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.

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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)

Discipleship 101 #4 – New School

So, what does this all mean for us in our daily lives? What is it that a disciple of Jesus does? Let me list five things a disciple of Jesus does.

A disciple is a Reborn Follower of Jesus
There is no distinction between being a Christian and being a disciple. Christian means “belonging to Christ” and thus that Jesus Christ is your Master, your Rabbi, which means that you are His disciple, and thus follow Him. Now, here we could go into all sorts of discussions of belonging to Christ means justification, and that those who are being justified also will be glorified (Romans 8:30), so that no sanctification or following is required of a Christian/disciple/follower of Christ, for you will be glorified anyways. But regardless of the fact that this is true, this doesn’t take away the fact that Jesus Christ demands a lot from a Christian, which (if He is your Master, because you are His follower) must be obeyed. For those interested to find out what Jesus exactly demands from a Christian (and the world), a good book to read would be John Piper’s “What Jesus Demands from the World” which lists 50 demands from Jesus. Like I said in my first post, in the old Jewish tradition, the relationship between a disciple and his teacher is one of complete loyalty, dedication and submission. In Matthew 4:18-20 we read about the immediacy of following Jesus where it says, “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” And in Matthew 8:18-22, Jesus tells us what it means to follow Him, “Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Another of the disciples said to him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.’” But I think John’s writing is the most clear when he wrote, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

A disciple Submits to At Least One Other Person Who Teaches Him How to Follow Jesus
Character develops in community, but in order for character to develop it requires something. It requires submission. You need to be willing to submit to someone and letting that person speak into your life, and this requires humility (“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (1 Peter 5:5). So, humility leads to submission leads to character development (which means transformation into Christ-likeness). Humility is a starting point, not an end goal (see my post “Good Works Versus Humility” for more insights). The Apostle Paul in particular points this out in several of his writings. He says to Timothy, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me” (2 Timothy 3:10-11), and “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). And Paul says to the Corinthians, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:15-16). And we read in Ephesians 5:21 to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Being a disciple means to be a servant, and in this case it is a servant/servant relationship towards each other.

A disciple Learns Jesus’ Words
On this point obviously much can be said. Like the old Jewish disciple had an oral tradition which required them to memorize everything their rabbi said (and often meant memorizing the whole Law (the Torah or the Pentateuch or the five books of Moses) and much of the Prophets), so we should learn Jesus’ words. This should not be taken lightly at all. We should know Scripture by heart. It should ooze out of us, ready to be used “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We should have Jesus’ words ready in our heart for all circumstances, which means next to the aforementioned verse also for defending and confirming the gospel (Philippians 1:7) and for fighting the devil (Ephesians 6:11-17), which includes the Word of God being a sword (Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12). I like what Donald S. Whitney says in his book “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” when talking about Scripture memorization, where he explains the Word of God being a sword to be used. He says that if you need to defend yourself and you take out your sword, that knowing only Genesis 1:1 and John 3:16 will not be sufficient to defend yourself in most situations. (This obviously does not mean that we should turn the Word of God into a list of handy verses to be used for different situations!).

Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31-32). We need to abide in His Word if we are truly are His disciples. Why? Because we will know the truth! But there are more reasons, and the Psalmist says it quite beautifully. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:7-8), and “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-3), and “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11). So, the Word of God is perfect, it revives the soul, it makes wise the simple, it rejoices the heart, it enlightens the eyes, and it keeps you from sinning. In other words, it is life-giving!

A Disciple Imitates Jesus’ life and Character
This could actually be the most important one, although this should flow naturally out of submitting yourself to Jesus. Yet, this is a thing that many times is skipped in the process of being a Christian. Imitating Jesus’ life and character means sanctification, means spiritual formation, and means transformation into the image of Christ. “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.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). It means that we should “have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).

Imitating Jesus’ life and character leads to living a life of humility, for “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3). Imitating Jesus’ life and character leads to living a life of sacrifice, for “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1). Imitating Jesus’ life and character leads to living a life of submission, for “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Imitating Jesus’ life and character leads to living a life of obedience, for “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36) and “Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” (Acts 5:29). Imitating Jesus’ life and character leads to living a life of persecution, for “indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

A Disciple Finds and Teaches Other Disciples Who Also Follow Jesus
Jesus spent three years teaching and training the apostles, and when He left He told them in Matthew 28:19-20 to “go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The Great Commission is the normal job of a disciple: to raise up more disciples, and we could say that the Christian faith has done a pretty good job in ‘going’ and ‘baptizing,’ but that unfortunately the ‘making disciples’ and ‘teaching them’ could be described as the Great Omission. Something Dallas Willard wrote a whole book about. With the great commission transformation became mission. It reveals Jesus’ heart and priority. It launches a rescue mission. All followers receive orders to take action: “When he saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” (Matthew 9:36-38). When all who become disciples make disciples, the result is not reproduction (adding one disciple at a time), but multiplication (one become two, becomes four, etc)

These are the things that Jesus demands from His disciples.

