First, You Pick Up the Cross

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

Not to offend anyone here, but I believe we have a way to easy and convenient and almost metaphorical picture of cross-bearing. We are not talking inconveniences here. The term is way too glibly used. The general idea that these words of Jesus about bearing the cross refer to passive submission to all kinds of afflictions, like disappointments, pain, sickness and grief that come upon man in life, is totally wrong.

The one carrying a cross essentially walked down death row to their place of execution. He knew there was no turning back. He had no longer any say over his life. Actually, the person bearing his cross was already considered death.

So, to be honest, I don’t think it so much refers to total commitment. Let me explain. To commit means to bind or entrust or pledge or obligate. Now, in that regards, it is Jesus who commits Himself to us, and this is not in any way confirmed or enhanced by our commitment to Him (rather the opposite I would say). I don’t think it refers so much to the way to our death (Jesus didn’t bear His own cross walking to His death).

No, “we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:4). We are already dead, and brought to back to life, and are a new person. We are not committing to being that new person. We are that new person by His work, not ours. It is all by His grace, and it’s one way.

So, what does it mean then? It is a reminder BEFORE you accept the invitation by faith what the consequences will be. Remember that a disciple (in the sense of a follower) isn’t necessarily yet a regenerated person, a Christian. It is a reminder that when you accept His invitation by faith you will be a dead man walking for “those whom he called he also justified” (Rom. 8:30). You will die and be buried with Christ (by Christ), and raised to walk in newness of life (by Christ’s Spirit).

And read carefully what it says…

First, you pick up your cross.
You need to pick up your cross. No one else can do that for you. You are the one that must be willing to die to self. You pick up your cross. For Jesus the cross was literally dying to self, because Jesus died there as a human, and in another way, Jesus died there as God. And both were necessary to fulfil the Scriptures. What does it take for you to die to self? As long as you are not willing to pick up your cross, as long as you are not willing to lay down your life, you cannot be His disciple.

Second, you follow Him.
Once you are willing to lay down your life, you actually have to do it. And I believe these two actions go hand in hand just like the lame man in John 5 who got up after Jesus healed him from laying on that stretcher for 38 years. It is unthinkable that the healed man would continue to lay on the stretched. No, Jesus’ command of healing and Jesus’ command to get up go hand in hand. Following Jesus after picking up your cross is acknowledging that you would follow the life and pattern of Jesus. This is following Jesus at its simplest. He carried a cross, so His followers carry one. He walked to His self-death, so must those who would follow Him.

Third, you will be a disciple.
You can follow Jesus without being His disciple. Jesus had lots of followers, but all (even including His disciples) stopped following once they figured out where Jesus was going. No, being a disciple (a Jewish talmidim) means so much more. A disciple’s highest calling was to be a reflection of his teacher. A disciple studied to learn, to act, to speak and to respond the same way his master would act and speak and respond. A disciple studied to do the things his master did. His highest goal was to walk after his teacher. There is a story in ancient tradition that tells of a rabbinical student so devoted to his teacher that he hid in the teacher’s bedchamber to discover the mentor’s sexual technique. To be sure, this is a bit extreme, yet it demonstrates the level of commitment required to be a disciple. In Luke 6:40 Jesus said that “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Jesus made it clear that only cross-bearers can be His disciples. And if you are not His disciple, well, then why are you following?

I don’t at all think this is talking about the daily inconveniences of life. It’s about counting the cost beforehand. This whole section of Scripture from verse 25 till the end is all about counting the cost, not about what you do once you are a disciple.

Jesus. God, Man, Or Both?, Part 1

In response to a currently ongoing discussion about whether God emptied Himself in order to become human, here are some thoughts based on two sermons I preached about two years ago. One on Philippians 2:1-11 called “Rejoice! And Be Made Nothing” and one on Isaiah 9:6 called “Was Jesus Really Both God and Man.”

In this first post I want to take a look at Philippians 2:1-11 and the humility of Jesus, and in a subsequent post I will be digging into the humanity and deity of Jesus.

Unity: The Identity of a Christian
Let me start off by asking a couple of questions to probe your heart.

