Discipleship involves much more than salvation – it also involves the spiritual training and equipping of believers to be worthy disciples who can serve the Lord Jesus and execute the Great Commission of evangelising the world. Their main mission is to lead other people to Christ and to make disciples of them. All believers are called to become disciples and to commit themselves wholeheartedly to making disciples of converts from all peoples and nations (Matt. 28:19).
Surrender to discipleship
During the training of His disciples the Lord Jesus clearly stated the basic conditions for discipleship to them (Luke 9:23-26). There are four verbs in Luke 9:23, indicating certain actions that must be taken: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (KJV). There must first be an act of volition by the prospective disciple to follow the Lord Jesus; then he must deny himself, identify with the cross of Jesus by dying to the world, and then follow Him in evangelising the world.
As is the case with salvation (Rev. 22:17), every believer must have the desire, or will, to pursue sanctification and discipleship. If so, then self-denial is the following step. The lust of the flesh and the world must be put off if you wish to follow Christ with an undivided heart. There is only one way of doing this, and that is to surrender yourself completely to the guidance of the Holy Spirit while you glory in the cross of Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to you, and you to the world (Gal. 6:14). The taking up of the cross must be a daily act of surrender. Should you stop doing it, the flesh will be released from its crucified position and gradually starts manifesting itself again in your life. That will be a foolish thing to do, as spiritual backsliding will be the inevitable consequence (Gal. 3:1,3). In the final part of the Scripture in Luke 9:23 the Lord Jesus says that we must follow Him. Through Bible study and the acceptance of the Lord’s guidance you will continue to follow Him and thus to fulfil your calling as a disciple. If you are within the will of the Lord, every stumbling-block will be removed and your way made straight.
The spiritual equipment for discipleship
After the disciples were taught by the Lord and had accepted the conditions for discipleship, they still had to be filled with the Holy Spirit before they could be witnesses of Christ and start working for Him (Luke 24:45-49; Acts 1:8). The Lord does the work of sanctification after His disciples humbled themselves and put off the lusts of the flesh and the world. The first disciples received this blessing on the day of Pentecost. After they were endued with the power of the Holy Spirit, they proclaimed the gospel with boldness. The day when Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit, “straightaway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20 KJV). Afterwards, the disciples often had new experiences of being filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31; 13:52). That is a life of deep dependence on the Lord (John 15:5).
The disciple’s daily life and ministry should always be in terms of the principle of the cross. That calls for continued self-denial to prevent the flesh from regaining its influence and domination. The disciple must not please himself but bear the scruples of the weak (Rom. 15:1). He must be long-suffering in the face of criticism and opposition, and not become discouraged (Heb. 12:3). He must not enforce his own opinion on others but have a teachable spirit and always bow before the authority of the Word (Ps. 119:59). Self-denial also demands faithful service to the Lord, which is contrary to a life of self-gratification and covetousness (Ps. 119:36).
Disciples of Christ must be prepared to be persecuted for their faith (John 15:18-21). We are followers of the suffering Messiah who was rejected by the world, and for that reason the world hates us (John 16:33). The early disciples experienced tremendous persecution and encouraged one another by saying: “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Paul said: “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29). Our light affliction which is but for moment, does not compare with the eternal weight of glory which will be revealed to us at the Second Coming of Christ (2 Cor. 4:17). When the Lord Jesus returns, we will share in His glory and be co-rulers with Him (Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12). Then, our days of suffering will be over (Rev. 21:4).
The responsibility of disciples
In discipleship there is a clear indication of collaboration from two sides: The Lord gives the power, but you have the obligation to walk worthy before Him while making plans to use the divine power entrusted to you. It will not be converted into works without your active collaboration. We need to actively and purposefully present our bodies as instruments of righteousness in the service of the Lord (Rom. 6:13). The following commands are relevant in this regard: Our bodies should be presented as holy and acceptable sacrifices in the service of God (Rom. 12:1-2; 6:22) and bear fruit that befits repentance (Matt. 3:8). We have been sent (John 20:21) to preach the Word in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:2).
