Be a Disciple.
Topic: Topical Passage: Matthew 16:24–25
Of course, today is the first Sunday of 2019. I doubt you remember this, but the first Sunday of 2018 I preached from John 4:31–38, and I introduced our theme for 2018, “Reach Your World.” I challenged each of us to embrace Christ’s vision for the lost and to be busy reaching the world around us. Throughout the winter and spring, I did a lot of teaching on Sunday nights regarding evangelism.
As I thought about potential themes for 2019 it only made sense that we would follow a theme on evangelism, with a theme on discipleship and disciple making. Therefore, as you can see on the screen, our theme for 2019 is, “Be a Disciple. Make a Disciple.” So this year we want to emphasize the need for every believer to grow into a mature disciple of Christ, and we will give practical help in getting there.
Second, we want to emphasize the importance of making disciples, because every Christian has a responsibility to reproduce his faith and his ministry in others. And again we hope to cast a vision for disciple making and give your resources to be a disciple maker. And I’m especially excited to see what God will do in us and through us this year. And to kick off this theme, I’d like to spend this Sunday and next introducing the two sides of the coin.
As such, my title today, is “Be a Disciple.” We’ll look at several passages, but I’d like to begin by reading Hebrews 5:11–6:3. This passage confronts a common problem, which sadly is often the norm in American Christianity. Someone makes a profession of faith and initially they are excited about their newfound faith.
But then they grow “dull of hearing” (v. 11), and they essentially stop growing in knowledge and wisdom but also in obedience and holiness. And they are never ready to experience the “strong meat” of mature Christianity, because they can’t handle anything more than baby food. It’s so sad, because they miss out on the rich joys of Christ, and they oftentimes do more harm than good for the name of Christ.
As a result, if you are saved, God demands that you aggressively pursue maturity. I’d like to challenge us along those lines, and I’d also like to cast a vision for what goals we should be pursuing. I’d like to begin with the fact that…
I. Discipleship is the all-consuming pursuit of Christ (Matt 16:24–25).
One of the saddest parts of pastoral ministry is observing Christians who have no motivation to mature, or they are running the race but they seem to have no joy. There are several reasons some Christians seem stuck in neutral, but a very common reason is that they see discipleship simply as obeying And so being a disciple means that I don’t do A, B, and C, and I do X, Y, and Z. And it’s miserable because discipleship is little more than a leash on my sin nature. But the NT defines discipleship very differently. Fundamentally, discipleship is not the pursuit of cold, hard standards; rather…
Discipleship is following a person, and a wonderful person at that—Jesus Christ. Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 16:24–25. Notice that Jesus boils discipleship down to one simple idea. Discipleship means, “com(ing) after Me.” A disciple is a follower of Christ.
This is exactly how anyone in Jesus’ day would have understood the Greek term for disciple, mathātās. The term literally means follower. In the Greek world a disciple would attach to a teacher. He followed him everywhere, and he learned by observation. His goal was to become like his teacher.
It is so important that we keep this focus as we think about discipleship. Certainly, following Christ means that we need to pursue certain standards. But discipleship is not fundamentally about rules; it’s about Jesus. And if you want to be a motivated disciple, it begins with fixing your eyes on him.
And this ought to be incredibly encouraging because Jesus is a joy to follow (Matt 11:28–30). Jesus’ yoke represents his demands for discipleship. Incredibly Jesus describes his yoke as “easy” and “light,” because Jesus is “gentle and lowly.”
Now Jesus is not saying that the Christian life is easy. Jesus demands 100% commitment from his disciples. He says in other places that you better count the cost before you commit to him because it will be hard. Rather what sets Jesus’ burden apart is that it flows from his perfect and gracious nature. It is good and pure in every sense. It really is the best path.
And if you are going to be a motivated disciple, it all begins with believing what Jesus says right here and that as a result following him is worth every cent, because his path will end in glory and blessing.
Do you trust Jesus like that? Do you really believe that he is better than anything else you could gain? If you do, then keep your eyes on him. Don’t view discipleship fundamentally in terms of what you must forsake; see it for the joy of gaining Christ. Only then will you be ready to absorb a second truth in Matthew 16:24, which is that…
Jesus demands everything (read). Jesus is pretty blunt about what he demands. Discipleship means denying yourself, not serving yourself. It means taking up your cross, which is an instrument of torture, humiliation, and, death. And it means losing (i.e., sacrificing) your life for Christ’s sake. Christ won’t accept a weekend warrior. He demands everything.
That’s so contrary to much of American Christianity. So many offer Jesus as merely a quick fix to your marriage, psychological struggles, or loneliness. And many churches are built more on the selfish, petty cares of sinners than on the interests of God. The real focus is not on him and what he demands but on making you feel comfortable, telling you something you want to hear, and giving you a great experience. It’s no wonder that so many see Christians as hypocrites and that we have little power to impact our world.
