About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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Jesus Defines Discipleship

In an earlier article I defined what a disciple of Jesus is based on the meaning of the word "disciple" and its Greek counterpart. In this article I would like to elaborate further, based on how Jesus defined discipleship.

One thing to note is that in first century Jesus was not the only one who had disciples. John the Baptist had disciples. So did the Pharisees and Greek philosophers. Yet the disciples of Jesus were distinguishable from other disciples because of Jesus’ criteria for discipleship.

Discipleship teaching is prevalent these days. I would suggest that much of today’s discipleship teaching can find its roots in the discipleship/shepherding movement of the 1960’s and 70’s, of which I was a part of.

In this article I want to go back beyond 1970 to the words of Jesus. So I ask, "did Jesus understand a disciple to be one who joined a mid week home group, have an accountability partner, and one who is ranked under a system of ecclesiastical authority"?

The answer is found in Luke 14:25 and following. In this passage Jesus addressed the crowd who continually followed Him. At this point in time He was well into His third year of earthly ministry. The crowds were getting larger. Conflict between Jesus and Jewish leaders was escalating, resulting in Jesus becoming more intense and forceful in the things He said.

Upon seeing this crowd I believe Jesus’ frustration was evident. As He viewed these people He must have asked Himself, "do these people really want to follow me, or are they tagging along for other reasons"?

For this reason I believe Jesus spoke the following words to this crowd. He said, "if anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brother and sister – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple". These are definitely forceful words.

Jesus is not saying that we should become nasty to our family and do all sorts of evil things to them. He is saying that His disciples will put Him first in all things. Our commitment to Jesus should be so strong that when compared to our commitment to family, it would appear that we hate our family. Jesus even told us that at times our commitment to Him might put a strain on family relations, separating us in the process. Still, our alliance is to Jesus.

As a balancing note, the Bible teaches that our love for Jesus is demonstrated in how we love our family, and those around us.

The key words here concerning being a disciple are the words "carry our cross". What does this mean? To Jesus, these words meant a physical death. He literally carried the cross that He was killed on through the streets of Jerusalem.

For us "carrying our cross" symbolizes death to our own self interests, and maybe even physical death as many martyrs have experienced.

We are surrounded by a culture that promotes one’s self interested, whether on a national level or a personal level. The promotion of one’s self interests inevitably means that we ignore the interests of others. One problem is that this promotion of self is prevalent among Christians today. Excess promotion of self and even one’s ministry is not part of being a disciple.

Discipleship is not merely attending mid week meetings, and being a student under someone’s teaching. According to Jesus It is laying down your life on a minute by minute basis. It is saying no to your ego and selfish desires. It is looking out for the well being of others. Therefore, many times during any given day we should be confronted with a choice to forego our own self interests to follow the interests Jesus. This is called "death to self", "carrying our cross", or "discipleship".

With this in mind we can ask ourselves, "am I a true disciple of Jesus according to His definition, or am I tagging along for other reasons"? I suspect that many of us are merely tagging along for other reasons. If this is so we seem to have two types of Christians, simple believers and disciples. Is this what Jesus intended for His people? Let me know.

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