In the execution of these and many other commands we must always remember that it is the power of the Lord that works through our weak bodies. The honour and glory for what is achieved belongs to Him alone. For all that Paul has achieved in his life of service he honoured God who graciously enabled him to do these works (1 Cor. 15:10). He realised that without the grace of the Lord he would not be able to do anything. Nevertheless, as a fellow worker of God, he had to exert himself actively in the service of the One who has sent him (1 Cor. 9:27).
May the Lord give to each of us grace to realise our high calling in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14). He does not only call us out of darkness into His marvellous light but also wants to make us Spirit-filled disciples of Himself – vessels that can be used of Him in the extension of His kingdom. Are you prepared to be equipped for this call? Then humble yourself before Him and wait on the Lord until He endues you with power from on high.
The privileges of disciples
- They are recognised by Jesus Christ and He intimately associates with them (Matt. 12:49-50).
- Christ is the light of their lives so they never have to walk in darkness (John 8:12).
- The Holy Spirit guides them into the whole truth of God and His Word (John 16:13).
- They are filled with the love of Jesus Christ to such an extent that the world can see that they are His disciples (John 13:34-35).
- They are honoured by the Father because they serve Christ and promote the interests of His kingdom on earth (John 12:26).
What happens to believers who do not comply with the conditions for discipleship? They disqualify themselves as disciples (Luke 14:27). A person who has not yet surrendered himself in this way is full of himself, of his plans and his ideas. He proclaims his own convictions and promotes the cause of his church or organisation, in which the kingdom of Christ is not necessarily the first priority. He wants recognition for everything he does and sounds a trumpet before him to announce all his good deeds (Matt. 6:2). Before they were filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples were also full of themselves and wondered who of them were the greatest in the kingdom of God (Matt. 20:25-28). The flesh always wants to stand in front of the row to be seen by everybody. The fleshly person is bitterly disappointed when his reputation is injured. In his heart he despises and rejects all those who do not honour and elevate him as somebody special.
Why is such a person with an uncrucified, fleshly nature unfit for the service of the Lord? Because he experiences an inner conflict which obstructs true Christian service (Gal. 5:17). Christians who still live under the domination of the flesh, like those in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, are self-centred, full of envy, strife and divisions, and because of their spiritual immaturity unfit to be used as disciples. When they do proclaim the Word in this state of mind, it is not done in demonstration of the Spirit and of power but in persuasive words of human wisdom (1 Cor. 2:4). That is a futile exercise as such words cannot convict people of their sin but only flatter their vanity (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
It is a common phenomenon of our time that people with carnal objectives exploit the Christian religion for their own selfish ideals. They are intent on enriching themselves, they strive after the honour of people and pose as great spiritual leaders. The devil helps such people in their carnal, worldly campaign because they deceive thousands of other people, sidetrack them spiritually and even drag them to hell. During the earthly ministry of Jesus, people shied away from true discipleship for other reasons. In those times it was not popular and socially acceptable to call yourself a follower of Jesus. Messianic Jews were persecuted and even disinherited by their parents. Their reputation and financial security were in jeopardy, which explains the high price that was due for discipleship (Luke 9:24-25). Whatever our circumstances, there is always a price to be paid to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. I must be prepared to sacrifice social esteem and rights while my self-interest should also die.
What a privilege to be a disciple of Jesus Christ! Although it is a demanding way on which we must shine as lights in the midst of a crooked generation, it is a great joy to be a blessing to others. If we persevere on this way to the end, our reward in the kingdom of Christ will be wonderful. I dedicate myself anew to the high calling of discipleship, and pray for grace to take up the cross every day, by whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the word, and to run with endurance the race that is set before me (Gal. 6:14; Heb. 12:1). I am not in this world to please myself, but to please Him who enlisted me as a soldier (2 Tim. 2:4). On the road of world evangelism we have the most wonderful promises of the daily presence of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 28:20). Soon the great harvest of His kingdom will have been gathered, then we will rejoice for every saved soul.
1. What are the requirements for discipleship?
2. What is the nature of the disciple’s dependence on the Holy Spirit?
3. Describe the role of persecution in the disciple’s life.
4. Name three of the privileges of disciples.
5. What are the characteristics of failed disciples?
Prof. Johan Malan