We have to do better. We need to feel the weight of Jesus’ demand, and by the grace of God we must pursue his standard. Of course, none of us will ever do that perfectly as long as we are sinners, but that has to be our heart. “Lord, my heart belongs to you, and I want to follow wherever you lead.”
And I would be failing you today if I didn’t point out the consequences of the alternative. What does Jesus say will be the consequence for the one who “desires to save his life” or to live for this world? He will lose his life or his “soul” as v. 26 states. Jesus is clear that you can’t merely come to him for fire insurance or a free ticket to heaven.
The Spirit changes all who are truly saved, and they follow Christ. Again none of us do it perfectly, because we are all sinners. But the heart of a Christian who has been born again is to follow Jesus.
Therefore, if you just want to be enough of a Christian to keep God off your back, then you don’t really understand discipleship or what it means to be a Christian, and Jesus would say that you may not be one at all. If you have little interest in giving everything to God, you should take a long look at what’s really in your heart and ask if you really have new life.
But even if you do, all of this can sound pretty overwhelming. You may be sitting there thinking, “Wow, God demands a lot. I don’t know if I can do that.” But thankfully Jesus doesn’t just set a high standard…
Jesus empowers us to give everything (Col 2:6–7). God says that we take every step of our Christian lives from conversion to glorification in the sphere of Christ. The grace that gave life to the dead is the same grace that enables us to “walk in Him.” And 7 compares Jesus to the rich soil in which we grow and to the solid foundation on which the structure is built.
I absolutely loved preaching through Colossians 2 last spring, because Paul declares that everything we need flows from Christ. In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (v. 3), and we are “complete in Him” (v. 9), so we have everything we need to go forward in him.
And so does Jesus demand a lot? Absolutely. He demands everything, but he never asks more than he empowers us to give. And so as you think about discipleship, you should be sobered by what Jesus demands, but you shouldn’t think of it simply as an impossible mountain to climb. Rather, you should recognize Jesus has already walked down the path victoriously, and he has blazed a trail that you can follow. He won a mighty victory, and his grace is more than sufficient to carry you every step of the journey.
And so don’t lose heart if you are discouraged. Don’t despair. If you have fallen, don’t stay down. No, see Christ as both gentle and lowly but also as mighty and victorious. And then get up and just follow your Savior believing that he is good and he only gives good things. Pursue Christ! That being said, I’d like to spend the rest of our time talking about what specifically this path entails. Notice that…
II. Discipleship has a specific shape.
It’s always difficult to come up with something like a concise list of discipleship targets. What do you include and what do you leave out? My list isn’t inspired, but I have 6 discipleship targets that I trust summarize the primary emphases of discipleship. First a disciple strives to…
Love God Wholeheartedly (Matt 22:37–38): This one should be familiar to most of us. Matthew 22 tells us that a lawyer approached Jesus and asked, “Whichis the great commandment in the law?” Jesus replied in 37–38. Jesus’ answer is probably familiar to most of us, but I hope we never grow calloused to the weight of what Jesus says.
Christians are to love God, “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The point of the list is that God is to have first place in every part of our being. God wants us to love him supremely.
As such this command gives a wonderfully encouraging picture of God. He doesn’t just want our service like some coldhearted, selfish king. No God is our Father, and he wants our hearts. Our God is relational and near.
But on the other hand, talk about an impossible demand. I know my heart, and I know that it is filled with selfishness and pride. And every step I take toward this command meets with strong resistance, and oftentimes the resistance wins.
The fact is that you will never fulfill this command perfectly this side of glory, but that’s where we need to be headed by the grace of God. Christians must strive together to weaken our fleshly impulses more and more each day and to replace them with a zeal for God that drives my mind, my actions, and my affections. I hope that’s your prayer. “Lord help me to love you with every ounce of my being.” Second, a disciple strives to…
Live in the Power and Hope of the Gospel (Eph 1:15–19): Of my 6 targets this one is certainly the most neglected. We talk a lot about loving God and loving neighbor, and we talk quite a bit about holiness and obedience.
But it is amazing when you really watch for it how often Paul emphasizes the need for Christians to progressively learn to live in the power and hope of the gospel. It was everywhere in Colossians 1–2, last year.
And notice how strongly it factors into Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (read). Paul prays that God would more and more open their eyes to “What is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what isthe exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power.”
Paul understood that for a Christian to be motivated to go on to holiness he has to clearly see the great inheritance that awaits us. We must have a hope-driven pursuit of holiness. Otherwise it gets discouraging really fast.
And Paul also understood that in order for a Christian to stay encouraged in the pursuit of genuine holiness (not a worldly, legalistic counterfeit), he must appreciate the “mighty power” that has been made available to us in the risen Christ. Romans 6:11 says that the foundation of discipleship is, “You…must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Therefore, if we truly want to follow Christ and not just put on a show of righteousness, we must have an ever-growing appreciation of the power and hope of the gospel. Maturity doesn’t mean that I outgrow the gospel; it means that I sink deeper into it. I must be “rooted and grounded” in Christ.
