In Matthew 4, as Jesus was just starting His ministry, He was walking along the Sea of Galilee when he spotted a couple of fishermen. They had just thrown their nets into the water. He called out to the brothers, Simon and Andrew. In verse 19 He said to them, “Follow Me [as My disciples, accepting Me as your Master and Teacher and walking the same path of life that I walk], and I will make you fishers of men” (AMP). They immediately left their nets and began to follow Him. They then came upon James and John who were mending their nets. The same call went out. Verse 22 says, “Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him [becoming His disciples, believing and trusting in Him and following His example].”
In Luke 9, Jesus was toward the end of His ministry when in verse 59 a man calls out to Him saying that he would follow Jesus. Then Jesus asks another person to follow Him, but the man said, “Lord, allow me to go and bury my father.” He wanted to wait until his father died and he got his inheritance first. Then Jesus turned to another and asked him to follow. That person said he would, but first he wanted to go say goodbye to all his friends and family. We don’t know the names of these people because they had other priorities than submitting to discipleship by following Christ. There’s a stark contrast between them and the twelve disciples when Jesus called them. The ones who changed the world left their old life immediately to follow Jesus.
His call to follow Him still goes out to us. In Luke 9:23 says, “And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests], and take up his cross daily [expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me].” The call to follow Jesus is one where we give up our interests and way of living for His. Are we giving Him excuses or immediately obeying? It’s not a one time decision to do that. He said we must do it daily. Our desires will always be at war with His. Choose each day to immediately lay down the desires of self and express your willingness to follow Jesus no matter what. The things we lay down and left will constantly call to us too. He leaves the choice up to us whom we will follow.
Becoming a follower of Jesus isn’t a one time event. Jesus told us that we would need to take up our cross daily in order to follow Him. Being a disciple is to constantly choose to sacrifice your desires for His. In Greek, the language the New Testament was written in, the word disciple is mathetes. According to Strong’s Concordance it means, “a learner; a disciple, a follower of Christ who learns the doctrines of Scripture and the lifestyle they require.” What’s crazy is that Jesus didn’t tell us to go into all the world to make Christians. He told us to make disciples. We are to be followers of Christ who learn Scripture and live a life that daily reflects it. Paul said it was something we must press on for because it’s not an easy decision to make and live up to, but it’s who we’re called to be.
In Luke 18, Jesus encountered a man we’ve dubbed “the rich, young ruler”. He asked Jesus, in verse 18 he asked, “Good Teacher [You who are essentially and morally good], what shall I do to inherit eternal life [that is, eternal salvation in the Messiah’s kingdom]?” (AMP) Jesus responded by telling him to follow the commandments in the Old Testament. The man wasn’t satisfied because he knew there was something more than following rules to being a disciple and follower of Jesus. So Jesus told him, “You still lack one thing; sell everything that you have and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have [abundant] treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me [becoming My disciple, believing and trusting in Me and walking the same path of life that I walk].” The man walked away sad because he wasn’t willing to take his next step in discipleship. He was ready to accept the Bible and Jesus as Lord, but unwilling to daily follow Him. Being a disciple is a matter of the heart.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart [your wishes, your desires; that on which your life centers] will be also.” What do you center your life on? Is it your desires or His? Do you seek Him for direction for your life or do you allow Him to lead? To me, that last question is the difference in being a Christian and a disciple. The rich, young ruler was asking for direction, but unwilling to let Jesus lead his life. He lived life according to the Bible, but his heart kept him from experiencing the fullness of Christ. He valued his life, possessions and desires more. He wasn’t willing to nail them to the cross and follow Jesus fully. We’re all faced with that choice as Christians. Are we satisfied with being saved or do we truly want to become like Him learning Scripture and the lifestyle it requires? It’s a daily choice each of us must make.
One of the books I’ve just read is about discipleship and how churches can create them. The first section of the book helps to define the four areas where people get stuck in the spiritual continuum. Many people never move past exploring Christ. They stand at the edge of receiving Him, but aren’t willing to give their heart to Him. Others who have accepted Jesus struggle to reconcile their private faith with their public life. They have a hard time growing in Christ. Once people become a new creation and develop spiritual disciplines, their life transforms and they move close to Christ. However, the next move is the hardest. It’s one thing to live for Christ, but it’s a totally different thing to completely surrender to Him living a Christ centered life. It’s where we quit asking God for direction and give Him control.
Think of the story of the rich, young ruler who came to visit Jesus in Matthew 19. He asks Jesus what he needs to do to have eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. The guy then wants to know which ones. Jesus rattled off several of the 10 commandments. The ruler got excited and let Jesus know he’s been following the rules his whole life and feels like there’s more, so he asks what else. Jesus then tells him to sell everything he has, give the money to the poor and then follow Him. The young man went away sad because he was willing to follow the rules of Christianity, but he wasn’t willing to surrender his life completely to Jesus. He wanted Christianity and eternal life without fully surrendering his life.
Psalm 37:5 says, “Give God the right to direct your life, and as you trust him along the way you’ll find he pulled it off perfectly!” (TPT) We usually look down on the rich young ruler for not giving up his possessions, but you and I hold things back from Jesus all the time. We seek Him for guidance, but are we giving Him the right to direct our life? It’s like my driving navigation app. When it tells me to turn, sometimes I go straight because I think I know better. I’m driving and it’s guiding. When we approach Jesus that way, we may be living a life that is close to Christ, but it’s not fully surrendered to Him. God is calling you and I into a deeper relationship with Him that requires more surrender the closer we get. To fully surrender to Him is to fully trust Him.
Do you know someone who says they’ll do something, but when it comes down to it, they rarely do? Maybe their intentions are good, but once they see what it’ll cost them in time, labor or money they back out. All of us at some point have been guilty of promising to do something and then failed to follow through. That’s because lip service is easy. Our mouths often write checks they can’t cash. The problem is that we do that to God more than anyone.
Being a Christian is more than the initial prayer we prayed at salvation. We have to shed our old life because Christ has given us a new life. We go from having self led lives to Spirit led lives. In Romans 12:1, Paul wrote, “So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated and pleasing to Him. This is the true worship that you should offer” (GNT).
God is asking us to sacrifice ourselves as worship to Him meaning that we should give Him our whole life. It’s very costly to be a follower of Christ. I’m reminded of David when he wanted to offer s sacrifice to God at Araunah’s threshing floor. David offered to buy it in II Samuel 24, but Araunah offered it to David for free as well as the wood and the oxen for the sacrifice. In verse 24 David replied, “I will not offer the Lord my God sacrifices that have cost me nothing.” He understood that a sacrifice to God should be costly.
It cost us nothing to say words with our mouths, but it cost us everything to offer our lives as sacrifices. I once heard someone say that the problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar. It’s time each of us started offering God more than lip service and offered Him ourselves. If we want to live like new creations, we’ve got to take up our cross daily, sacrifice our selfish desires to it and follow Jesus as a living sacrifice.