Okay, it really isn’t a dirty word – but I think it is a misunderstood word. Let me attempt to clarify with some excerpts from The Spirit Of The Disciplines, by Dallas Willard.
He says, “The word ‘disciple’ occurs 269 times in the New Testament. ‘Christian’ is only found 3 times and was first introduced to refer precisely to the disciples…The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples of Jesus Christ.”
It seems that today, we use the word disciple to refer to super Christians. As if, somehow, we become a Christian then, if we work hard enough, or just get lucky enough, the day comes along when we get ‘promoted’ to disciple. Willard says, “The disciple of Jesus is not the deluxe or heavy-duty model of the Christian – especially padded, textured, streamlined, and empowered for the fast lane on the straight and narrow way. He stands on the pages of the New Testament as the first level of basic transportation in the Kingdom of God.”
He goes on to point out part of the trouble, “For at least several decades the church of the Western word have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or intended to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as condition of membership – either of entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denomination or a local church…So far as the visible Christian institutions of are day are concerned, discipleship is clearly optional…Churches are filled with ‘undiscipled disciples,’ as Jess Moody has called them. Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have not yet decided to follow Christ.”
Wow. Take a few moments and consider that assessment…at the very least, it should cause us to pause and examine ourselves. It might lead to repentance and revival.
Dallas’ thoughts are intriguing to me. How did the church get so far off track? Isn’t the “great commission” the task of making disciples? Where did the church stray? How did we get so farr from the original goal? When did we settle for simply adding numbers to a list?
The English word disciple is translated from the Greek word maqhthV (mathetes), which generally means “one who engages in learning through instruction.” But in a Biblical context it means more than just simply being a student. Where a student wants to learn from the master, a disciple wants to be like the master. A student wants to know what the master knows, a disciple wants to live like the master lives.
Here is what I think part of the problem in the Western (i.e. American) churches…we no longer seek to make disciples of Jesus, rather we want to make disciples of ourselves. We worry too much about how many people are following me to take the time to teach them to follow Jesus.
Maybe we need to be reminded what Paul said, “Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1, Good News Translation). In other words, Paul instruction the Corinthians to imitate him only when, where, and how he was imitating Christ.
Those are good words to live by. Yes, I would like to grow the numbers of our church. I would like to find new ways to reach outside the walls of the building and make a difference in the lives of those in our community, but we need to make sure that our goal is to make disciples that are pointed to the hope, peace, grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness that comes from God through Jesus.
Here’s the truth…we don’t have much to offer the world. We don’t. We…the best we can hope for is the opportunity to make Jesus visible and available to those around us. The best we can do is commit to be a disciple of Jesus – to undertake the task of being more, looking more, sounding more like him every single day. The best that we have to offer is to deny ourselves so that Jesus can have control. The best that we have to offer is the grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness that only comes from Jesus.
Discipleship is the key. Discipleship that calls men and women to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Discipleship that transforms our selfishness into selflessness and allows our gifts and talents to be used for the glory of God and the benefit of others. Discipleship that reminds us that our gifts, talents, and abilities are given to us so that we can be a blessing to others…not so that we can become the next idol.
Here’s a parting thought from Dallas, “Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it costs exactly that abundant life that Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10). The cross-shaped yoke of Christ is after all an instrument of liberation and power to whose who live in it with him and learn the meekness and lowliness of heart that brings rest to the soul…The correct perspective is to see following Christ not only as the necessity it is, but as the fulfillment of the highest human possibilities and as life on the highest plane.”
The disciple of Christ desires, above all else, to be like Christ.
Discipleship is the narrow way.
Quotes taken from Devotional Classics: Selected Readings For Individuals and Groups, Edited by Richard J Foster & James Bryan Smith, pages 13-17 “Excerpts from The Spirit Of The Disciplines”