Called to Discipleship
I hope, beloved child of God, that you and I are both gaining a clearer understanding of the nature of our calling; of what it means to be called out from this world and to find our place in this eternal, spiritual kingdom—the ekklesia—to which we now belong. However, it is also important for us to realize that not only have we been called out from the world, there are also certain things that we have been called to—or, to which we have been called.
In our mutual pursuit of authentic Christianity, I think we can agree that the quest most certainly draws us deeper into our own hearts and into realms of serious personal reflection. It is not enough that we only look outward at the big picture and the body of Christ at large; we know that we must look inward, as well. Our daily pursuit of those things that make for authentic Christian living in today’s world will always begin and end within us—within our own hearts.
For this reason, I am compelled to remind us that we are called to continue the pursuit of discipleship. I say, “continue,” because if you are, indeed, “born again” (John 3:3), then you already understand something of discipleship because you are, after all, a disciple, are you not? When Jesus gave His “great commission,” as we often refer to it, He said:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
(Matthew 28:19-20, NASB)
Note that Jesus didn’t say that our mission was to go about baptizing people. He said that our mission is to “make disciples,” then, “baptizing them.” The Apostle Paul said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…” (I Corinthians 1:17, NASB). The Gospel—good news—is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16, NASB) because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, NASB). So, as disciples of Christ go about sharing the good news of His sacrificial life, death, burial, and resurrection, faith is instilled in people’ hearts; causing them, too, to surrender to Jesus as both Lord and Savior and to become His disciples. The Holy Spirit, through the power of the inspired word of God, causes these disciples to be “born again of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5, NASB)—a reference to what happens the moment we are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
I trust that, on the day you were baptized, you did so as an authentic disciple of Christ with a sincere faith; experiencing your new birth into a whole new walk of life as you surrendered your heart to the will of God. That event in your life marks the beginning of a lifetime of discipleship.
But what does the daily life of an authentic disciple of Christ actually look like? Well, here are a few statements, from Jesus Himself, taken from each of the four Gospels:
Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.
(Matthew 10:32-39, NASB)
If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.
(Mark 8:34-38, NASB)
If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple… So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.
(Luke 14:26-27 & 33, NASB)
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.
(John 12:24-26, NASB)
From these passages, we learn that Jesus wants first place in our hearts and lives; and to be His disciple means we give Him that. Even our most treasured relationships on earth—father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter—appear as hatred when compared to our love and devotion to Christ. He must reign not only over all our relationships, but even over all our physical, material blessings. We cannot be His disciple if we do not give up all our own possessions. In fact, Jesus even goes so far as to say that we must carry our own cross. To carry the cross does not mean to simply bear up under some heavy load. It does not mean to patiently endure the hardships of life. Rather, it means that we must die!
To illustrate this concept, suppose you and I were to be suddenly transported back in time and, finding ourselves walking along the road to Jerusalem, we saw a crowd coming toward us with a man in their midst who was carrying a cross. What are a few things that we would instantly know about that man? We probably wouldn’t know his name, or who he was, or where he came from, or what crime he may have committed. But we would know that, whatever he had done, he had been discovered, arrested, indicted, tried, convicted, and that the ensuing judgment was death by crucifixion. Furthermore, we would know that, soon, he would be hanging from that very cross he now carried on his shoulders.
That’s what it means to, “take up your cross.” It means, as the Apostle Paul put it, to have “the sentence of death within ourselves” (2 Corinthians 1:9, NASB). Paul later explained this incredible way of living when he said:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
(Galatians 2:20, NASB)
If you are, in fact, a genuine, “born again” child of God, then you understand, to some degree, the commitment that you were making on the day that you confessed Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and went down into the watery grave of baptism to be “united with Him in the likeness of His death” (Romans 6:5, NASB). You understand that, far from being some legalistic work of law—“do this, get that”—your baptism demonstrated your “faith in the working of God” (Colossians 2:12, NASB) and your “appeal to God for a good conscience” (I Peter 3:21, NASB). But you also understand, don’t you, that your baptism symbolized your complete surrender unto God; it represented your death to self and to sin. The Apostle Paul says:
Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin… Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
(Romans 6:4-6 & 11-13, NASB)
The challenge every covenant child of God now faces is to, as Jesus stated, “deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23, NASB). Or, as the Apostle Paul put it, “I die daily” (I Corinthians 15:31, NASB). At the heart of this lifestyle of death lies the recognition of our own unworthiness, the acknowledgment of our dependency on God’s grace, and our desire to continually surrender our will to His will. And Jesus said it is a “daily” decision, a “daily” commitment, that we are called to make. I like that fact because, sometimes, we just need to take life one day at a time.