Discipleship 101 #3 – Paul, An Example

As an example of what Jesus meant by discipleship, let’s have a brief look at the life and ministry of Paul.

Traditional Upbringing
He spent the better part of his life learning the ins and outs of traditional Jewish discipleship from Gamaliel, which means Paul was accustomed to the “old way” of discipleship. Paul says, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day” (Acts 22:3). In other words, Paul was raised up based on the traditional way of Jewish discipleship, which means he knows and practiced what I have been talking about in my first post.

A Father to Many
Paul regarded himself as a father in Christ to both the Corinthians, the Thessalonians and to Timothy. He said to the Corinthians, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:14-16). Of Timothy Paul said, “But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how a as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.” (Philippians 2:22). And to the Thessalonians he said, “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)

The father/son language is characteristic of the Jewish teacher/disciple model. Furthermore, he urges the Corinthians to imitate him, thus spurring them on to live out their discipleship. Paul’s language of father seems to contradict Jesus’ words of “call no man your father on earth,” but Paul doesn’t instruct them to call him ‘father’ (as in the “old way” use of language), but merely refers to the fact that he laid the foundation of the church and the gospel among them. They were made Christians by his ministry. He is their spiritual father, but he does point them to Jesus for he said, “What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)

A Disciple-Maker
Paul made disciples in Christ everywhere he went. In Corinth, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (1 Corinthians 11:1-2). In Philippi, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” (Philippians 3:17). In Thessalonica, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7)

Discipleship 101 #2 – Jesus Made It Unique

In the previous post I took a look at how the Jewish tradition dealt with the topic of discipleship. Now, the question that could be raised is whether Jesus’ views on discipleship were an exact copy of how the Jews did it, or if Jesus used the method of the Jews just as a stepping stone for deploying His model. You probably guess that Jesus’ model is unique, and actually twists the Jewish way at some very important points.

It Was Unique In Whom Jesus Chose
The first thing to notice is that Jesus chose His disciples, whereas in the Jewish culture the disciple chose his Rabbi. Jesus also specifically chose the Jews and their culture (rather than any other culture), and Jesus also chose unlikely Jewish people (like farmers, fishers, and carpenters as opposed to the rabbis or the sages) for His mission. Doug Greenwald, executive director of ‘Preserving Bible Times’ has a really good insight into the Jewish culture and why it worked perfectly for Jesus’ mission. He said, “The Jews had a passion to be pure. Purity being defined as doing those things that would honor God as interpreted by their rabbis. This means that they would never set foot on Gentile land or house; they would never dine with sinners; they would never seek out and fellowship with lepers; they would never see disabled people as being right with God; they would never see anything of redeeming value in a tax collector; they were zealous not to be compromised with Greco-Roman culture; they knew the Scriptures well; they were men of mostly ritualized prayer, and would pray at different times of the day; and they knew their own culture well.

Jesus chose men who had the basic raw material to help Him rescue the world, starting in Jerusalem. They had a passion and spiritual hunger; they were common enough to work outside the religious system; they had to give up a lot.”

It Was Unique in How He Defined Being a Disciple
In Matthew 23:8-12 we read how Jesus instructed His disciples to never raise up new disciples for themselves and take the role of master themselves (which was the Jewish tradition), “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Now you may think that this contradicts other parts of the New Testament which clearly talks about elders, teachers and leaders being ordained in the community. But Jesus is specifically talking about the traditional disciple/teacher here. Jesus says that his disciples are not to be like other disciples in that regard. Other disciples, when they are trained go and raise disciples for themselves and then they become the teacher, the father, the rabbi, the master. But Jesus’ disciples are not to raise up disciples for themselves, taking on the role of master, but raise up other disciples and point them to Jesus, as He is the only Master.

We see how Jesus applied this Himself to the twelve apostles. In the beginning of ministry in Mark 3:14, Jesus “appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach,” and at the end of his ministry in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus says to the twelve, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Now, this is a very familiar section of Scripture, but pay attention that Jesus says to His disciples that when they make disciples they should teach them everything that He commanded (as opposed to teach them everything that they commanded – which was the Jewish tradition). Why? Verse 20 says that He will be with them always. Jesus did not die, like all the “normal” Jewish rabbis did.