In Jesus’ day, a disciple was a follower, a student and an apprentice of a rabbi (a spiritual teacher). If one wanted to become a rabbi, one trained as a disciple-apprentice to a rabbi, learned from him, followed him, and then started to do as the rabbi did. Jesus, by the way, was a self-taught rabbi; as God’s son he did not need to learn from a human rabbi.
Jesus commands us to be his disciples. We follow him, we learn how to live the spiritual life that he wants for us, we learn his teaching, and we spread his teaching to others and encourage them to become disciples of our Lord. Being a disciple, then, entails a cost, because we must give up everything to become his disciples [Luke 14.33]. There’s no room for the sort of easy-believism that has become popular today.
One could be a faithful disciple, or a disciple who is ineffective or inactive (just as one could be a good or bad student, but a student nonetheless; in fact, ‘disciple’ and ‘discipline’ come from the Latin word for ‘student’). A faithful disciple will seek to become disciplined, that is, trained in the ways of his/her master, and to become an effective discipler and servant to others. But we don’t have a choice in the matter – all who are Christians are called to be his disciples; we can’t be believers without following after him and doing as he teaches us.
Discipleship entails a cost of total commitment – leaving behind everything to follow Christ. When the original twelve disciples were called, they left their jobs and businesses (like their fishing boats) and homes to follow Christ and change the world. While most of us are not called to full-time Christian service, we nonetheless surrender everything that we hold dear to him. We may have many hopes and dreams, many plans and ambitions, goals and desires for our lives. But if Christ is not the center of those, they will be in vain. His plans for us may be different. And we must discern the longings of our hearts, what drives and motivates us. Is all that we do driven by pride, the desire to win the praise of men, the desire to live “the good life” or fulfill our own potential in our own way? Is it driven by anything else other than our personal commitment to Christ? If so, we must let it go.
We are to let go of our claims and desires for success, wealth, status, or whatever the world has to offer, in order to offer ourselves fully to our Lord. That alone is hard enough for some people, especially those who already enjoy some of those perks. But Christ expects even more than that, if we are serious about this call – he speaks of giving up everything [Luke 14.33]. We must let go of our other things that we are mentally and emotionally attached to – career, other people, ambitions, desires, things we think we need, things we think we deserve, or anything – though some of these may be good, they can come between us and God if they are more important to us than he is. We must make Christ the greatest attachment of our hearts. He must be the center of our thoughts, our plans, our entire lives.
This, then, requires discernment, praying and asking God to show us the state of our hearts, including our deepest motives and desires, and bringing those into submission to his will. We must pray to surrender everything to him. And we engage in the spiritual disciplines of a disciple to bring ourselves into alignment with him.
Christ wants not just all that we have or all we do; he wants the full attention and devotion of our hearts. We must cast aside any hindrances to his lordship, be they internal things of our hearts, or external things. This is the painful but necessary cost of discipleship. Only then can we fully follow him, and only when we fully follow him can we see where he wants to take us.
[Originally published in OEM Newsletter, Feb. 2010]