What is discipleship? What does it cost us? Does it involve self-denial?
Jesus was quite explicit about the cost of following Him. Discipleship requires a totally committed life: “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). We must give up everything to follow Jesus. EVERYTHING!
Jesus is negotiating. I think maybe I can give up a few things (I really don’t want anyway). NOPE! That won’t work.
Sacrifice is expected.
“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
Jesus is our Master. We are His slaves. That is the demand of discipleship. We don’t own ourselves. Jesus is our owner. What Jesus wants is all that matters.
Over the past decade, more believers are heeding the scriptural call to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior”—but they’re often doing discipleship on their own.
Hispanic and African American churchgoers may represent an exception to the overall trend, showing even greater progress in discipleship while deepening community ties.
The results came from this year’s 2019 Discipleship Pathway Assessment, which tracks eight measures of belief and practice, and can be compared to a similar study LifeWay conducted in 2011.
Among Protestants who attend church at least once each month:
- Most believe that an essential part of following Christ is saying “no” to the self and living to glorify God. This year, 66 percent of believers agreed with the statement, “A Christian must learn to deny himself or herself to serve Christ.” Slightly fewer (64%) churchgoers prioritized obedience when LifeWay studied Christian discipleship in 2011.
- They are spending more time in the Word. In 2019, 59 percent of churchgoers read the Bible every day or a few times each week, compared with 45 percent in 2011.
- Over three-quarters of respondents agreed with the statement, “I try to avoid situations in which I might be tempted to think or do immoral things,” up from 73 percent who agreed in 2011.
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What is discipleship? What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? Michael Spencer gives his take. Michael (1956-2010) was the founder, the primary writer, and editor of Internet Monk, Jesus Shaped Spirituality, and the moderator of the Boar’s Head Tavern. Internet Monk is consistently rated in the top twenty Christian blogs in the world.
I’m fascinated by the parts of the Bible that leave us to wonder what happened when the story is over. For example, how did the formerly demon-possessed man live after he moved out of the cemetery, gave up his chains, and returned to family and community? How did Lazarus live once he’d removed the wrappings? What was Zaccheus’s life like after he started giving the money back to those he’d robbed? And how did that prodigal son and his snarky older brother work out their future in their father’s house?
We can all speculate on what happened next because we know that something happened next, because we know something important about Jesus: he makes disciples. Christian faith and experience take on a form in the world. That form, which we call Christian discipleship, is the next chapter, the next act, the next destination in the ongoing experience of belonging to the living Christ.
Jesus didn’t invent the concept of being a disciple. The rabbis of Jesus’ time undertook students and followers in a “follow, listen, imitate” relationship as a typical form of rabbinic training. John the Baptist had disciples. The graduate seminar was replaced with meals together, weeks on mission, and hundreds of hours of conversation. Disciples in Judaism were not learning three hours a week. It was a life-consuming, life-transforming vocation.
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Jesus was quite explicit about the cost of following Him. Discipleship requires a totally committed life:
“Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
Sacrifice is expected:
“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24).
Jesus is my Master. I am His slave. That is the demand of discipleship.
Do disciples have joy even in the face of opposition? Absolutely we do. Jesus is kind and thoughtful. I know that. I am joyful. I am filled with the Holy Spirit who confirms it to me. I am growing joyful fruit. It is a wonderful gift from Jesus, my Master and Owner.
Note that it was not a sometime kind of thing. It was continual. The early disciples were always joyful and happy. It is just who they were, like Jesus. This is where I get to say one of my favorite things. God is in a good mood!
Following up from my last blog post (you can find it here)…
4) ARE YOU USING THE RIGHT PRODUCTS?
Each person’s skin is different. Though there are similarities – and on the grand scale the skin design is the same – we are all unique. That being said, this is the downside to skin care. No one product will work for everyone. Or even for your whole face (ahem – combination skin types). Or necessarily for a long period of time (sometimes the skin adapts and you have to change products). This is where knowing your skin and being knowledgable about ingredients and their purpose comes in handy (or at least have a chart that breaks it down for you). For instance, you don’t want to put a product on your face with ingredients that control and limit oil if your skin is already really dry. (Duh.) The problem is that most of the time we aren’t knowledgeable. (I know I was pretty clueless.) That’s when we fall into the trap of buying products that aren’t good for our skin type or are just part of the newest “skin trends.” It might actually be an amazing product, but it may not work for you. We get so desperate, or we’re just clueless, that we’ll fall for anything. Ladies, how many products have we bought that have just been plain duds (ok, let’s not keep count…)? They promised to do exactly what we wanted, and even the packaging looked inspiring and hopeful – but when we tried them the result was less than pleasing. We check reviews online (all or mostly negative) and realize that we’ve bought into a scam. Why didn’t we do more research first? Why did we buy on impulse? Job well done, marketing team. Bravo.
