Will You Follow?
(A call to true discipleship)
"Then he said unto them, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." (Luke 9:23)
During any church service in any average congregation, if the pastor were to ask for all those who believe themselves to be disciples of Jesus Christ to identify themselves, I believe the vast majority would raise their hands, stand to their feet or give some other indication that they were indeed true disciples.
Without giving a second thought to the requirements Jesus sets forth for discipleship, the average church member, regardless of their lifestyle, would be insulted if you challenged their walk with the Lord.
As I began studying the opening verse, the Holy Spirit began challenging my understanding of what an acceptable relationship with Jesus was all about. For most of us in ministry, in our attempts to be continually doing for the Lord, sometimes it is easy for us to get side tracked. If not corrected, we can easily come to a place were we expect Jesus to follow us and bless what we are doing in His name, but without His leadership.
As we look at three basic requirements for discipleship, I believe we may very well come to the conclusion that the straight gate and the narrow way are a lot straighter and much more narrow than we had thought them to be. So without our paying the price of complete surrender to the leadership and will of Christ, we could possibly find ourselves as the disciples mentioned in John 6: 66. "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him."
The word disciple could best be defined as a student. But, in the case of many of today's church members they are, "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (2 Timothy 3:7) They are never able to come to the knowledge of the truth, because they are not willing to conform their lives to the truth they have learned.
In this age of Word of Faith, Prosperity, Church Marketing and being Purpose Driven, one of the most difficult spiritual accomplishments could very well be self denial.
With today's postmodern gospel of easy believeism, our salvation is based on; just repeat this prayer, believe it in your heart and your eternity is settled, with or without denying self.
Another popular gospel revolves around the promotion and marketing of individual believers, a ministry or a church rather than lifting up the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the declaration of His uncompromised Word.
We find it right here in the opening verse. If we are going to be identified as a disciple we must accomplish a life of total self denial.
This is not necessarily difficult to understand. To deny means to refuse. Self is best defined as an individual's own welfare, interests, advancement and agenda. So, we must refuse to fulfill our own personal agenda, our own interests, even consider our own welfare. We also must refuse to manipulate the things and the people around us to our own advantage. We can no longer be consumed with fulfilling our own goals.
Jesus desires to reveal to us the Father's will. His entire ministry was based on the premise that He had come to this earth for no other reason than doing the will of the Father. He expects nothing less from us.
The difficulty in self-denial is in part due to the fact the average minister will not preach it. Instead we are captivated by sermons about Purpose, Destiny and New Levels.
We wait in a pseudo-spiritual anticipation for the religious gurus to give us a new revelation of what God really meant when He said such and such.
These type of gospels cater only to our flesh and our sense of personal accomplishment. It panders to the lust of the I am, the I will, and the I want, which is in direct contradiction to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
When we become consumed with "I", (all the things I want to do for God) it becomes impossible or at least extremely difficult for Jesus to accomplish anything through our own efforts for the glory of the Father.
The entire seventeenth chapter of John's Gospel records the prayer of Jesus for his disciples. It is interesting to note that six times during His prayer, He petitions the Father that we might become one with Him as He is one with the Father.
The Ecumenicists within the church believe this prayer was Jesus' desire to unite all Christendom into one unified organization. However, I believe His prayer was far more important to the individual believer than to be a part a religious organization. It is His prayer, His desire, His heart's cry for us to become a physical, emotional and spiritual conduit of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Listen to Jesus' heart as He prays.
"And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are" (John 17:11). "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17:21-26)
What did His being one with the Father mean to Jesus? First, it meant total surrender to the Father's will. "Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." (John 4:34) "For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." (John 6:38) "I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me." (Matthew 5:30)
Jesus knew the importance of knowing and doing the will of the Father. He knew that all glory, praise and honor must be accomplished for the Father and Him alone. This is paramount in the life of the believer, it may very well determine our eternity. "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21)
Secondly, Jesus was so surrendered to and intent on doing the will of the Father, He never spoke a single word, nor did he perform a single good work without first hearing the Word from the Father or seeing His Father perform the work.
"For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak." (John 12:49,50) "Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, Verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel." (John 5:19-20)
What a tremendous testimony, complete surrender to the will of the Father! The problem arises in the fact that He expects us to develop the same degree of surrender - total.
Surrender is not a very popular word in today's church. As a sermon text the subject has almost become obsolete. Instead, we have replaced it with a new word - commitment. Commitment, in and of itself, does not necessarily take away from surrender. The problem could be on how we commit. Let me explain. Many people commit to many things, particularly within a religious setting. We commit to prayer, we commit to Bible study, we commit to church attendance.
For most of us this does not qualify as surrender. The reason being, we are still in control. We decide how much, how long, how often. We decide when, how and if. Our commitment must be to full surrender, or else we have not totally denied self.
TAKE UP YOUR CROSS
If we will not deny self we do not posses the ability to die to self. God is a God of order, if we refuse self denial it is inevitable that we will do everything possible to further our own will and desires (our life). Jesus warns us, "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it." (Luke 9:23)
The cross will keep US out of the forefront and allow people to see Jesus.