Do you feel any comfort of being in Christ?
When He saved you, He drew you near to Him, and made you a new creation and you were united to Him as a member of His body. How does this truth affect you when you are in need of His comfort because of any sort of suffering you are going through? How does being in His presence, being His child, being part of His family with many brothers and sisters encourage (in the sense of comfort) you in times of need? Do you feel any consolation from being in Christ? Paul says elsewhere, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Cor. 1:15). And the psalmist says, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Ps. 94:19). There is great encouragement, comfort and consolation to be found in Christ, but do you feel it? Do His consolations cheer your soul?

Do you feel God’s love for you?
God loves you. Consider that for a moment. The creator of the universe, the holy and perfect God loves you. In fact, He cannot stop loving you. He loves you so much that while you were His enemy, while you were separated from Him because of your sin, He sent His own son to die for your sins so that you could have a relationship with Him again. God loves you, always, in every circumstance, and whatever you are going through. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5).

Do you feel the reality of the Holy Spirit in you?
When you received Christ as your Savior, you also received the Holy Spirit. You were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Your spirit got renewed (regenerated) by being united with the Holy Spirit. You can now have fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and experience His joy and His comfort, and His counsel, and His truth in your life. In fact, Paul says in Romans 5:5 that it’s God’s love that has been poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit. How real in the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in you? How much do you call upon Him in the everyday things of life?

Do you feel a deep love for your brothers and sisters?
When you see one of your brothers or sisters going through some hardship, some sorrow, some weakness, some testing, how spontaneous does your heart go out and desires to help him or her? Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. Do you feel a deep capacity to love your brothers and sisters?

Now, you may wonder why I am asking you these questions. Well, here’s the thing. At the end of chapter one, Paul exhorts us to let our manner of life be worthy of the gospel by standing firm in one spirit and with one mind striving side by side for the gospel – in other words, being in unity together as we deal with all sorts of external conflicts – Paul now continues by saying: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Phil. 2:1-2)

So let me ask you this question: were you able to answer the four questions I asked you with a resounding ‘yes’? In other words, does being in Christ, and being in God’s love, and being in His Spirit, move you to be manifest His love to one another? Because this is what Paul is saying. That if we are united in Christ, and are united in His love, and united in His Spirit, and united by our love for one another, then let us be living in unity with one another, be knit together in mutual affection for one another.

This is our identity as Christians. You could say these are four gifts to a Christian – encouragement in Christ, comfort from love, participation in the Spirit, affection and sympathy. They are real. Communicated to us both in a direct, spiritual way from Jesus, as well as from Jesus through each other to each other. These four gifts are to lead to a deep, abiding, internal unity amongst each others, united in heart, soul, and spirit, setting our mind on the same thing. And it continues what Paul started talked about in the previous chapter: to live a manner of life worthy of the gospel, side by side striving for the faith of the gospel. But in order to do this, Paul encourages the Philippians to get their act together.

Unity is our identity.

Humility: The Activity of a Christian
So how do we attain this unity amongst each other? Paul continues: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:3-4)

Now this statement is absolutely countercultural. Our world exists, thrives, for selp-help, self-esteem, self-love, self-actualization. Not for humility. In the world, humility is not a virtue. It is not found. It is not what people desire or look for, at all. And so we must rebel against our sin nature, against our culture, against western civilization, that life is about your destiny and your rights and your vision and your calling and your giftedness and your glory. We must rebel against all of that, because it’s not true. It’s simply not true. Paul here gives us safeguards about love. He gives us the activity which both flows out of our identity as well as allows us to move toward it. Love through unity is both our starting point as well as our goal. He says first: “do nothing from rivalry or conceit.” Do nothing through strife/self-ambition, or vain/empty glory. Nothing! Because pride works itself out in these ways. So flee it with all that is in you.

Strife, rivalry or self-ambition is at the heart of our human fallenness, and it has to do with a desire to put yourself forward, to promote your own interest, your own ambitions, and your own goals at the expense of others. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul lists it as a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:20). And James in his letter says this: “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” (James 3:13-16)

Second, Paul says: “but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Now, what is humility? Humility is not to be confused with false modesty; it does not mean that you should falsely consider others better than yourself. But it has to do with a proper estimation of yourself, being well aware of both your weaknesses and of your glory (we are made in His image after all), but making neither too much or too little of either. Elsewhere Paul says, “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” (Rom. 12:3). True humility is therefore not self-focused at all, but looks to the concerns of others. We are to consider other not in our estimation of them, but in our caring for them, putting them and their needs ahead of our own. So, it is not so much that others in the community are to be thought of as better than you, but as those whose needs and concerns surpass your own.

