learning and imitating Jesus.  They called themselves disciples—disciplined followers, learners or apprentices. A disciple is someone who dedicates his entire life to learning from, and becoming like, his teacher or master.


To follow Jesus, you must become His disciple.  Jesus gathered his disciples just before He left and told them to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing and teaching them to do all the things he taught” (Matt 28: 17-20).  He did not tell them get people to attend any kind of church or to agree to some four-point plan of salvation or to pray “the sinner’s prayer.”  He said to make disciples, that is, to teach people to follow Him just as they were taught.


Today, it is no different.  Attending a church doesn’t do it.  Associating with Jesus and agreeing to all the right theology will not help either.  Being a genuine Christian and getting the benefit of reconciliation to God has nothing to do with membership.  It is a matter of discipleship.


Jesus says to follow Him.  He tells his original disciples to go out into the whole world and “make disciples.”  There is no idea of accepting Him or going to church.  In fact, churches in any form did not exist until around the fourth century.  We don’t merely accept Him, we follow Him, obey Him, imitate Him, and learn from Him.


Discipleship, Part of the Package


Discipleship is not optional. It’s a part of the big upgrade you get when you are reconciled to God.  You not only get your moral guilt canceled, you get to be changed into something better than you are.


Jesus gives you the right to become a child of God.  These rights and privileges allow you to heal, grow, and mature into the kind of life He wants to give you—“abundant life.”

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12, ESV) [1]


When you believe in Him, you follow Him.  When you follow Him, you obey and learn from Him.  When you learn from Him, you grow to be like Him.


Following Jesus is what it is all about.  This is why Jesus calls His followers “disciples.” A disciple is a disciplined follower who learns and imitates his or her master or teacher.  It is like an apprentice, who learns a trade by being taught by his “journeyman” or “master;” he watches his journeyman and tries to do the work as he sees his teacher doing it.

If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. ” (John 12:26, ESV)


Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”” (John 8:12, ESV)


This is not a new concept at all. It is, in fact, a very old one.


 The Dust of the Rabbi


Jesus’ disciples followed Him and tried to learn and do everything he did. They listened to Him teach and questioned Him in order to understand more.  They literally followed in the dust of His footsteps and stuck very close to Him and to one another.  It is not so different for us.


We follow Him, too.  We have the His teachings in the Bible.  We are connected to Him and have the Holy Spirit inside of us.  We are close to a community of fellow followers. Since we have so great a connection, we also follow in His dust.  We become like Him.


Following Jesus is not a seminar.  It is not a weekend retreat.  It is not what you do on Sunday.  You don’t have to “clock-out” or turn it off.  It is your life (if you intend to follow Him), and it is far easier than you may have thought.


In following Him and acting like Him, the scripture calls us “Christ’s Body” here on earth.


A Conspiracy of Little Jeususes


Becoming like Jesus has vast implications.  Imagine millions of people all over the world acting and thinking like Him in every culture, economy, and situation.  Imagine finding people loving and serving others as Jesus does; struggling for life and reconciliation, for all people, all the time.


That is us, the disciples. We care for each other, and anybody else we encounter at the Lord’s direction.  We love each other, as well as the not-yet-reconciled, as Jesus loves us. What can be more beautiful than that?


Priesthood and Discipleship


In time, we will talk about something called “the priesthood of all believers.”  For now, I will just introduce the concept to you because it is a big part of what discipleship is.


When God led Israel out of Egypt, He took them to Mount Sinai.  There, He laid out the parameters of His relationship with them as a nation. This covenant, or contract, contained the laws governing them as a group, but it also had an interesting declaration.

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. ‘Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ the sons of Israel.” ” (Exodus 19:4-6, NASB95)


He said that if they obeyed Him, and held up the agreement, they would not only be His people, but also a “kingdom of priests.”


God’s promise was not just for Moses’ time.   Later on, the apostle Peter says the same thing in a letter to the followers of Jesus in his day.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. ” (1 Peter 2:9-10, NASB95)



Now, keep in mind that Peter is not talking to Jews, but gentiles.  They are ex-pagans who now follow Jesus.  They are disciples just like us.


This “chosen race and royal priesthood” is who you are and what you are becoming.  Discipleship is the practice of following Jesus.  There is nothing passive or overtly religious about it. But there is one last thing to mention here.


A New Look at the Man Behind the Pulpit


As we saw before, Discipleship knows no limits and we are deep in the life of serving Jesus.  We are a kingdom of priests.  We are not here to sit and watch while someone else does the serving.  We do not bring people to “church” to hear the Gospel.  We are the Church and we bring the Gospel to the world.  We are the ministers and we are all missionaries.


Every disciple is engaged in ministry.  The man behind the pulpit is not the only “minister;” but he serves a very important function for the rest of us.  The pulpit people are gifts for us for our work.  Their teaching equips us to do our jobs, just as it says in Paul’s letter to the disciples in Ephesians chapter 4.


Paul explains that Jesus conquered that which separated us from God.  Jesus takes all those things captive in a great triumph and then gives “the spoils” to us.  These gifts are listed in vs. 11.


You see, the people are the gift.  The gifts are not “offices” or professions.  They are people who God gave us to help us.


  • Apostles: plant communities where none existed and get them started
  • Prophets: Speak as God directs keeping us informed and corrected
  • Evangelists: Grow our numbers, giving us new disciples to mentor
  • Pastors: Guide us in our work and life
  • Teachers: Instruct and mentor us in God’s word and God’s ways


Think of your service to God as a car race.  These guys are your pit crew, and God is your sponsor.  God put His stickers all over your car and He put you behind the wheel; and, He gave you this pit crew to keep you on the track and in the race.


So, Now What?


Discipleship is not an option, it is the option.  You no longer need to think of following Christ as a passive, once-a-week act of religious devotion.


As a Disciple, you have something to do, rather than a list of things to avoid.  You get to grow and practice new ways of living.  You get to live a new life—not just talk about it, but actually live it!