So in our lives, where have we bought into scams? Everything around us promises to fulfill us, to make us happy, to make our lives easier, to give us peace, to fix our problems, to make the pain go away. Things like the newest electronics, the coolest car, killer careers, an amazing house, beauty and fashion, or that guy you think is so amazing. No? What about these: the approval of people, your ministry, your friends, drugs, online shopping, revenge, your hobbies, your favorite tv shows, pornography, your workout routine, politics, medicine, alcohol, music, a family, food, sports, travel? Still no? Hmm, how about these then: feminism, the world’s claim that you can choose to be whoever or whatever you want to be, ”me-time”, religion, or – my personal favorite – “follow your heart”? Any of these ring a bell? Now, I’m not saying that all of these things are bad in and of themselves. In fact, some are necessary for life and relationship, or are good for being healthy, etc. What I am saying is that none of these things – I repeat, NONE – can or ever will fulfill us or do any of the things the world promises they will do.
The ONLY place where we find true and lasting fulfillment, joy, hope, peace, love, restoration and shelter is in the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s it. If you don’t believe me then feel free to try everything listed above. Maybe you already have. If that’s the case then the chances are you feel empty and broken. I know how you feel. I’ve been there – I think we all have. So I can tell you from experience that Jesus is the only one who has successfully healed my wounds, bound my brokenness, brought me peace in the midst of complete chaos, loved me when I was unloveable, was faithful when I felt abandoned, and satisfied my soul. He is the only one who has willingly given His life for me. He’s the only one who has taken on the full punishment for my sins – past, present and future. He’s the only one who has given me victory, because of His death and resurrection. He’s the only one who knows the depths of my heart, even more so than I do myself. He’s the only one whose kindness has led me to repentance. He’s the only one who has fought and won for me. He’s the only one who deserves my life – not a portion of it, but the whole thing. He’s the ONLY ONE. There is no one and nothing else that can do what He has done. And it’s the same for you. He’s the only one who makes good on His promises. We can look everywhere and try everything, but without Jesus our souls remain starved. (John 4:7-26; John 6:32-35; Psalm 107:4-9).
5) YOU’LL GET OUT WHAT YOU PUT IN
I’m sure you’ve heard this one before. What you put – or don’t put – in your body is reflected in your skin. Too much sugar? Acne. Not enough water? Extra dry, maybe even patchy, skin. Lots of water and healthy foods? Radiant skin. You get the point – this one is pretty easy. So what’s in you? Is it kindness? Is it an infatuation with some guy? Is it anger? Is it the desire to be “hot stuff”? Is it patience? Is it a sailor’s mouth? Is it gossip? Is it the Word of God? This is the point where we can easily become a pharisee and get tangled up in legalism. Legalism is definitely not part of the heart of God – but neither is an undisciplined life. This is where we have to be mindful and attentive to the Spirit of God on a moment by moment basis so that we are aware when He prompts us that something we are doing, saying or thinking about isn’t pleasing or honoring to the Father. Or maybe something is ok for everyone else right now, but it’s just not healthy for you personally in your current season. This is a simple and short point, but vitally important so I did not want to skip over this one. Be mindful of what you are allowing in, because that will produce the fruit of your life. (Mark 7:14-23; Proverbs 4:23; Proverbs 27:19; Matthew 12:33-35).
6) SURFACE LEVEL OR GOING DEEP
When you cleanse your face what are you trying to accomplish? Are you just trying to clean off the oil, dirt, and makeup of the day from the surface of your skin, or are you thinking about the surface as well as the “depths” of your skin? Or do you not care at all? Sometimes we just go for cleansing the surface because we’re lazy when it comes to skin care and sometimes it’s simply because we don’t know any better. I was actually a combination of the two – both lazy and skin ignorant – and when I was a teen I gave up caring since nothing I tried ever cleared up my skin. So I figured why try at all. But once I started to learn and understand more about the skin and what goes on both on and underneath the surface I began to take action. I took simple beginner steps (steps like identifying my skin type, identifying issues I deal with often, choosing the correct cleansers for me, and beginning to discipline myself in a regular routine) in order to cleanse and care for my skin properly (and with a prevention mindset!).
