Summary: We learn to be a disciple when we make a commitment to learn, to grow and to be in relationship.
As we have thought together about what it means to be the church, we have considered what it means to worship, what it means to have a relationship with God, and what it means for us to be in relationship with each other. This morning we consider what it means to truly be a disciple of Christ. I thought that I might subtitle this “How to avoid being a pew potato.” Someone has written about the “balcony people” — the people who observe what is going on, but are never really involved. They watch others, but have never considered being a part of the action. There are many church people across the country who are balcony people. They are good, salt-of-the-earth kind of people. They are sympathetic to the cause of Christ, but they have never made a commitment to truly be a disciple. They have joined the church, and are even faithful in attendance and giving, but they are still not what could be called a disciple of Christ.
What does it mean to be a disciple, and how do you become one? I would like to try and answer that question this morning. There are several things which could be said, but the first I will mention is this: A disciple is one who has made a commitment to learn. The word disciple comes from the Greek word meaning “student.” A disciple of Jesus Christ is a student of Jesus Christ. But how can you be a student if you are not studying what the master is teaching?
Just a few weeks ago, the Barna Research Group surveyed people in Columbus, Ohio. The Dispatch reported that 77% of those surveyed said that religion was important in their lives. Of those who said that religion was important, only a little over half said that they read the Bible at least once a day. It makes you wonder how important people’s faith really is when they don’t care to read what God has to say. One interesting question on the survey asked whether or not: “the Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves.” Seventy-six percent agreed that is found in the Bible. The only problem is that the statement is found nowhere in the Bible. If the Bible teaches anything it is that God helps those who cannot help themselves. He helps those who humbly admit that they are helpless. But most did not recognize that this was not a teaching of the Bible.
One of the important qualities of a disciple is humility. We understand that we have not arrived. The problem is that there are many who really believe that they already know what the Bible says, even though they have not read it. They believe that they understand the teachings of the Christian faith, even though they have not studied them in any depth. Even Sunday School classes across the land can become merely an exchange of opinions, rather than searching out what the Word of God has to say. We have to have a teachable spirit if we are going to be a true disciple.
One of the other interesting things about the Columbus survey was that even though 75% believed that “the Bible answers most of the basic questions of life,” 53% either believed that “when Jesus was on earth he committed sins, like other people,” or were not sure whether he did or not. Forty-five percent believed that “all people will experience the same outcome after death, regardless of their religious beliefs.” Seventy-six agreed that the Bible was the Word of God, but at the same time, the paper stated, “respondents see a need only for sincerity in beliefs — whatever they may be. Over three fourths of those surveyed agreed with the statement, “It doesn’t really matter what your beliefs are, as long as you are sincere.” Barna summed up the philosophy of our society as “Even if it’s garbage, it’s OK as long as you’re sincere about it.” And then he concluded with this disturbing insight: “Correcting people’s mistaken assumptions about Bible content is made nearly impossible by their self-assurance about their beliefs. Even if they are exposed to good Bible teaching, they typically fail to absorb that input because they thing they already know it all.” They think they know it, even if they have never learned the basic material. And they also believe that their personal opinion trumps what the Bible actually says.
A learner is someone who understands that there is always more to know, and that it is important to learn it. Even if you are ninety-years-old you should still be learning. You will become a disciple of Jesus Christ when you make the commitment to be a life-long learner. If a scientist stops learning, she is no longer a scientist. When a disciple stops learning, he is by definition no longer a disciple. How can you say you believe the Bible if you have never read the Bible? Many people say, “Well, you know, I am not a Bible scholar,” when what they actually mean is they have never studied the book much at all. Their coffee table may be stacked high with other books and celebrity magazines, but they have never had a desire to learn the eternal truths of God’s Word. How can you say that you believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, if you have never studied the way he led, the truth he taught and the life he promised? A disciple has a hunger for that truth and becomes a student of Christ.