The Three Commitments of a Disciple (1/4)
Scripture: Matthew 4:18-22
Other sermons in this series
Our Saturday morning Men’s Bible study is studying the Gospel of John. Yesterday, we read John’s version of Jesus calling his first four disciples. As John present it, none of them knew Jesus prior to their accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow him and be one of his students. But it didn’t take long for each of them to be convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. And so, each of them left behind whatever he was doing and committed himself to becoming a disciple of Jesus.
I’d like to pose a foundational question, and for the next four weeks, including today, we’re going to be answering this question. And the question is this: what, exactly, is a disciple of Jesus Christ? Most of us would probably have to admit that while we know we’re supposed to be disciples of Jesus, we only have a vague notion of what a disciple is. By definition, a disciple is a student. A learner. Specifically, they’re a pupil of the teachings of another person. But it actually goes one step further. A true disciple orders their life around the teachings of that person. They adhere themselves to those teachings. So, it’s about both learning and living according to those teachings.
Admittedly, “disciple” is a churchy word. Even people who know almost nothing about the church per se know that the word disciple has overtly religious overtones. For some outside of the church, the word disciple is associated with cult leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and even Charles Manson, whose teachings were very dangerous and destructive. So, it’s important to recognize the word itself can be a bit off-putting for some. This is probably why many opt for less churchy word, “follower.” A disciple of Jesus Christ is someone who’s following him. This makes them a follower of Jesus Christ; a follower who’s learning from him and figuring out how to best order their lives around him.
At this point, I’d like to pause and, before moving on to our working definition of a disciple of Jesus Christ, ask another question. Why should any of us—or anyone for that matter—become a follower of Jesus? Is there something unique or special or indispensable about hitching one’s life-wagon to Jesus Christ over anyone else, or nobody else?
Let me pose this same question in a slightly different way. Based on how you believe being in relationship with Jesus should impact a person’s life, should there be a discernable difference between born-again followers of Jesus Christ and those who have no faith in Christ? That is, in regard to outward behaviors, theoretically, should there be a noticeable difference between committed believers and non-believers?
Personally, I believe there should be. I don’t believe that would make Christians better people than others, but I do believe a Christ-centric ethos, or ethic, is a higher standard than the ethos of the world. For example, where the world tells us to exact revenge for a wrongdoing against us, Christ tells us to forgive. I believe forgiving someone is a more noble standard of behavior than getting revenge. Well, according to well-established pollster George Barna, there’s almost no discernable difference in outward behaviors between believers and non-believers. In his book, Growing True Disciples, he shares the findings of his research in this matter. Here it is.
Donated to help others
Carry significant debt
Volunteered in the community
Gave to homeless/poor
Corrected incorrect change from teller
So, what’s the take-away from this? For me, this suggests that, on the whole, either we’re not taking our discipleship seriously or we’re not sure what being a follower of Jesus Christ truly entails. If those outside of the body of Christ look at us and don’t see how following Jesus makes us any different than them, it only makes sense that they would ask, Why should I?
In fact, another published finding that came out of the Fermi Project (a loose collective of evangelical innovators, entrepreneurs, and faith leaders who pursue endeavors that advance Christian goals) seems to suggest that the majority of 16–29-year-olds in our country have a very unfavorable view of Christians based on their perceptions of us. When asked how they view Christians,
- 87% said we’re judgmental
- 85% said we’re hypercritical
- 78% said we’re old fashioned
- 75% said we’re too involved in politics
- 72% said we’re insensitive to others
- 64% said we’re not accepting of other faiths
- 68% said we’re boring
- 61% said we’re confusing
If we’re called to be the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), I have to ask, how bright is that light? If we’re called to be the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13), I have to ask, how salty are we?
And so, I come back to my original second question: why should any of us be a follower of Jesus? My answer is this: because there’s no one else and no other thing in this world worth following. In John 6, Jesus gave a particularly difficult teaching to a large group of followers/disciples which resulted in many of them turning away and departing ways with him. He then turns to the Twelve and pointedly asks, “Do you also want to leave?” To which Peter responds—presumably speaking on behalf of all twelve—“Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are God’s holy one” (John 6:68-69).
