What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? You need to examine your heart and make sure you are a true disciple.
The reality is that not all who claim to be Christians, are genuine. Some are not true disciples. Many people are false. They are deceivers and are also deceived themselves. We cannot safely assume that everyone who goes to church, and even some of the leaders, are true Christians. Many are not, and it is your personal responsibility to prayerfully avoid coming under their influence. In time, Jesus will identify all false people. Then they will be publicly rejected by Him.
We live in an age when many Christians have forgotten what discipleship is and do not like to talk about duty, self-sacrifice or hardship. The word “disciple” is used in all parts of the world. However, most Christians do not believe there is a price to pay for being a disciple of Jesus. In many denominations today, the people are not taught to expect any affliction, pressure or testing. Instead, the general teaching is that the Christian life is meant to be non-challenging, uncontroversial, moderate, and that we should fit in nicely with the unbelieving world around us. Some leaders go even further and preach what has come to be known as a “prosperity gospel”.
The prosperity gospel is the idea that Christians should expect to prosper financially and that they should pray for wealth, property and prestige in this life. If these prayers are not answered as expected, it is taught that the person lacks faith, or is not living right, or not pleasing God. The bottom line they say is that if we live in accordance with God’s will, developing the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and putting biblical principles into practice, then we will prosper. This includes financial success and promotion in one’s career (Deuteronomy 28:1–15).
WHAT IS A DISCIPLE?
What does it mean to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ? The answer is fairly simple, but it will change your life completely.
The word disciple comes from the Greek word mathetes, meaning “learner,” “apprentice,” or “adherent.” It describes a person whose mind is set on a purpose. “An apprentice or pupil attached to a teacher or movement; one whose allegiance is to the instruction and commitments of the teacher or movement.”—Paul J. Achtemeier, ed., Harper’s Bible Dictionary (New York: Harper San Francisco, 1985), p. 222. A disciple, then, is a person who is attached to a master or teacher for the purpose of receiving instruction. There can be no disciple without a teacher.
Disciples in Jesus’ day would follow their rabbi (which means teacher) wherever he went, learning from the rabbi’s teaching and being trained to do as the rabbi did. Basically, a disciple is a follower. Becoming a disciple of Jesus is as simple as obeying His call to follow.
In the New Testament the word disciple is used primarily with Jesus’ disciples. When Jesus called His first disciples, they may not have understood where He would take them or what impact it would have on their lives, but they knew what it meant to follow. They took Jesus’ call literally and began going everywhere He went and doing everything He did. It is impossible to be a disciple or a follower of someone and not end up like that person. Jesus said, “The disciple is not above his teacher: but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40 WEB). That is the whole point of being a disciple of Jesus: we imitate Him, carry on His ministry, and become like Him in the process. Yet, somehow, many believe that a person can be a “Christian” without being like Christ—a “follower”. This does not make sense. Many people in the churches have decided to take on the name of Christian with no corresponding works that would indicate they are following their Leader. This would be like Jesus walking up to those first disciples and saying, “Please come and follow me but do not worry, I do not expect you to do the works I do, or change your lifestyle. I’m just looking for people who are willing to say they believe in Me and call themselves Christians.” It is very clear that this is not what it means to be a Christian. But today, many who call themselves Christian live this way. It appears that they have lost sight of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
COUNT THE COST
Being a disciple involves a deep commitment to Jesus Christ and a determination to follow and obey Him for the rest of your life. That includes your possessions, ambitions, relationships, and even your own bodies.
The spirit of prophecy states: “Public opinion favors a profession of Christianity. Little self-denial or self-sacrifice is required in order to put on a form of godliness and to have one’s name enrolled upon the church book. Hence many join the church without first becoming united to Christ. In this Satan triumphs. Such converts are his most efficient agents. They serve as decoys to other souls. They are false lights, luring the unwary to perdition. It is in vain that men seek to make the Christian’s path broad and pleasant for worldlings. God has not smoothed or widened the rugged, narrow way. If we would enter into life, we must follow the same path which Jesus and His disciples trod—the path of humility, self-denial, and sacrifice.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 172 (emphasis mine)
Too many think that a Christian is simply someone who believes in God, or perhaps someone who goes to church. Unfortunately, this is an erroneous teaching and many are being deceived by it. Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is a path of self-denial. It requires a change in a person’s life–a renouncing of sin and the world. It involves handing over your whole life to Him and agreeing to follow and obey Him, whatever the cost may be. Once we surrender our life to Jesus, He has promised us blessings and happiness and, in the end, eternal life.