Is that true of you? Do you love the gospel? Do you rehearse the gospel, sing the gospel, pray the gospel, and speak the gospel because you really believe that it is your life now and your life for all eternity? As I said earlier, we better not simply remember the death of Christ once a month during the LS; it must always be on our hearts because it is the foundation of spiritual growth. Third, a disciple strives to…
Know God’s Word and How to Apply It (Heb 5:11–6:3; Eph 4:14–15). Sadly we live in a day when this target gets little value. Many churches don’t give people much more than baby food. They tell people how to get saved, how to be happy, and how to live a good life. As a result, many Christians have no taste for the strong meat of the Word.
But remember from my introduction that Hebrews 5:11–6:3 says it is not acceptable for a Christian to remain biblically and doctrinally weak. Ephesians 4:14–15 echo this thought. We are responsible to grow into doctrinal maturity.
And other passages add that we must also become skilled in applying the theology we learn to the world around us. A mature Christian is discerning and wise.
Therefore, if you don’t have much of a stomach for deep biblical teaching or doctrine, that’s not okay. If you don’t have a solid understanding of important doctrines like inspiration, the Trinity, the nature of Christ, and the doctrine of the church, then you need to get there. If you think those things aren’t practical, then you are betraying your own ignorance. People who love God, ought to be hungry to understand everything God has revealed to us so that we can know God and know his will. Fourth, a disciple strives to…
Walk in Obedience and Holiness (John 14:15; 1 Pet 1:14–16). John 14:15 is pretty clear about the connection between loving God and obedience. It’s essential. If you love God, you must do what this book says.
And notice as well what is said in 1 Peter 1:14–16. Verse 14 assumes that our hearts are filled with evil passions. And other passages state that wicked hearts of men have created an anti-God value system, what we often call worldliness.
Therefore, it is essential to our discipleship that we put off worldliness and that by the grace of God, we conform ourselves to the holiness of God. Verse 16 is pretty blunt isn’t it? We are to be holy like God is holy.
Again, that’s not very popular in our day. Much of modern Christendom tries very hard to blend in with the world as much as possible. They believe that if the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn something, it must be okay.
And certainly God doesn’t want us to be weird for the sake of being weird, but the Bible is also clear that we are burying our heads in the sand if we think that we can embrace hook, line, and sinker pretty much everything that comes out of the hearts of depraved sinners and still be holy.
Discipleship requires that we stop longing to fit into the world, and we instead strive to be like our Savior, to obey his commands, and to be holy as he is holy. As you look back on 2018, how did you do in obedience and holiness? Are there any areas where you would have to say that you are refusing to obey what God has said? How about holiness? Are you conformed more to the passions of ignorance or the holiness of God? Discipleship requires that we walk in obedience and holiness. Fifth, a disciple strives to…
Love His Brothers and All People (1 John 4:7–11). You probably know that right after Jesus said in Matthew 22 that the greatest command is to love the Lord, he went on to say that the second greatest command is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” 1 John 4:7–11 expands beautifully on this idea. God says that love is central to his nature, and it must also be central to ours. He even goes so far as to say that someone who does not love others has no right to claim that he is a Christian. That’s pretty challenging stuff.
And it’s worth emphasizing that John is especially thinking of life in the church. John is speaking to Christians, so loving “one another” means loving fellow believers, though of course Jesus made it clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan that ultimately all people are our neighbor and that we must love them accordingly.
But still, the primary focus of our love is God’s people, so do you love God’s people? You can say all you want that you love the Lord, but God is clear that if you don’t love God’s people and express that love, your talk is pretty worthless, and you don’t really love God.
Maybe this is where you really need to grow this year. Maybe you need to commit before God that by his grace in 2019, you are going to learn to really love your brothers and serve your brothers. And then from there, you are going to love that difficult family member or that obnoxious coworker. Sixth, a disciple strives to…
Reproduce Himself (2 Tim 2:1–2). Again, the second part of our theme is “Make a Disciple,” and since I am going to give a whole sermon to this idea next week, I won’t develop this target now other than to say a good disciple is never happy just to receive. He is passionate to pass along the incredible work that God has done in him.
In conclusion, Jesus has called every Christian to “follow Him,” to be a disciple. This begins with the fact that you must be his child. If you don’t have Christ in the gospel, you can’t be a disciple. So do you know that you belong to Christ? Do you know that you stand in the death and resurrection of Christ that we celebrated in the Lord’s Supper? If you are not sure we’d love to talk with you afterwards about how you can know Christ and all that he offers.
And if you are a Christian, the challenge for you is to see Christ in all his beauty and grace. Trust him with your life, and then take up your cross and follow believing that, “whoever loses his life for my (Jesus’) sake will find it.” Discipleship will end in unimaginable glory. Praise the Lord!
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