Why should any of us be a follower of Jesus? Because Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the anointed one of God, Messiah, Savior, Redeemer, the source of all life. Yes, we know there’s still lots of room for us to grow, and get brighter, and become better witnesses to God’s saving grace. But the fact is, apart from Christ we’re dead in our sins. But in Christ, we’re made alive forevermore.
And so, the call is clear. Jesus calls us with the same words he called Peter and Andrew: Come, follow me, and I’ll show you how to fish for people. Another translation says, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.”
From this one invitation, roughly twelve words in length, we get the beginnings of a wonderful working definition, or description, of a disciple of Jesus Christ. Here it is.
In response to God’s loving invitation (remember, that’s what I talked about last week, how everything we do is in response to what God has done), a disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ. Now, remember, following doesn’t just entail learning from but adhering to. Ordering one’s life around, in this case, Jesus and his teachings. As a follower of Jesus, there are three overarching themes to which we commitment ourselves. They are:
- Being a part of the body of Christ.
- Becoming more like Jesus.
- Joining Jesus in ministry.
Put all together, here’s our starting definition of a disciple: A disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ who is committed to being a part of the body of Christ, becoming more like Jesus, and joining Jesus in ministry.
Here’s the correlation between Matthew 4:19 and this definition. “Follow me” corresponds to being a part of the body of Christ. We follow Christ in part through a real connection to the body of Christ, which is the church, specifically, a local church. Being an active part of the body of Christ is the surest way of following him. Not the only way, but the surest way. Unless they’re stranded on a deserted island all by themself, a disciple is not a long ranger; a disciple is someone who’s committed to living out their faith within the context of the church.
“I will make you” corresponds to becoming more like Jesus. The key word is becoming. Jesus makes each of us, and us as a church, into something. We become like Jesus. There’s a song in The Faith We Sing that goes, “more like you, Jesus, more like you. Fill my heart with your desire to make me more like you.” A disciple is one who makes every effort to be like Jesus on the inside.
“Fishers of people” corresponds to joining Jesus in ministry. If becoming like Jesus reflects what Jesus does in us, then joining Jesus in ministry reflects what we do in response to what he’s done. If Jesus is making us more and more like him on the inside, then our outward actions should reflect that reality. This is the part of the definition where the proverbial rubber hits the road. This is where discipleship is more than just growing in our own faith and understanding. The best Bible studies are those that move us to action. We take what we’ve learned about Jesus and respond to the teachings of Jesus by putting what we’ve learned into practice. When Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” that’s really an open invitation to find a way to actually work for peace in one way or another. A disciple is one who isn’t content to simply grow in knowledge but applies that knowledge to doing ministry in the world around them.
I have no doubt that Jesus issued lots of invitations to people to come and follow him. Most probably never gave it a second thought and walked away. But many responded positively and followed him. Of those that began following, some fell away, we know. But for those who stayed with him, following him changed their lives completely. It’d probably be safe to say that he turned their world on its head! But that’s actually a good thing, right? Because they were the ones who changed the world! The world has never been the same since Jesus inaugurated the church through his group of scrappy, unlearned, followers who applied everything they learned in those three short years with Jesus to the rest of their earthly days. And from their efforts and successes and failures and disappointments and victories rose the glorious church, through whom Jesus Christ has been present in our world ever since.
Friends, when we choose to follow Jesus, we’re choosing to be a part of that ongoing and always-unfolding work of Christ. Following Jesus is not a passive endeavor, but an active one. Following Jesus requires deep commitments on our parts, but he’s promised to never leave or forsake us in our faithful endeavors.
The bottom line? Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is our beck and call. And there’s no greater adventure in all the world than to follow Jesus wherever he leads us!
Come back next week, when I’ll share with you two of the most important ways we live out our commitment to being a part of the body of Christ. Until then, let’s pray….