Before the finality of death came, a condemned prisoner had the upper beam of the cross tied to his shoulders and was paraded through the streets until he reached the final destination of the crucifixion.
The distance from the point where Jesus had received His cross, to Galgotha's Hill is said to be about one forth of a mile. As the prisoner labored under the weight of the cross' beam the crowd mocked them, spit on them and threw things at them. It was a time of final persecution, humiliation and rejection before the agonizing death that was before them.
Many Christians never make it to this point in their quest for discipleship. Jesus warned his disciples that the world hated him, and that the world would also hate us. "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12) Sadly, too many of today's church members only want to follow Jesus in what others will applaud, particularly those of us in ministry. They feel their relationship with Christ must be judged on their degree of acceptance by the masses, and will usually perform in any way it takes to receive that acceptance.
But Jesus tells us that our acceptance must include our death to self-interests and self-aggrandizement.
If the world is to see Jesus in us then we must acquire the same testimony as John the Baptist. "He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30) To accomplish our "decrease" we must be hid in Him, we must come to a place of total death to self and Jesus must become our life.
Paul explains it to the Church Colosse. "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God... Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: (Colossians 3:3-6)
We are to mortify (kill, be dead) everything about us. Every sin of the flesh, everything in our life that exalts its above our surrender to Jesus.
Even our ministry is not our life, nor is our church, our family or our acceptance by others. If they are held in higher regard than our life in Him, Paul says we are idolaters and the wrath of God is on the way.
If we are truly the light of the world, as Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:16, we cannot allow any darkness of self to impede the rays of Christ's works through us. Taking up our cross let's everyone, especially ourselves, know that, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)
Death to self is in no way a suggestion, nor is it a one time event that happens at the time of salvation. It is a major part of the process in becoming able to follow Him. And as Paul records, death to self must be administered on a daily basis. He writes to the Corinthian Church, "...I die daily." ( 1 Corinthians 15:31)
One of the easiest ways to understand how we are expected to die to self is found in the twelfth chapter of the book of Romans. As we read these verses we will again see that death to self is not an option, it is a command of God in order to be a disciple
"I beseech you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." (Romans 12:1-2)
I wish we could see the urgency in what Paul is saying to the Church. He begins with "I beseech you," which literally means, "I implore you," or "I beg you." He is saying we are not our own any more, the blood of Jesus has purchased us, now offer your selves to Him in holiness, righteousness and Godly service.
Like the Israelite who brought his animal offering to be sacrificed. As he laid it in the hands of the priest he surrendered all rights of ownership, and any plans he had for the animal's future use. All so it could be used for the glory of God. We must climb onto the altar of sacrifice with the same intent and purpose.
Once we continue to deny ourselves, nailing our own desires and will to the cross becomes easier as we begin to see it's worthlessness and it's offense to God. That is why Paul could write to the Church at Philippi, and gladly say, "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness..." (Philippians 3:7-9)
Paul's life was Christ, his desire was Christ, his hiding place, refuge and hope was Christ. After three days of blindness, fasting and seeking the Lord at the house of Ananias, Paul was baptized in the Holy Spirit and received his sight. He could have screamed from the house top, "Saul, the proud Pharisee is dead! The persecutor of the righteous, the murderer of the saints has laid down his life and has been raised up in Christ Jesus!"
He cared nothing about things. He realized he could never juggle the preaching of the cross and the things of this world. So he ran from the world's seduction. "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:33)
Can we claim to be a disciple without the same zeal? Can we claim to be a follower of Christ without the same mortification of our sin and religious pride? Are we willing to be the least in the Kingdom of God so Christ may be exalted? Listen to Jesus - "And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:27)
TAG ALONG OR FOLLOW
Among those within the church who claim to be followers of Jesus, by definition they will fall into one of two basic groups. The first group, by biblical standards, may not be as true a follower as they would like to believe.
Let's look at several definitions of this group.
To go along. To watch or listen closely; observe. To be interested in or attentive to current developments in... (New World Dictionary of American English Third College Edition pg. 524)
Do these definitions describe the vast majority of church members? It's like they follow Jesus right to the door but lack the will power or ambition to go all the way. They tag along until they reach the limits of their spiritual comfort zone and then draw back. They attend church, listen intently, study the Word but never allow the Word's power to catapult them into an experience with God that will change their relationship with Him forever.
They never miss a church outing, or times of fellowship, but find it difficult to share the Gospel, or enter into any other of the church's outreach ministries.
Because they are in church, because they do all the right things and have the ability to say all the right things they possess a mind set that is almost impossible to penetrate. But they are following a concept, a believe, a doctrine, a church, a pastor, themselves, but not Jesus.
Many of these church member's lifestyle, outside of the church, has no substantial witness or testimony to draw others to the saving power of Jesus Christ.
As Judas walked the roads with Jesus, heard His words and saw His miracles, he was not a disciple, he was a devil.
Even though he as was given the same calling as the other apostles, he was sent out with the other eleven and given the commission to preach the Gospel to the poor, heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils and raise the dead. But what ever zeal Judas possessed, it was directed towards his own gain. And when "push came to shove" he betrayed the Lord of Glory.