Here is what I believe Paul says, and which I think is very important to understand so that we can apply it: pursuing humility by God’s grace starts with personal obedience of each one of us individually, but can only be worked out in the context of community; meaning that we need each other in our pursuit of humility. If humility means putting the needs of others ahead of our own, we need others’ needs to be able to do this, right? And I believe that if each one of us individually decides to pursue humility by the grace of God, that this will lead to the unity that Paul is talking about. Nothing builds a church stronger and healthier than humility. Nothing breaks and destroys a church faster and certainly than pride.

Where unity is our identity, it is humility which is the activity that fuels that identity.

The Example We Have In Christ
So, are you pursuing humility or not? The only way to pursue humility is that you and I would not work out of rivalry and conceit, thinking that we’re smarter than everyone else and better than everyone else, but by God’s grace in humility look at Jesus. Paul knows this. And so Paul lifts up Jesus as an example of not only the most humble that ever lived, but the only humble person that every lived or will ever live, by saying, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8)

Paul starts in such a comforting hopeful way. He says, “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” implying that it is possible this mindset. Paul doesn’t give us an example which is impossible to follow or attain. No, he exhorts us to pursue this mind of Christ with everything in us. It is all too easy for us to read this description of Jesus and admire it from a distance. God wants us to be awed by it to be sure, but also to see it as something that we must enter into and imitate. Obtaining this mindset, this attitude, is something we have a choice about. It is something we must choose to walk in. And I believe here as well, Paul is giving us a picture of identity followed by activity. The picture starts with the identity of Jesus, and Paul says that in eternity past Jesus was God. Jesus’ identity is that He is God. Certainly as God, Jesus did not need anything. He had all the glory and praise of heaven. Together with the Father and the Spirit He reigned over the universe. But then Paul says that Jesus did not consider His equality with God as something selfishly to be held on to. Jesus did not think of Himself; He thought of others. His attitude was that of unselfish concern for others. And so He made Himself nothing(!), taking the form, taking the identity of a servant. This is an incredible statement. I won’t bore you with the Greek grammar behind this, but what it implies that the true identity of God, His true inward nature, is that of a servant. Let that sink in for a minute. If you would have to answer the question: “Who is God? What is His true identity?” then the correct answer is: “God is a servant. That is His true identity”. We also mustn’t think that in making Himself nothing that God emptied Himself of His divine attributes to take on the form of a servant (more about this in the next post). No, His true identity, his true nature, is that of a servant, and He added humanity to His nature. This to me is absolutely mind-blowing.

When we read on, Paul tells us the activity that flows out of this identity: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Wow! Jesus humbled Himself when He became obedient. This was something that Jesus could only experience by coming down from the throne of heaven and becoming a man. When God sits enthroned in heaven’s glory, there is no one He obeys. Jesus had to leave heaven’s glory and be found in appearance as a man in order to become obedient. One key to Jesus’ obedience on earth was the endurance of suffering, as it says in Hebrews, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Heb. 5:8). This again was something He could only learn by experience by becoming a man. Here is what Paul is saying. Jesus is the most humble person and His death on the cross is the most humble event and act in the history of the world. Jesus willingly humbled Himself. Why? That He might lift us up! What?! Yes. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 8:5). God left being worshiped by angels continually to be disrespected by stiff-necked, stubborn, unrepentant, self-righteous, proud people, like you and me. And how did we respond to Jesus, who is God? We murdered Him. That is how proud we are. Not only that, Jesus, allowed us to murder Him. That’s how humble He is. And in dying, He is so humble that He died for me that I might have salvation and love and reconciliation with God who made me. My pride is laid on Jesus, and His humility is laid on me. This is absolutely astonishing!

How is all this for our example? Here’s why. We cannot be like Jesus in that we can die for the sins of world. That was His specific mission. But we can follow Jesus’ example in our pursuit of humility. Here are two thoughts:

  1. Humility means to be a servant: We have the tendency to be confused. Whereas God doesn’t think He is us, we too often think that we are like god. But if this were true; if we truly want to be like god, we would have to also portray the true identity of God, meaning: taking the form of a servant. Because God is a servant, and Jesus came to serve.
  2. Servanthood comes with sacrifice: Many people are willing to serve others if it doesn’t cost them anything; and if there is a price to pay, they suddenly lose interest. But that’s not serving. Serving comes with a sacrifice. Jesus did not only come to serve, but to give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). This means that service and sacrifice go hand in hand.