It is the same in our lives with the Lord. Are we concerned only with what people can see, or do we give Him full access to cleansing the deep places of our lives, or do we not care at all? This relates back to the “quick fix vs. the long run” that I mentioned earlier. “Cleansing” only the surface level of our lives won’t prove to be very effective or healthy for us in the long run. Actually, all of the issues that are there will only get worse with time. If you don’t see them now, just wait, they’ll show their nasty heads in the future and you’ll wonder how they got there “overnight” as well as how you can make them disappear overnight. But you can’t. It would now be a long process you’ll have to walk through to dig out all of that deep-seated dirt that you let build up under the surface. But take heart! If this is you, don’t be discouraged. Where the Enemy would love to see this bring shame to your life and push you further from the Father, use it as an opportunity to draw closer to Him. It’s not too late, I promise! It will be a process to let Him uproot all that has gone untended, but it will be worth it! (Matthew 23:25-26; Psalm 139:23-24).
Then what does it look like to give Jesus full access to the deep places of our lives? I’m glad you asked, because this ties in perfectly with my next point.
7) GOING TO THE SPECIALIST
There are times when an issue on our skin needs special attention and care, or maybe we just want to better understand our skin, so we go to a dermatologist or an esthetician. They observe our skin or – better yet – put us under a black-light to reveal any possible damage under the skin that can’t be seen with the naked eye until years later as a larger problem if it remains untreated.
Jesus is our Specialist. He wants us to come to Him when there is an issue that needs taken care of. Even if we can’t see anything, He wants us to come to Him so that He can put us under the black-light of His Word to reveal any inklings of sin that might be subtle, yet growing, under the surface. If we’ll just let Him do this, then He will give us the prescription we need to get rid of it. In other words, by His great kindness He will lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4) and allow His Holy Spirit to guide us throughout the day to help us take the steps necessary to walk out of the sin habit that was beginning to take root. If we stay in His Word, He will continually help us to renew our minds. Are you willing? Will you let Jesus into the deep, unseen places? He is the safest, most knowledgable, and most trustworthy Specialist there is. He’s waiting for you. Oh, and you don’t have to make an appointment and you won’t have to wait in line – just walk right in. (Psalm 51:1-2 & 7; 1 John 1:5-10; Matthew 8:2-3).
So what’s the outcome of learning about your skin, purchasing the right products for it, and staying disciplined in your cleansing routine and eating habits? Although it will never be absolute, one hundred percent perfection (sorry, we are human after all), the result will be clean, smooth, radiant skin (yay!). And what’s the outcome of seeking Jesus, letting Him cleanse us and digesting His Word every day? A woman (or man – if you’re still reading this, gents) after His own heart. As I said before, these are just a few of the points the Lord has shown me recently, and my hope is that they have encouraged and challenged you as they have me. I’ve heard some say that this is a scary prayer – and it is, because I know the Lord will answer it. But my desire is that my heart, and yours, would be like King David’s when he said:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24).
Ok ladies, recently I’ve been reading a lot – and I do mean A LOT – about skin care (so if you’re reading this, gents, bear with me). I got tired of regularly doing all the things I thought I was supposed to in order to take care of my skin, yet never seeing results. Or worse – everything that was wrong with my skin just got, well, worse. Even new problems started popping up. That was it. I began to surf the web for anything that might be of help. As I searched I stumbled upon a book about skin care that had AMAZING reviews, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I bought the book and within a few days it had arrived. That same night I sat down and started reading. Chapter after chapter, I kept reading. I was learning so much and just couldn’t put the book down – even though it was high time I got some sleep.
The best part in all of this was that I was beginning to understand why I had never – despite my efforts – had clear skin before and how I could achieve it. Someone who had a wide knowledge base on the subject was explaining to me, in a way I could easily understand, all about skin (it’s design, function, how and why to properly care for it, skin types, etc.) and how different ingredients and products either harmed or helped it. I started to get (dare I say) excited about taking care of my skin, instead of it being just another morning and night chore.
