Summary: True discipleship requires us to: 1. Be intentional. 2. Be Passionate. 3. Desire to be used by God.
James Armour, my friend from England who preached here several months ago recently wrote me about a problem. One of his closest friends in the church was also the one who handled the church’s money. He was a trusted friend. They had vacationed together as families. But he embezzled the church’s funds and left the church nearly bankrupt. The church’s ministries had to be seriously curtailed, and Jim’s mission trip to China had to be cancelled. The church is in turmoil. How does something like that happen?
How do you explain a pastor friend of mine from another place who had an inappropriate relationship with a woman in his church? And what about a faithful church member who succumbs to another fit of rage leaving his family devastated by his explosive anger? Someone else withdraws, seething in silent, cold rage. An insecure woman cuts, criticizes, gossips and destroys someone’s reputation. A young girl in church seeks for love and affirmation anywhere she can get it, due to the emotional isolation in her home. A young man who comes from a Christian family becomes involved in drugs and cannot seem to resist the desire to belong. How do these things happen in the lives of people who are supposed to be Christians?
There are many dynamics involved, but I am more and more convinced that much of this is due to a basic misunderstanding of the Christian life. Many Christians live at a very shallow level in their spiritual lives because they understand the Christian experience to be a one-time event — you come to the altar, ask Christ to forgive your sins, and that’s it. Now you are a Christian, and you are just here waiting for heaven. You get baptized. You try to be a good person and go to church. And we live as though that is all there is to it. But any of these things by themselves misses the point of what Christ has in mind for us. There is more — so much more.
True discipleship is absolutely necessary if we are to progress in the Christian life beyond spiritual infancy. Let me begin by defining discipleship. True discipleship is the intentional development of spiritual disciplines for the purpose of personal growth and the transformation of one’s character into Christ’s likeness. Discipleship is not what you do to help someone else, it is what you do for yourself to take on the character of Christ. It is an inside job as we surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit within us. It is entering into God’s life. And this life is possible, because as we read in the Scripture today, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:3-4).
How do we become disciples of Jesus Christ? Let me first say that: True discipleship requires us to be intentional. The work of God is not something that happens automatically or accidentally. It happens as we engage our will and seek the fullness of God in our lives at every level. We do the things that are necessary for spiritual growth. We surrender our will to the will of God, so that God’s will becomes our will. We deliberately and consistently make time for God. We develop our prayer life. We read God’s Word and listen for him to speak to us. We think about him through the day, and pray that we will be able to love him more tomorrow than we do today. We want to obey him. We learn his heart and pray that he would develop his character in us.
There does come a time when we have to say to God: “Okay, Lord, I’m yours. I’m through fighting. I want everything you have for me. Have your way in my life. I’m no longer holding anything back. Take away anything that is not pleasing to you. I want to be like you, Father, and I don’t want there to be anything in the way. I willingly give you every area of my life. Take my life and use it for your glory. Begin the process of purifying my heart.”
This leads to the second point: True discipleship requires us to be passionate for God. We cannot be passive, we must be passionate. You will have exactly as much of God as you want.
Jesus told two parables illustrating this. He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46). What we notice here is that both individuals sold everything they had to get what they wanted. So often we hear about the “cost of discipleship” as though discipleship only comes at great personal loss to ourselves. But what we notice here is that these individuals who sold everything they had did not think they were giving up anything, they thought they were gaining something which had far more value than everything else they owned. They were more than willing to give up everything they had to gain something that was worth more than everything they possessed.