Discipleship is What Makes Christian Character Possible

I want to begin with some thoughts on discipleship.  Dallas Willard states, "The growing assumption today among professing Christians is that we can be "Christians" forever and never become disciples--as if it is optional."  The idea is that I can choose Christianity without embracing a life of discipleship.  At this point, some definitions might be helpful.  The word Christian appears in the New Testament only three times and was initially used to describe individuals in the church at Antioch that presumably reflected the character and life of Christ.  Let me contrast this with our modern concept of the word Christian.  Today, it simply means one who was born into a particular religion or possibly one who has chosen that religion through some profession of faith.  The aspect of Christ-likeness has almost been completely lost.  The word disciple appears in Scripture over 250 times and refers to one who receives instruction from another.  One who accepts the doctrines of his leader and assists in spreading them.  A disciple is a learner, a student, an apprentice--a practitioner.  Now ask yourself this question, which comes first?  Often we mistakenly believe that Christianity is the doorway to discipleship.  We concentrate all of our efforts into convincing someone to "accept" Christ as Savior as if this is what makes them Christian and completely ignore a lifestyle that produces Christ-likeness in us.  We treat discipleship as if it is optional but in no way is it required.  The reality is quite the opposite, it is discipleship that makes Christianity possible--at least that is, if Christ-likeness is what we are searching for.  Look at the disciples that followed Christ and answer this question for me, when were they "born again" or when did they "become Christian"?  Well technically speaking it would have to have been after Jesus' resurrection.  Most people would point to John 20:22, when after His resurrection Jesus breathed upon them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."  However, at this time they had been following Christ as his disciples for over three years.  I am not trying to diminish the importance of a personal profession of Faith.  However, that profession is not the end but just the beginning.  What we are striving for is that Christ-likeness and it is discipleship that makes it possible.  Let me explain.  In the book of Acts, Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin and asked to give an answer for the spiritual uproar that was occurring in Jerusalem and the healing of the crippled man that once sat at the entrance to the Temple?  The religious leaders marveled at the courage, the boldness, the intellect and eloquence, not to mention the power that was upon these ignorant, unschooled and ordinary men from Galilee.  They attributed this to the fact that they had been with Jesus.  They had indeed been with Jesus, not as casual acquaintances but as followers.  They were His disciples and Jesus was their teacher.  They had spent the better part of three years going where He went, listening to Him speak, watching His every move.  John, much later in his life, would begin one of his great letters to the church by reminding his hearers of this special relationship he had had with the Master.  He said, we were with Him, we followed Him everywhere, we listened to His teachings, we observed Him and everything He did with our own eyes.  We were personal eyewitnesses to all that He did everywhere He went.  We touched Him and He has eternally touched us.  They witnessed the miracles He did.  They were there when He healed the crippled man's withered hand.  They were there when He gave sight to Bartimaeus from Jericho.  They were there when He interrupted a funeral procession in the city of Nain and raised the widow woman's only son from the dead.  They were there and personally participated as He multiplied a little boy's lunch into enough food to feed a multitude numbering probably more than 20,000 people.  Both Peter and John had answered that call to come and follow Christ.  They had left behind their old lives and found new life in following Christ.  Now, several years later, there is no denying and there is no other explanation for the transformation that has occurred in their lives.  They have been with Jesus.  This association with Jesus was recognized because of their dedication to become like him in thought, manner and word.  They were recognized as followers of Christ or as Christian because of the long years they had spent as His disciples.  The truth is this, a disciple is not, as Dallas Willard states, "a deluxe or heavy-duty version of the Christian--especially padded, textured, streamlined and extra-powered for the fast lane on the straight and narrow way."  No, a disciple is one who, "intent upon becoming Christ-like in his Faith and practice, systematically and progressively rearranges his affairs to that end."  Christ has called each and every one of us into a dynamic, life-giving relationship with Himself.  He is still calling us to come and follow Him, to become His student, to make Him the master and teacher.  If we do this, some day, somewhere someone will look upon our life and note--they have been with Jesus.

For audio messages on Discipleship and other topics click here or download directly from this link: "A Call to Discipleship"

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"We talk of the second coming, half the world has never heard of the first."
- Oswald J. Smith
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