Here’s the kicker though – the more I read and began applying the things I was learning, the Lord started to speak to me. He used skin care as an analogy for how I should care for my myself and my relationship with Him. Well, the analogy clicked and made such an impression on me that I wanted to share it with all of you. Here are a few points of the parallels between skin care and soul care:
First, is mentality: are you prevention minded or treatment minded? In skin care you’re usually one of the two. Even cultures as a whole tend to fall into one of the two categories for their general public. Basically this means that you either take care of your skin before you see any signs of problems in order to prevent them from occurring, or you wait until you see issues pop up (i.e. acne, wrinkles, large pores, dark spots, etc.) and frantically run to the store (or online shop) to buy a product that promises to treat and relieve the issue – or that will simply cover it up. Now, I know that even if you live in the prevention mindset unwanted issues can sneak in that you have to treat. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about in general. On the grand scale. The way you generally view and think about things.
It is the same in our walk with the Lord. We either live in such a way with Him that we keep sin from gaining a hold on our lives, or we run scared to Him when sin runs rampant in order to “get right with God.” “Prevention” in our lives looks a lot like spending set-apart time with the Lord, reading and meditating on His Word, conversing with Him, being willing and ready to listen and obey when He speaks, as well as having those in our lives to whom we stay accountable and who will always point us back to Jesus and His Word. “Prevention” is life lived with the Lord on a daily basis, and only comes out of a place of love and reverence for Him. (Psalm 1:1-3; Hebrews 11:5).
“Treatment”, however, looks a lot like a lazy relationship with the Lord. Or none at all. Or keeping ourselves so busy that when the thought of setting apart time for Him – and Him alone – comes up, we push it aside, maybe with a twinge of guilt, thinking that we’ll get to it later. But when “later” has come and gone, Jesus still remains on the back burner. And then, like slathering makeup on a blemish infested face, we listen to a few good worship songs, maybe toss up a prayer in hopes to sway God from being angry with us for neglecting Him, and if there’s time, read the verse of the day on our Bible app. “Treatment” looks a lot like living life our way, then running to Jesus when we get into a mess, hoping He’ll pull us out. We aren’t really interested in the long-haul with Jesus. Not really willing to discipline ourselves on a daily basis and spend the time necessary to stay in a right and loving relationship with Him. In fact, we probably don’t really even care about Him at all. We’re probably in this relationships just for us, not for Him. All we want is the quick fix we hope He will give us if we ask in just the right way. I guess you could call this “selfish salvation” or being lukewarm. So which are you: Prevention or treatment? (Revelation 3:15-16).
2) SKIPPING = DAMAGING
We all have those days that we are completely exhausted by the time we get home and all we want to do is collapse in bed and sleep as long as our internal clock will allow. Even though we have the muck and grime of the day (makeup, oil, sweat, pollution) squirming around on our face, we’d really rather not take the time to take care of it. (Fun fact: every night that you neglect cleansing your face to get the gunk out, it ages you seven days – yuck!) I mean come on, we’re exhausted right?
Well, often times that’s how we are in our lives as well. We have busy lives and crazy circumstances which we all-too-often allow to run us into the ground. We get overwhelmed, frazzled, driven to our wits-end, and just plain exhausted. In the midst of all of that, it’s possible that we – at some point – gave sin a foothold in our day. Or maybe we’re so run down and weak that we relapse into past struggles. Or possibly it’s just the attitudes and atmospheres of people we’ve seen and places we’ve been that tried to cling to us throughout the day. Whatever the case, there’s grime and it’s clogging our pores. When the pores are clogged, the skin can’t breathe and function properly. The parallel in our lives is that our souls feel bogged down and grimy. Each day we have a decision to make: are we going to be cleansed by washing with the Word and spending time with the Father, allowing Him to purge everything in us that isn’t from Him, or are we just going to go to sleep? Unfortunately, the longer we wait to let Him wash us, the more aged and tired our lives become. Also, if you’re wondering why you have no impact when trying to help tired, thirsty souls, it may be because you yourself are tired and thirsty, in need of a cool splash of the Word of God. (Psalm 143:6; Psalm 51:10; Psalm 46:10; Psalm 119:9; James 4:8; Matthew 6:6; 1 Peter 1:22).
