Dr. George Cherian
The word disciple occurs over 200 times in the New Testament to identify the follower of Christ. Although words like saints, witnesses, believers etc are frequently used, the word disciple will match better based on the great commission of Christ. Jesus said,” Go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt: 28:19).
When we observe the ministry of Jesus in the gospels we are convinced that He was not impressed by the number of followers or worshippers that crowded around Him. He was more interested in disciples and He took time to teach and nurture them. When Jesus gave a general invitation He said "come unto me” but he followed it up by the words.
“Learn of me” (Matt. 11: 28 & 29).We understand from the Scriptures that discipleship is costly. It is important to note that Jesus did not dilute the conditions to get more people to follow Him. While we are excited to share the popularity of Jesus, discipleship demands sharing His unpopularity also.
Discipleship calls for commitment to love him most, carry the cross in life, and be an influential witness in this world.
1. Disciples must love him supremely
While explaining the cost of discipleship to the followers Jesus said, “ If any one comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14: 26). When we interpret these words in the light of other portions of the Scripture, it is obvious that it is not that we hate our parents and loved ones but it means that Jesus requires our supreme love. He must come first in our love relationships. Our love for Jesus must dictate all other love relationships. Take the life of the great missionary Henry Martin.When he left the shores of England, he left Lydia Grenfil whom he loved and was planning to marry. His love for Christ called him to be an overseas missionary. Of course he loved Lydia, but he realised that the marriage will keep him from leaving England. As a disciple he loved Christ more than everything else.
In fact Jesus must be placed above self and personal reputation. As the Lord led Peter to a complete commitment, he asked Peter only one question “Do you love me more than all these” ?
2. Discipleship demands taking the cross
Jesus said, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after me” (Luke 14:27). Cross is a symbol of pain, suffering and shame. Jesus said that the world hated him and he also warned that the world will in a similar way hate his followers also. Hence Jesus warned his disciples to be willing to carry the cross and be identified with him.
Cross is also a symbol of selflessness. Christ who modelled a selfless life wants self-centredness to be removed from our life. So cross in a sense speaks about dying to self. Self advancement and self realisation is what we hear in our society. Christ has introduced a counter culture where his disciples refuse to live a self centred life. Paul in his letter to the Galatian church said “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Cross carrying followers of the master undergo rejection, shame and some even persecution. But through it all the redemptive work continues to be done in the world.
3. Discipleship also demands perseverance
Jesus wanted his disciples to persevere in their walk and labour with the Lord. He commented that “No one having put his hand on the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62.) Early enthusiasm makes many take a step to follow Christ. But when allurements in life and difficult situations arise because of their stand for Christ, many may tend to turn back and some even give up. But true discipleship calls for remaining obedient to the call and mission of Christ. Jesus used a parable to instruct the potential disciples to lead them beyond the initial enthusiasm. Jesus reminded the crowd that any man who wants to build a tower, must sit and count the cost lest he fails to complete it. Jesus added that such a one will be an object of ridicule by the onlookers.
The story of William Borden gives us a beautiful portrait of a true disciple. Borden, an heir to his family’s business and wealth, decided to be a missionary. He wrote on the back of his Bible “No Reserves”. On being offered high paying jobs he said, “No Retreat”. He was set on the commitment to supremely love the Lord and never to look back or retreat. No wonder that at the end of his very short life, dying in a foreign land because of cerebral meningitis, he could write two more words of a triumphant disciple, “No Regrets.”
Impact of Christian Discipleship
Jesus compared discipleship to salt to illustrate the impact it can have in the world. As the salt flavours, preserves and permeates, a true disciple can have a redemptive influence in this world. Filth is overflowing in this society. But a true disciple can have a cleansing flavouring and disinfecting impact like salt.
But pseudo discipleship is like salt-less salt. Salt when it loses its flavor, Jesus said “it is neither fit for the land or for the dung hill (manure pit) Luke 14:35. When such salt is used in food it is poison and when used in the field it will kill the crop. What a graphic illustration of living as a pseudo disciple.
Jesus promised his disciples his unfailing presence, fruitful and effective mission in this world and a glorious future in the world to come. Christ prayed “Father I desire that they also whom You gave me may be with me where I am” John 17:24.
Discipleship is indeed costly but it pays to be Christ’s disciple.