Being a disciple involves:
A Complete Surrender
To be a true disciple requires a surrender of your own will to His will, doing what He asks of you, even if if clashes with what you want to do. It may mean facing suffering, or even death, for His sake. A true Christian must be willing to surrender everything, body, soul and spirit, regardless of the outcome.
“The church of God, hated and persecuted by the world, are educated and disciplined in the school of Christ. They walk in narrow paths on earth; they are purified in the furnace of affliction. They follow Christ through sore conflicts; they endure self-denial, and experience bitter disappointments; but their painful experience teaches them the guilt and woe of sin, and they look upon it with abhorrence. Being partakers of Christ’s sufferings, they are destined to be partakers of His glory. In holy vision the prophet saw the triumph of the people of God.” –Sons and Daughters of God, p. 74
Joining the Army
Life as a Christian can be compared to someone joining the army. When you become a soldier you give up all of your freedom and independence. You agree to go wherever you are sent and do whatever is required of you, however hard it may be, even if it means going to your death.
It is true that very few of us have taken part in any military service. Therefore, the very concept of giving absolute obedience to someone else’s orders is unfamiliar, but we need to have an understanding of this. Otherwise we will not have a true idea of what is involved in being Jesus’ disciple.
God expects you to view yourself as a soldier in that spiritual warfare and to fight actively on His side. He also expects you to be alert and armed, spiritually, not militarily. We are instructed to wear the “armour” that God provides (Ephesians 6).
The war between good and evil has been going on ever since Satan rebelled against God and led astray one third of the angels in Heaven. The battle grew larger after Adam fell into sin. From then on many human beings also became God’s enemies, alongside the demons. This is why every Christian is part of that war and is expected to fight in it. Regrettably, this fact is not widely understood. Many may have heard of it, but do not take it seriously.
Even if we do know there is a war, many see themselves as non-combatants, or even as neutral. Those who think like this have no intention of fighting in any war or getting caught up in it. Whether you want to or not, you are already caught up in the war, if you claim to be a true Chrisitian. It is then that Satan and his demons will regard you as a target. It is not a war against human beings, involving physical weapons. It is, nonetheless, a very real conflict, which is fought on many different fronts and in every part of your life.
The Narrow Gate
Another analogy which the Bible uses to describe the life of a true disciple is the idea of going through a narrow gate. The narrow gates leads to salvation. The path on the
other side of the gate is a narrow and difficult way. A true disciple will face trials in their life.
It is not easy to make the decision to deny one’s own self and to do the duty outlined in the Word of God.
By contrast, the broad path, on which all unbelievers and false, compromised churchgoers travel, is very easy. On this path people can do whatever they want and life can seem easy.
The narrow gate means believing the true gospel, as set out in the Bible, rather than the lukewarm, compromising, counterfeit gospel which many so-called Christian Churches teach. Their man-made gospel is deliberately designed to be easy. The basic teaching is: “Jesus loves you and wants you to love Him.” There is little or no emphasis on sin, repentance, or God’s judgment, His law, Sabbath-keeping, His righteousness, etc. Neither do they focus on the cost and hardship involved in the life of true discipleship. Accurate Bible doctrine is not popular, therefore, a worldly church leader will not preach it. He fears being criticized for the things he says or he fears offending people and losing members. The real truth is that many fear losing their financial support (their job).
A Life-long Commitment
The word “disciple” is rarely even used in most of the churches today.
“We can not follow Christ without wearing His yoke, without lifting the cross and bearing it after Him. If our will is not in accord with the divine requirements, we are to deny our inclinations, give up our darling desires, and step in Christ’s footsteps.” –Sons and Daughters of God, p. 69
Most Christians settle for a life which is far less challenging or productive than what God intends. He wants us all to aim high and seek to become the best disciple that we can possibly be. If we aim high, He will provide the strength for us to reach the goal.
Regarding the disciples of Christ, their response to the call implied a total surrender and commitment. They left their jobs, their families, and their possessions to follow Jesus, and they heeded the call to love these things less than they loved the Master. Being a true disciple does not necessarily mean that we have to as they did right now, but we should be willing to do so, if needed.
It is a simple command that Jesus gave us, yet some find it extremely difficult. True Christ centred discipleship produces a complete personal transformation in our own hearts and in the hearts of the people we are teaching. Sometimes this can cause personal conflict in a person’s life when the human nature comes into conflict with the divine nature. The primary purpose in life for every disciple of Jesus is to teach others to be disciples of Christ.