Over the years as a pastor, I have seen many members come and go. Some were led of the Spirit, others by their own self-deceptive ambition and others because they were led to a point in their spiritual life where they had to make a decision to go all the way with God, or pursue a church and pastor that would not invade their comfort zone. In the first definition the word observe is used. This is an interesting word to me because it brought back an experience I had several years ago.
Our family had attended a revival service in another state. We arrived late and were seated in the second row of the balcony. Minutes after we got settled in our seats, the song leader came out, everyone stood and the music portion of the service began. The moment the music started I was over taken by the power of God and fell to the floor between the benches. Conviction had gripped my heart and I began to cry uncontrollably in repentance. For the entire song service I lay there, sometimes weeping, sometimes rejoicing or worshipping, I was in the literal presence of God and He was ministering to me His marvelous grace and forgiveness. What an experience that was for me, it seemed like I was in another world (actually I was). His presence seemed to linger with me throughout the service and even back to our hotel.
That night and all the next day there was a tremendous anticipation for the next service. We arrived early, went to the same section of the balcony and found a seat.
From where we were sitting there was a perfect view of the entire lower portion of the sanctuary. I watched the people come in and find a seat then mill around waiting for the service to begin. I watched the musicians prepare and tune their instruments, pick out their music and get ready for the service.
I noticed all the different nationalities and cultures that were represented, wondering where they were from and how they had heard about the revival.
Then the service began. Like the night before, the song leader came out, got the attention of the singers and began playing unto the Lord. But there was nothing. I sang, I clapped my hands, I tried to worship - but nothing. No excitement, no touch, no feeling within myself that the Holy Spirit was any where around.
After the third song I sat down completely dismayed and discouraged. Was I expecting another flood of the Spirit as I had experienced the night before? Truthfully, I did not know what to expect, however, I never expected - nothing.
I began to question the Lord. What's wrong with me? What have I done? Where are you? Slowly, that still-small voice began to remind me of all I had done since being in the service. How all my attention had been given to the things and the people around me. Wondering where they were from, even considering their spiritual condition. Little or no attention was given to the Lord while sitting there before the service began. I had made no preparation within my heart to welcome or worship Him. I could feel Him say, "Last night you came as a participant, tonight you've come as an observer." A participant is ready and willing. When the Holy Spirit begins to move or to speak, you are ready and willing to respond. As He began to show me areas of my life needing correction and repentance, I bowed before Him willingly in order for Him to cleanse me and point me in the direction He had chosen.
An observer is nothing more than a religious "window shopper." Always looking for something great, something they do not posses, but would love to have. Their problem rests in the fact that they are unwilling or for whatever reason, unable to pay the price to take it home with them. They leave the malls discouraged, angry, condemning and judging those who could pay the price. How foolish I must have looked to some observers as I lay on the floor between the pews crying, rejoicing and worshipping. Others may have looked and wondered why God has never dealt with them in the same manner. These type of followers fill the pews of "seeker sensitive" churches.
Regardless, observers can never enter into Christ to the degree God desires for them. It is a place reserved only for the participant.
Eighteen times within the four Gospels, Jesus' words "Follow Me" are recorded. When He called Peter, his brother Andrew and then Matthew He spoke two words; "Follow Me."
When Peter and Andrew heard those words scripture tells us, "And they straightway left their nets, and followed him." (Matthew 4:20)
The same words, "Follow Me," were heard by Matthew, the result was identical. "...and he arose and followed him." (Matthew 9:9)
These men stopped everything they were doing, everything they had been trained for, their livelihood, their way of life, and walked away and never looked back, all to follow Jesus. The next definition, I believe, is one of the closet in bringing one into true discipleship through following. "To go after in order to catch; chase; pursue. To accept the authority of; obey. (New World Dictionary of American English Third College Edition pg. 524) A true disciple is not one who follows blindly. They have counted the cost and like Paul, they have surrendered everything in order to posses Jesus. He has denied himself, he was willing to suffer. "From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." (Galatians 6:17))
He was also intent on following. His cry to the church at Philippi was, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, and being made conformable to his death." (Philippians 3:10)
This was Paul's lifetime goal. The greatest of the apostles went after, chased and pursued Christ every day of his life. "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I FOLLOW AFTER, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12)
When the disciples of John 6:66 spiritual comfort zone was threatened, many walked with Him no more. Yet when Jesus asked the remainder if they would leave also, Peter jumped in with the response of a true follower. "Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God." (John 6:68-69)
Because of the true disciple's belief that Jesus' does have and is the Word(s) to eternal life and they are convinced of His Lordship as being the Son of the living God, they easily surrender their will to His authority through obedience.
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed:" (John 8:31)
The Greek word translated to continue is also translated to abide, dwell, remain. It requires following Jesus in order that His word may change us, convert us, transform us and cause us to be like Him. His Word must abide in us and we in His word.
Are we willing to forsake all, suffer persecution and follow without compromise?
Or will we stand before Jesus trying to proclaim our great prophesies, wonderful works and thrilling exorcisms? Only to hear him say, "Depart from me, I never knew you?"
Will we follow? There is no question about it - we must!