Jesus’ Exaltation
Jesus revealed that the principle by which God operates is that in order to be exalted, you have to humble yourself and become a servant. It makes sense thus that Paul concludes by saying: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11)

When we seek to take honor to ourselves, we will always be humbled – if not on earth, then for all of eternity. The promise of exaltation for the humble and humiliation for the proud is one ultimately fulfilled in eternity. Peter said this in his letter, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:5-6). The whole purpose of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation is the glory of God. As Jesus faced the cross, the glory of God was uppermost in His mind: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). The joy of pursuing humility comes not primarily from helping others, but from the knowledge that we are glorifying God. We may not see the glory today, but we shall see it when Jesus comes and rewards His faithful servants.

Let us imitate Jesus and make ourselves nothing, becoming a humble servant, willing to sacrifice for the benefit of others. Let us not think about glory other than the glory we want to give to God. Let us not think about our own glory. Jesus didn’t when He came down to rescue us. And if, if, we receive glory, let it be received through the giving of God, which is true glory, everlasting glory.

Discipleship 201 #2 – Small Group Questions

Here are some verses and questions for when you are getting together with your small group.

Transformed Mind
Read: Colossians 2:8; Colossians 3:1-4; 2 Corinthians 10:4-6

  • What are some of these philosophies or human traditions that we have to deal with?
  • What kind of weapons has Jesus given to us to destroy these arguments?

Transformed Character
Read: Matthew 4:1-11

  • What does Jesus’ reaction on the three temptation say about His character?
  • How do the three temptation relate to 1 John 2:16, and what does that mean for us?

Transformed Relationships
Read: 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Jude 1:20-21

  • How does 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 relate to the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)?
  • What does it mean to “keep yourself in the love of God”?

Transformed Habits
Read: 2 Timothy 2:3-6; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

  • What do the three analogies of the soldier, athlete and farmer mean?
  • How do you exercise self-control in all things?

Transformed Service
Read: Matthew 6:24; Titus 3:14

  • What are possible masters in your life that you need to get rid off?
  • What are good works that are needed in your city or neighborhood?

Transformed Influence: Lead the Way Jesus Led
Read: John 13:1-11; Acts 4:5-13

  • What does Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet tell you about influence and/or leading?
  • How did the apostles’ discipleship by Jesus affect their mission?

Discipleship 201 #1 – The Marks of a Disciple

These are my teaching notes of yesterday evening.

Back in March I gave a teaching called “Discipleship 101” where I tried to provide a definition for what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. The teaching notes for this can be found here:

In summary, a disciple of Jesus can be defined in the following five points:

  • A disciple is a reborn follower of Jesus (Matt. 4:18-20; Matt. 8:18-22; Jn. 10:27);
  • A disciple submits to at least one other person who teaches him how to follow Jesus (1 Pet. 5:5; 2 Tim. 3:10-11; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Cor. 4:15-16; Eph. 5:21);
  • A disciple learns Jesus’ words (Jn. 18:31-32; Ps. 19:7-8; Ps. 1:1-3; Ps. 119:11);
  • A disciple imitates Jesus’ life and character (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Tim. 4:7; Gal. 5:22-23,25; Lu. 14:25-27,33);
  • A disciple finds and teaches other disciples who also follow Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20; Matt. 9:36-38);

This teaching can be considered the follow-up, Discipleship 201, and discusses the transformational aspects (or marks) of when you imitate Jesus’ life and character.

Beholding the Glory of the Lord
According to John 15, we need to be abiding in Jesus, in order to bear fruit, we so we can become like Him, be transformed in His image. Since we are in Christ, we have a new regenerated heart from which we can live, with the help of the Holy Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says it like this: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

I think there are three questions that Paul wants to answer for us here:

How are we being transformed? – “with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord
We are transformed into His image by looking at His glory. How do we get an unveiled face? Paul tells us two verses earlier: “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (2 Corinthians 3:16). You become what you constantly behold. It is about fixing our gaze on Him, look at Him, think about Him, and put Him before us again and again. This is key to becoming like Him.

