Are You a True Disciple?

When a person wonders if he is a true child of God, I often point him to John’s first letter because it lists many ways you can KNOW that you love God, that you know God, and that God knows you!

Because our church has been reading the gospel of John in preparation for our Sunday morning classes, I have been recently impressed with what John’s gospel has to say about the marks of a true disciple. I’ll give you a quick list of some I’ve noticed. I’m sure there are many more.

A TRUE DISCIPLE

  1. Receives Christ (1.12)
  2. Follows Christ (1.43)
  3. Is Born Again of the Holy Spirit (3.3, 5-8)
  4. Believes and Obeys (3.36)
  5. Worships in Spirit and in Truth (4.23)
  6. Believes the Father (5.24, 38)
  7. Beholds and Believes in Jesus (6.29, 40)
  8. Hears and Learns from the Father (6.45)
  9. Continues in Jesus’ Word (8.31)
  10. Hears the Words of God (8.47)
  11. Knows the Shepherd (10.14, 27)
  12. Keeps His Commandments (14.15-24)
  13. Abides in Christ and Bears Fruit (15.1-8)
  14. Loves His Brethren (15.12)

What strikes you as you look over that list? Do you see any common themes? Are you a true disciple?

Legalists Put Their Theological System over Jesus

In this final installment of this legalism series (see the past few posts), we examine one more problem legalists face. Some defend legalism by saying, “Well, it’s not a bad thing to try to follow God’s commands exactly.” However, this obscures the real problem, which is a failure to rely entirely upon the Lord for salvation and direction. Ironically, while claiming to follow God’s law as closely as possible, the legalist raises himself up in pride above God’s law.

Remember, we come to these thoughts in the context of John 9.

Legalists Put Their Theological System over Jesus

Jesus didn’t fit into the Jew’s theological system. Already they had figured out some things from prophecy concerning the coming Messiah, and Jesus didn’t fit the description. They may have thought the Messiah would be someone they could control or influence—they surely hated to relinquish control! Because Jesus didn’t fit their mental projection of the Messiah, they turned their backs on Him and cast Him away. As far as they were concerned, He was a cancer that needed to be cut out.

Many theological systems exist today under the label “Christianity.” What system do you hold? It is not wrong to have a system—to try to figure out what the Bible teaches on who God is, who man is, how God and man work in salvation, etc. But, since there are so many systems (and flavors of each system), we should walk carefully lest our system become more important to us than God! Yes—it is possible.

Legalists today claim to know Jesus and follow Him, but they care more about their interpretation of God’s law than about the Lawgiver. They care more about their understanding of how God works in salvation than about submitting to the Savior. They care more about their theological system than about submitting to and loving their brethren.

This can get tricky, because God calls His people to be careful with whom we associate, to be on the lookout for false teachers, and to have nothing to do with certain kinds of people (i.e., Rom. 16.17-18; 2 Tim. 3.1-5). We must be wise in the word in order to know who to imitate and who to avoid. However, when we think so highly of our understanding of the word of God that we categorize most others as in the category of “lost” or “in sin” because their theological system is different…we should examine our own hearts!

Again, how do I stand before God? Only by the blood of Jesus! Only by His grace and mercy! How does anyone else stand before God? The same way! “Let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14.3-4).

Do I really think I understand God’s word and will perfectly? No. Yet I believe God holds me in His grace despite my misunderstandings. Why do I not believe the same about my brother? Let me not put my theological system ahead of my Lord and Savior.

Will Jesus Say “I Don’t Know You”?

Once as Jesus traveled towards Jerusalem, someone asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” He answered:

“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then He will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!'” (Luke 13.23-27)

Customarily, Jesus did not answer the question as it was asked. He didn’t give a number or estimated percentage of the population that would be saved. Instead, He focused in on the questioner and got real personal, as if to say, “Don’t worry about everyone else; YOU strive to enter the narrow door.”

He also said MANY would seek to enter and would not be able. It’s not that God actively keeps people out of the kingdom of Christ, but people want to enter the kingdom on their own terms, and it’s impossible to enter except by the terms God lays down for us. We must give up self in order to enter, and most don’t want to give themselves up.

But one day the door will be shut and there will be no more access to the kingdom, to salvation, to God. Those on the outside will be like the five foolish virgins who were late in arriving to the wedding. Although they planned to be there, they didn’t make the necessary preparations, and it cost them entrance to the feast.

But the saddest picture is of these OUTSIDE folks knocking, pleading, “Let us in! Please open up!” But Jesus will say (for He is Lord) “I do not know where you come from.” In Matthew 7.23, He says, “I never knew you”! Can you imagine hearing Jesus say that to you? You might be like those in this text who argue with Him: “We ate with You! We drank with You! We were right here when you taught us. We sat at Your feet! What do You mean You don’t know us or where we come from?!” Many from my own generation will yell at the closed gates, “I went to church! I was baptized! I prayed! I told other people about You! What do you mean You don’t know me?”

You do not want to be outside, friend. You don’t want Jesus to say, “I do not know where you are from.” How will you avoid this? He’s looking for those who STRIVE to enter the narrow door. The Greek word is agonizomai, by which we get our word “agonize.” Struggle with passion to enter the narrow door. It’s narrow because it’s very specific–you can only enter through Christ, and you must love Him with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. He accepts no half-hearted commitments, no empty confessions, no relaxed religion. He accepts only full submission.

When you stand before the Father on Judgment Day, you will want Jesus at your side, and you’ll want Him to confess your name before the Judgment Throne–“This is one of Mine, Father.”

Are You Jesus’ Disciple?

Many label themselves “Christians” who are not true disciples.

Let’s listen to the Master Himself as He defines what it means to follow Him.

In Matthew 4.18-22, Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew while they were fishing, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Just a little while farther Jesus likewise called James and John, who “immediately…left the boat and their father and followed Him.”

In Luke 9.57-62, Jesus encountered three men who said they would follow Him, but in each case Jesus explained why their idea of following Him was not consistent with His. Notice the three cases:

As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

Jesus actually discouraged this guy, challenging his idea of discipleship. He expressed a desire to follow, but Jesus basically said, “You don’t know what you’re asking.” Perhaps the man thought he’d follow Jesus to a rabbinical school for spiritual learning. But to follow Jesus means not having an earthly home, financial and physical security, or a guarantee of the next meal.

And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”

Whether this man’s father was already dead or not may alter our perception of Jesus’s answer, but we can understand this in either case: following Jesus is more important than physical familial attachments. The work in Christ’s Kingdom takes priority over everything else. Jesus challenged this man’s procrastination.

Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Again, we see Jesus’ challenging this man’s allegiance. He was divided in his mind, in part wanting to follow Jesus and in part wanting to hang on to earthly ties. If you commit to Christ, don’t look back! Our focus is ever and always forward. Keep plowing straight ahead, forgetting the past and keeping your eyes on the goal. Jesus had His face set towards Jerusalem where He would die for His Kingdom. He also expects His followers to leave everything behind for the sake of the Kingdom.

Am I misinterpreting these verses? They seem fairly plain. Jesus challenged each of these men, and He demanded full participation, full allegiance, full dedication. Have His demands changed? Do you think He’s satisfied with lukewarm Christians today who live half in the world and half in the kingdom? Or, in many cases, almost entirely in the world with only a foot in the door of the kingdom?

Are you Jesus’ disciple?