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Hallmarks of Following Jesus

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G'day and welcome to Partake and to our series "Easter Weekend 2010"!  This is the sixth podcast of this series.  Last time we looked at Jesus ascending into the clouds, proclaiming He has authority over all things and commanding His disciples to go all over the earth, tell everybody the good news, baptize them and disciple them! Today we are going to look briefly at what a Christian Disciple is and then look briefly at what the goal of being a Christian Disciple should be!

1. What is a Disciple?

Before He ascended, Jesus commanded "God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:18-20).

In these verses Jesus commanded his Disciples to go and make other disciples.  In order to fulfil this command, He assigned the three tasks of going, baptizing and teaching as obligatory activities of daily life.  Baptism was symbolic of coming under the Lordship of the Trinitarian Godhead - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Baptism leads to teaching, which is a core part of disciple making.  Teaching was not just to be an oral activity, but an activity of helping everyone, particularly the weakest.  These instructions to Jesus' Disciples are just as applicatory to us today.  Some people today think that going to church makes them a Christian Disciple! But going to church doesn't make you a Christian Disciple, than going to Kentucky Fried Chicken once a week makes you a Christian Disciple!

The word ‘Christian' means ‘a little Christ'.  As Christians we are to be ‘little Jesus', as it were.  Key to our being as Jesus, is to be actively engaged in discipleship. Discipleship of Jesus means that Christians are to train, be trained, instruct and be instructed in the way of life Jesus showed.  To listen to some Churches today, it is all about just believing and nothing to do with training, instruction and following Jesus' way in life. Even though scripturally, sex is only to be within the confines of a committed heterosexual marriage, a lot of people who would call themselves evangelical Christians believe that it is fine to have sex before marriage.  They have fallen into the belief, that belief is enough.  They are being taught that church is all about having a high entertainment value.  A disciple of Jesus Christ is not just somebody who believes in Him. Rather it is following Him and letting Him permeate every aspect of life. Church is not about entertainment as its primary goal, but rather it is about worshipping God with awe and majesty and learning how to follow Jesus more closely.  That is why Jesus commands us to take up our cross daily.

The word Disciple derives from the Latin word discipulus, which itself is formed from the Greek word for pupil or learner, mathētēs.  The New Testament uses this word not only of Jesus' followers but also of those who followed Moses (John 9v28); the Pharisees (Mark 2v18); John the Baptist (Mark 11v2) and of Paul (Acts 9v25).  Therefore a Christian Disciple in its base form is a follower of Jesus, or a learner of Jesus. A learner is a person who is undergoing constant life change and being transformed increasingly like Christ.  A Disciple is somebody learning to be like Jesus in every facet of life, practising His presence with him or her and so engaging their life with Him so that He truly lives through them.

What is the primary mark of being a Disciple of Jesus Christ? It is that the Christian Disciple loving God totally and is loving people openly (Matthew 22v37-40).  As Christian Disciples, we are called to remain in this world, and to be growing and maturing.  Being a Disciple is not about how much you have of God, but rather how much of you, God has.  That is a another mark of being a Christian Disciple - handing control of all aspects of life to Jesus, because in all things He has the supremacy and the authority!  This is partly why the New Testament churches were seen as radical communities.  They were places filled with people dedicated in every aspect of life to Jesus Christ and His total supremacy, authority and will.  That is to be exhibited in the goal of all those who claim to be a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2.  The Goal!

I wonder what you think the goal of being a Disciple of Jesus Christ is?  Praying a lot? Perhaps it is reading and memorizing the whole Bible?  Doing lots of evangelism or doing lots of work for the church?  As admirable as those things are, they are not the goal for a Disciple of Jesus Christ.

The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 2:3-6 "We know that we have come to know Jesus if we obey his commands. The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did."

The ultimate goal for any Christian Disciple is to be as John wrote in the passage I read earlier: to walk and live as Jesus did.  That doesn't mean walking around in sandals, wearing white clothes and traversing the terrain where Jesus Himself walked.  The Apostle John means for us to be radical and holy, living lives worthy of that of Jesus, and in complete obedience to Him.

How can we be radical, obedient and holy? Jean Calvin said that denying oneself and relying on God for all things is the goal of the Christian life.  This can only be attained by total submission to the Holy Spirit and living a life of constantly "dealing with God" in all matters and letting Jesus permeate every thought, attitude and action.  Jesus already has all the authority and supremacy over every conceivable situation the Christian Disciple finds them selves in! So as a Christian Disciple, you may as well allow Jesus to take control of the situation instead of worrying and trying to do it in your own strength!  That is how Christian Disciples are to be radical and holy.  That is how a Christian Disciple endeavours to reach the goal of being Jesus to others!  This is done by a constant renewing of the mind (Ephesians 4v23), with a heart willing to be transformed by the Holy Spirit.  It is by loving others in such a way, that the end of a Disciple's generosity is only when the resources have expired.  A Disciple must live and walk as Jesus did (1 John 2v6).  There is no better way for a Disciple of Jesus Christ to fulfil this goal, than by imitating Jesus and obeying his command to "...take up your cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9v23).  This is seen as a higher challenge for the mind!  Dietrich Bonhoeffer extrapolates this further when he comments on Discipleship as a leading to death for all who follow Christ; either as a physical death or in being ostracized from the wider community.

For the first century Christians, just as in some parts of today's world, systematic persecution and martyrdom was a reality, as evident in the story of Stephen (Acts 7v59).  Yet it also means enduring suffering, for this is how a Christian Disciple maintains a "communion with Christ".  For it is through suffering, that we share with the crucified Jesus.  The bitterness of our cross is made sweeter, the more we dwell on the sufferings of Jesus and our enabled fellowship with Him.

As Christian individuals, we are linked together in a Christian community through rebirth, and our relationship exists only through our relationship with Christ.  There is no such thing as an individual member of the radical Christian community.  Members are interdependent upon one another, bound by a corporate and inclusive personality.  The church community is to be dynamic by nature, and individualism is oxymoronic and not coherent with New Testament teaching.

As we saw in our first study, serving others, as Jesus did throughout his ministry, is to be part of the life of anybody who would call himself or herself a follower of Jesus Christ. It is one of the hallmarks of being a Christian. Another hallmark is that of allowing others to serve us, just as Peter had to allow Jesus to wash his feet. By both serving and being served, we reflect the life of Jesus Christ. When serving and being served are out of balance, then usually it is our own innate pride that is at fault.

But how were the early church and the first Christian Disciples so dynamic and effective? The answer in our final Podcast released tomorrow. Thank you!

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