To what are we being transformed? – “transformed into His image
As we look into God’s mirror, we will be changed into the same image of the Lord. When we spend time beholding the glory of the God of love, grace, peace, and righteousness, we will see a transforming growth in love, grace, peace, and righteousness. We are being transformed – progressively, degree by degree – into the image of Christ the Lord. This work of transformation is a process. We are becoming like Christ. We are growing in our capacity to show Christ by being like Christ. That is God’s will for us. That we be progressively be conformed to the image of Christ.

Who is doing the transforming? – “For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit
With these last words, Paul is emphasizing two things. First, this access to God and His transforming presence is ours by the new covenant, because it is through the new covenant we are given the Spirit of the Lord. Secondly, this work of transformation really is God’s work in us. It happens by the Spirit of the Lord, not by the will or effort of man. We don’t achieve or earn spiritual transformation by beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord. We simply put ourselves in a place where we can be transformed by the Spirit of the Lord.

So if we are to be transformed into the image of Jesus, what is it that will be transformed:

  1. Transformed Mind: Believe What Jesus Believed
  2. Transformed Character: Live the Way Jesus Lived
  3. Transformed Relationships: Love as Jesus Loved
  4. Transformed Habits: Train as Jesus Trained
  5. Transformed Service: Minister as Jesus Ministered
  6. Transformed Influence: Lead the Way Jesus Led

Transformed Mind: Believe What Jesus Believed
We need to be transformed to have the same mind as Jesus. Believe what He believes. It’s one thing to believe in Jesus. It’s quite another to believe what Jesus believed. And the first cannot be what it should be without the second. The key verse here is Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The world (in other words, the popular culture and manner of thinking which is in rebellion against God – will try to conform us to their pattern, yet we need to resist this process. Renewing the mind has not as much to do feeling nor with doing. A life based on feelings says: “How do I feel today? How do I feel about my job? How do I feel about my wife? How do I feel about worship? How do I feel about the preacher?” A life based on doing says: “Don’t give me your theology. Just tell me what to do. Give me the four points for this and the seven keys for that.” It is not that God is against either feeling or doing, but rather we should ask “What is true here? What does God’s Word say?” It also not necessarily mean to get more knowledge (or better knowledge), for Ephesians 4:23 says that we should “be renewed in the spirit of your minds,” but it is the ability to set our mind on the right things.

Some more verses for personal study on the mind: Psalm 26:2; Proverbs 28:26; Matthew 16:23; Luke 24:45; 1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:2, 4:7; Colossians 3:2; 1 Peter 3:8.

Transformed Character: Live the Way Jesus Lived
We need to be transformed to have the same character as Jesus. Character being defined best in this case as maturity. The key verse here is Romans 5:3-4, which says, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” From suffering to endurance to character to hope. This is sort of a golden chain of Christian growth and maturity. One virtue builds upon another as we grow in the pattern of Jesus. We build character through endurance (or perseverance) which comes through suffering (or trial). James says it like this: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4). When it comes to daily worldly opposition trials fall under the three categories of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life (2 John 2:16). And if you think this is a new thing, consider that these three were exactly what caused Eve to sin in the garden. We read in Genesis 3:6, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food [lust of the flesh], and that it was a delight to the eyes [lust of the eyes], and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise [boastful pride of life], she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Some more verses for personal study on character: Matthew 4:1-11

Transformed Relationships: Love as Jesus Loved
We need to be transformed to show the same type of love in our relationships as Jesus did. The key verse here is John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The Greek word for new (kainos) here implies freshness rather than recent or different. It’s for instance also used in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation“). It’s not that Jesus just invented this command, but that He presents it in a new and fresh way. So what’s so fresh about it? Whereas the Old Testament demanded that men should love their neighbors as themselves (Lev. 19:18), the New Commandment is that they should love the brothers better than themselves, and die for their friends. The command to love wasn’t new, but the extent of love just displayed by Jesus was new, as would be the display of the cross. Love was newly defined from His example.