3) IDENTIFYING YOUR SKIN TYPE
Oh, the journey of identifying what kind of skin you have! I don’t know about you, but for me it was a pain. I always thought I had super oily skin, so naturally I would be an oily skin type. But then, as I actually started to pay attention to my skin, I realized I had areas that were super dry while other areas were super oily. Ok, so combination skin. Then sometimes my face would be tight and dry – even with oil all over it! Ugh! What in the world is my skin type?! Finally I got it figured out: combination skin, with extra dryness due to dehydration (not a lack of oil) as well as ingredients in the products I was using that were drying to my type of skin. The weather also played its part in affecting my skin. And, according to my dermatologist, I lack a protein that helps with skin elasticity, causing extra dryness and lines in my skin. Ok, good. Got that figured out. I learned that misdiagnosing your skin can cause you to mistreat your skin, leading to more problems than before.
How does this relate to your life, you might ask? Well, we all go through seasons. Some are short, maybe lasting only a few days, while others are long, possibly lasting years upon years. If we neglect identifying what season the Lord has us in, then we’ll have an even more difficult time trying to walk through it, or maybe we’ll completely miss everything that season has to offer. Is your season one of hardship? Then let it pull you further into the arms of the Father, not further away. Is it one of ease and smooth sailing? Then dig into prayer and ask the Father what it’s purpose is. Is it time to train someone else up? A time to prepare you for the next season? A time to learn to rely on Him even in the smooth times? Remember, it can be so effortless to neglect spending time with the Father in the seasons of smooth sailing, but these are the times to strengthen your foundation in Christ so that when the storms roll in you’re not swayed or knocked down. Walking through life with unidentified seasons brings confusion, frustration and unpreparedness. There is a numbing that comes from walking apart from the Lord, so walk with Him on a daily basis and allow Him to show you your season. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you, you never know what the Lord is doing in the big picture. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Also, read through the Psalms and see how each of the psalmists went through different seasons of life and encountered the Father in each one).
To be continued… In the next post I’ll discuss a few more parallels about skin care and soul care. Stay tuned!
The fifth and final step that flows forth as a result of DISCIPLESHIP has to do with the releasing of the student. This is the point at which the teacher says to the student, “I have no more to teach you at this time. I release you to go forth and do likewise – do for others what I have done for you.” Once again it is important to note that the student recognize and initiate the step of “release”. RELEASE is initiated by the teacher. You can see then, that RELEASE can be a fearful thing if we, as men of God, are not prepared. It must be obvious that the whole process of discipleship is designed to bring a man to maturity in such a way that he can go forth and DO as his teacher has taught him.
Whether we are talking about the university environment or a business situation or the Kingdom of God, the student is required by the teaching process to be willing to lay down his way of doing things or his thoughts or feelings about a particular subject. This process allows the teacher to impart information and experience that the student may not otherwise be able to receiver. Obviously, to deny oneself can be a humbling experience. Our Lord has shown us that, as we humble ourselves before God or His appointed authority, we are in a better position to hear and learn the Word of God through the man that He has given to us. Thus we can see that self-denial has the advantage of purging away preset thoughts and ideas, in order to make us more receptive. Then we can hear and open ourself to another. “The UN-descipled mind cannot hear the Word of God!” Discipline requires that we humble ourselves.
Last month our subject in this “Letter of Exhortation” was DISCIPLINE – establishing a new LIFE-PATTERN. This month we want to share on DISCIPLING. They’re not the same! As a matter of fact, in order to come into a new DISCIPLINE, we need to be DISCIPLED! And coming into the place of God in our Christian walk for almost all of us, a new LIFE-PATTERN.
Here’s a very practical word on the subject by one who has seen it work – in both directions. Only slightly edited, the following is by Bill Eubank, who oversees a fellowship in the state of North Carolina. . .
Discipleship is messy; there is no way around it. Imperfect people, following a perfect man, while persuading others to join the impossible task??? If it were not for the internal work of God in us, this is exactly what it would be. But with Gods help, being a disciple and making disciples – is an incredible joy. Knowing this, we must train ourselves to understand discipleship through a simple lens. We must learn how to view life, and the lives of others, through a lens that directs us towards Gods end goal – maturity in Christ.
Below are sections from two different articles on discipleship from ministries I have looked up to over the years, and there is a third take on discipleship by us, here at CTCI.
It is important to that we train our minds to view life through a biblical lens. A simple lens that can help us mature as disciples of Jesus.
“What is a Disciple”
Original Article: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/what-is-a-disciple
Jonathan Parnell of Desiring God
(Quotes are only a portion of the complete document)
“… a disciple of Jesus is a worshipper, a servant and a witness.”