We should all have people in our lives who are teaching us, and we should all be looking for other people we can teach. This is not only the duty of the pastors or Bible workers. “Every true disciple is born into the kingdom of God as a missionary. He who drinks of the living water becomes a fountain of life. The receiver becomes a giver. The grace of Christ in the soul is like a spring in the desert, welling up to refresh all, and making those who are ready to perish eager to drink of the water of life.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 195
“In every church the members should be so trained that they will devote time to the winning of souls to Christ. How can it be said of the church, ‘Ye are the light of the world,’ unless the members of the church are actually imparting light? Let those who have charge of the flock of Christ awake to their duty and set many souls to work.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 436
“We are to lift the cross, and follow the steps of Christ. Those who lift the cross will find that as they do this, the cross lifts them, giving them fortitude and courage, and pointing them to the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world.” –The Review and Herald, July 13, 1905
True discipleship can be summarized as:
- A supreme and unrivaled love for Jesus, a denial of self
- A firm decision to choose the way of the cross
- A daily surrendering to Jesus
- A genuine fervent love for all people, desiring to teach them the way of salvation
- A forsaking all to follow Him
“No mere theory of truth or profession of discipleship will save any soul. We do not belong to Christ unless we are His wholly. It is by halfheartedness in the Christian life that men become feeble in purpose and changeable in desire.” –Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 50
“Matthew ‘left all, rose up, and followed Him.’ There was no hesitation, no questioning, no thought of the lucrative business to be exchanged for poverty and hardship. . . .
“So it was with the disciples previously called. When Jesus bade Peter and his companions follow Him, immediately they left their boats and nets. Some of these disciples had friends dependent on them for support; but when they received the Saviour’s invitation, they did not hesitate, and inquire, How shall I live, and sustain my family? They were obedient to the call.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 273
Consider your ways
Ask your self if Jesus is your Lord, Master, and Owner. If we want to develop into a strong disciple we must then remain on the straight and narrow road and not give in to the temptation to leave it in favour of the easier and broader path which leads to destruction. It is our responsibility to find out whether we are on the narrow road; and, if we are, then to stay on it and not turn away onto the broad road. This responsibility is ours; no one else’s.
“Many come to us with the inquiry, Shall I do this? Shall I engage in that enterprise? Or, in regard to dress, Shall I wear this or that article? I answer them, You profess to be disciples of Christ. Study your Bibles. Read carefully and prayerfully the life of our dear Saviour when He dwelt among men upon the earth. Imitate His life, and you will not be found straying from the narrow path. We utterly refuse to be conscience for you. If we tell you just what to do, you will look to us to guide you, instead of going directly to Jesus for yourselves.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 118
When Jesus calls us, we must choose today to follow Him or to walk away. A genuine disciple will follow Jesus regardless of obstacles. Let us unconditionally surrender and follow Him courageously, honorably, and faithfully. We must begin now and continue each day for the rest of our lives.
Too many people want an easy life avoiding inconveniences, hard work, and discomfort. In taking the easy road, we are not experiencing the things that God wants us to face and overcome, and we are missing out on many blessings. In particular, we would miss out on some or all of the rewards that Jesus will one day give to those who have served Him faithfully when He returns to this earth.
“Be not discouraged; be not fainthearted. Although you may have temptations, although you may be beset by the wily foe, yet if you have the fear of God before you, angels that excel in strength will be sent to your help, and you can be more than a match for the powers of darkness. Jesus lives. He died to make a way of escape for the fallen race, and He lives today to make intercession for us, that we may be exalted to His own right hand. Hope in God. The world is traveling the broad way; and as you travel in the narrow way, and have to contend with principalities and powers, and to meet the opposition of foes, remember that provision has been made for you. Help has been laid upon One that is mighty, and through Him you can conquer.” –Ibid., vol. 2, p. 591
Reward of faithful true discipleS
One day Peter asked Jesus, “Behold, we have forsaken all and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” Matthew 19:27–29
Before receiving the crown of eternal life, we have to bear the cross in this life. “There are homes for the pilgrims of earth. There are robes for the righteous, with crowns of glory and palms of victory. All that has perplexed us in the providences of God will in the world to come be made plain. The things hard to be understood will then find explanation. The mysteries of grace will unfold before us. Where our finite minds discovered only confusion and broken promises, we shall see the most perfect and beautiful harmony. We shall know that infinite love ordered the experiences that seemed most trying. As we realize the tender care of Him who makes all things work together for our good, we shall rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” –Ibid., vol. 9, p. 286
Victor Shumbusho, DR Congo