Summary: Seven marks of a Christian disciple.
"Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple."
I suppose it is reasonable to expect one’s employer to supply some type of job description. Indeed, for any relationship to work well the roles and expectations of the participating parties must be clearly defined. Thankfully, the expectations of Christians’ responsibilities are plainly defined in Scripture. The Bible variously describes Christians as believers, children of God, saints, or disciples. Precisely what it means to be a disciple has been the subject of considerable study (cp. A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve). The importance of being a disciple cannot be denied, as Jesus commanded his own apostles to make disciples in every nation (Matthew 28.19-20; cp. Mark 16.15; Luke 24.49; John 20.21; Acts 1.8). There are numerous references to those who followed Jesus as being his disciples. Exactly how Jesus defines being a disciple is the subject of this brief discourse.
Fundamentally, being a disciple refers anyone who follows Jesus and adheres to His teaching. Jesus modeled a lifestyle for his disciples to emulate. He also instructed them both privately and publicly on their deportment and the content of the gospel (John 13.12-17; Mark 9.2-13; Matthew 5-7). The disciples in their turn followed Jesus’ example for those whom they discipled (2 Timothy 2.2; cp 4.8-9). There is a wonderful example of the success of this in the writings of the church fathers. In an introductory note to Clement of Alexandria we read of how the apostolic instruction to “love one another” was passed on from John the Apostle to Ignatius and Polycarp to Clement (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II). Jesus’ upper room discourse (John 14-16) contains practical instruction for all believers. Of course, Jesus taught the disciples about holiness, prayer, forgiveness, mercy, suffering, perseverance, evangelism, judgment, pastoral duties and more – the full breadth of which is beyond the scope of this overview. However, as a means of introducing the New Testament theme of discipleship it may be worth reviewing the seven occasions where Jesus makes specific reference to what he means when he says my disciples.
PREEMINENCE OF CHRIST - Luke 14.26: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Jesus calls people to himself, he does not rally them to a cause. Even a cursory grasp of New Testament Christology makes it plain why this must be so. Jesus is God incarnate, the mediator of the new covenant, through whom the wrath of God is propitiated and God’s elect are saved. There can be no eternal delight independent of an exaltation and exultation of the Lord Jesus Christ. God delights in Himself and in His Son (John 17.1-5); no true child of His can do otherwise. Thus, the Son by virtue of his person must take precedent over every other relationship. John Piper writes, “we were created for the contemplation and enjoyment of God! Anything less than this would be idolatry toward him and disappointment for us. God is the most glorious of all beings. Not to love him and delight in him is a great loss to us and insults him” (Piper, The Pleasures of God, p. 38). Consequently, it is not enough to admire, respect or esteem the things Jesus stands for; you must love Him and this you cannot do without the Holy Spirit who sheds the love of God abroad in your heart (Romans 5.5). In his devotional classic, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote, “Whenever the Holy Ghost sees a chance of glorifying Jesus, He will take your heart, your nerves, your whole personality, and simply make you blaze and glow with devotion to Jesus Christ.” The love for the Lord Jesus Christ is such that by comparison love for family begins to pale (cp. Matthew 10.34-37; Genesis 29.30).
DEATH TO SELF - Luke 14.27: Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
There is a natural bridge that links the exaltation of Christ with self-abasement. It is impossible to laud the Lord Jesus Christ and at the same time be self-promoting. Jesus described himself as a servant (Mark 10.45; cp. Mark 9.35; John 15.20) and any who would serve Him cannot presume to be greater than he. The Christian lives to serve God (Luke 4.8; Romans 1.9). He is not free to advance his own cause (whatever that might be). He has happily given his life in service to God (Galatians 2.19; Colossians 3.3-6; Philippians 2.3-8). Nonetheless it is not love of duty which obliges one to take up his cross, but love for Jesus which inwardly motivates him (Galatians 2.20; John 14.23). Neither is he loved by Jesus because he takes up his cross. Rather, it is the very love of God that compels him to die to himself (Colossians 3.3; cp. 1 John 3.16). The cross then is not an unbearable hardship (Matthew 11.29; Philippians 4.13; 2 Corinthians 12.9; Colossians 1.11; Isaiah 40.29); quite to the contrary, it is a joyful identity with Christ (Philippians 1.15-30; 1 Peter 4.12-13). The cross is as central to the Christian doctrine of salvation as it is central to the believer’s lifestyle. It is the supreme expression of God’s love for his glory. The atonement for mankind’s sin through the death of His Son vindicates God’s glory (Isaiah 52.13–53.12; Acts 2.23; John 17.1-5). It is Jesus’ love for the Father that motivates him to embrace the cross and in his death the conflict between God’s love for his glory and his love for sinners is resolved (cf. Piper, p. 164). By taking up his cross the believer identifies with the God-glorifying work of Christ (Galatians 6.14).