But we also need to realize that it is quite impossible to carry one’s cross—to die to ourselves and live for Him—while walking in rebellion to the expressed will of God. The Apostle John reminds us of that fact when he says:
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
(I John 1:6-10, NASB)
I find it interesting that the New American Standard Bible capitalizes the word “Light” in this passage; and I believe they are correct in doing so because “the Light” is not simply some abstract term describing the condition, or direction, of the disciple’s life. Rather, “the Light” relates directly the person of God. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12, NASB).
To “walk in the Light” does not mean to walk perfectly, or without any sin whatsoever; even though, as children of God that is our goal—“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew5:48, NASB); “but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (I Peter 1:15-16, NASB). But while our love for God keeps us striving for that life of holiness to which He calls us, the fact of the matter is that, even as we “walk in the Light,” still, we sin and “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB).
However, the Apostle John’s message contains a provision for our weakness. Note that the passage above says that, as we are walking in the Light, “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us [present, continual action] from all sin.” If walking in the Light meant we walked perfectly, without sin, then we would have no need for such cleansing. Also, if to “walk in the light” meant to live without ever sinning, we would have no need to “confess our sins.”
So then, just what does it really mean to “walk in the Light?” An important clue is given in the very same verse when it says, “as He is in the Light.” Remember that Jesus said:
He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.
(John 14:9-11, NASB)
Jesus walked in intimate fellowship with “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17, NASB). Jesus even attributes both His words and His works to the guiding influence of “the Father.” Jesus walked in the light by abiding in an unimaginably close and personal relationship with “the Father.” So intimate was this amazing relationship that Jesus said, “I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.”
Another clue as to what it means to “walk in the Light” is given in the preceding verse wherein we are told that, if we “walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” “The Light” stands in abject contradiction to “darkness.” “The Light” not only opposes, but scatters, disperses, and even annihilates the “darkness.” One cannot simultaneously be in both light and darkness. Jesus said to His disciples:
For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.
(John 12:35-36, NASB)
You may also remember that, early in his gospel, the Apostle John described Jesus as “the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:9, NASB); and said, “we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NASB). Truth and enlightenment are descriptors the “the Light,” and both are essential to our walk with God and to comprehending the grace of God poured out through the sacrifice of His Son.
John said, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” and “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:5 & 11, NASB). Though their Messiah was standing right in front of them, the Jewish scholars and theologians simply could not wrap their heads around just who Jesus was. “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness” (I Corinthians 1:22-23, NASB). However, as John also points out, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12, NASB).
So, I submit to you, child of covenant, that to “walk in the Light” is to walk in intimate relationship with Jesus. It is to walk with enlightenment, comprehending the truth of the gospel and acknowledging Jesus as God’s own Son, our Savior. It is to reach out by faith and receive the grace of God that He has provided for us through the sacrificial gift of His Son. It is to bring our hearts into subjection to the will of God and our lives into conformity with the truth of Jesus’ teachings. The Old Testament prophet said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105, NASB). Jesus said it this way: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32, NASB).
But, just as darkness and light do not coexist simultaneously, so also the Bible makes it clear that we cannot “walk in the darkness”—ignorance and rebellion—and still consider ourselves in an intimate relationship with Christ. If we do that, the Apostle John says, “we lie and do not practice the truth” (I John 1:6, NASB). Contrary to what many believe, authentic Christianity is not simply a belief system, it is a walk of life.
Thus, the Hebrew writer admonishes us, saying: “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification [holiness] without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, NASB). Wow—now that’s a pretty direct and challenging thought; and one to which we would do well to sit up and take notice! The word, “sanctification,” in this passage is the Greek word [ἁγιασμόν – agiasmon]—a form of the word, “hagiázō,” meaning: “to make holy, consecrate, sanctify; to dedicate, separate” (Hagiazo, 2013). To “pursue” this sanctification is to pursue a personal relationship with Christ by way of authentic faith. And authentic faith compels us to make every effort to distinguish ourselves as children of God, not only by what we believe, but by the way we choose to live. It is to bring our lives into conformity with the will of God; to seek to please Him rather than ourselves. As the Apostle Paul said to the ekklesia in Corinth, “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9, NASB).
Copyright © 2023 Salty Sails
All Rights Reserved