Some more verses for personal study on love: 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a; 1 John 4:7-21; 1 John 5:3-4; Jude 1:17-21

Transformed Habits: Train as Jesus Trained
We need to be transformed to incorporate the same habits as Jesus. The key verse here is Luke 6:40: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Training is not trying. We must not try, but train. Training means that we commit to rearrange our lives around the practices of Jesus. We don’t try to practice spiritual disciplines, but we train ourselves to implement them into our lives because Jesus did. And over time, through a patient process, we allow the positive effects of discipline to change us. We need to train hard, be disciplined, so that we will be perfected in unity with Jesus Christ (John 17:23), perfected in holiness (2 Corinthians 7:1), perfected in patience (1 Timothy 1:16), perfected in faith (James 2:22), perfected in love (1 John 4:12). We get encouragement for training and discipline by reading Paul’s statement in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Some more verses for personal study on training: Proverbs 22:6; 1 Timothy 4:7-8; 2 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 1:5-7; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Transformed Service: Minister as Jesus Ministered
We need to be transformed to have the same servant heart as Jesus had. The key verse here is Galatians 5:13-14: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’.” Clearly, we can choose to use freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. That option (or danger) is open to us. We can take the glorious freedom Jesus has given us, spin it, and use it as a way to please ourselves at the expense of others. This is the antidote for using freedom as an occasion for the flesh. The flesh expects others to conform to us, and doesn’t care much about others. But when we through love serve one another, we conquer the flesh. This is exactly the pattern set by Jesus. He had more freedom than anyone who ever walked this earth did. Yet He used His liberty to through love serve one another. The idea is that as we naturally take care of ourselves, we should also take care of others.

Some verses for personal study on serving: Matthew 6:24; Mark 10:45; Luke 22:24-27; John 12:26; Romans 12:11; Romans 14:18; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 4:10, Titus 3:14

Transformed Influence: Lead the Way Jesus Led
We need to be transformed to have the same influence as Jesus had. The key verse here is Matthew 5:13-16: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Disciples are like salt because they have a preserving influence. Salt was used to preserve meats and to slow decay. Disciples are like salt because they add flavor. Christians should have a preserving and flavorful influence on their culture. We are not only light-receivers, we are also light-givers. Jesus never challenged us to become salt or light. He simply said that we are – and we are either fulfilling or failing that given responsibility. The world will see the light of the kingdom through the good works done by Jesus’ disciples (and believers today), with the result that the Father who is in heaven will be glorified.

Some more verses for personal study on influence: Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 26:9-23; Philippians 2:5; Acts 4:5-13

Discipleship 101 #5 – What Shall We Say Then?

So, looking at all that has been said, what shall we say then?

All of this can be summed up in what Jesus said to the Pharisees: “But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” (Matthew 22:34-40)

So, the question I have to ask is: Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind? Do you really love Jesus with everything you got, trusting Him and following Him no matter what? Do you have the Word of God (the Bible) as the highest authority in your life? Do you read it, study it, meditate on it, memorize it, and apply it into your life? Do you really seek God with your whole heart? (Psalm 119:10). Do you really long for Him with your soul? (Psalm 84:2). Do you really want your mind to be renewed? (Romans 12:2). Do you love your neighbor as yourself? Do you love your enemies? (Matthew 5:44). Do you consider all to be your neighbor, as Jesus explains in the parable of the Good Samaritan? Do you live by the “golden rule” of Matthew 7:12? “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets

Discipleship is something you are, not something you do. It is a way of life for all of life in all areas of life (work, school, marriage, family, friends, etc.). It is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. We are called to be and make disciples!

I am currently reading the book “Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ” by John Piper, and the topic of the first chapter is about the glory of God, which ends with a prayer that I thought conveys beautifully the heart all of us should have towards God, and so I want to close off with this prayer by John Piper:

“O Father of glory, this is the cry of our hearts – to be changed from one degree of glory to another, until, in the resurrection, at the last trumpet, we are completely conformed to the image of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Until then, we long to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord, especially the knowledge of his glory. We want to see it as clearly as we see the sun, and to savor it as deeply as our most desired pleasure. O merciful God, incline our hearts to your Word and the wonders of your glory. Wean us from our obsession with trivial things. Open the eyes of our hearts to see each day what the created universe is telling about your glory. Enlighten our minds to see the glory of your Son in the Gospel. We believe that you are the All-glorious One, and that there is none like you. Help our unbelief. Forgive the wandering of our affections and the undue attention we give to lesser things. Have mercy on us for Christ’s sake, and fulfill in us your great design to display the glory of your grace. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.” (John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, p17-18)