Our Call To Discipleship
teacher's guide Lesson 2

Lesson Two

A Flaw in Our Understanding of Discipleship

Texts: Matthew 8:18-22; 11:28-30; 16:23-28; 18:1-20;
Mark 10:17-22; Luke 14:25-35; John 6:31-71

An enormous flaw exists in a common concept of discipleship. This flaw exists because of a failure to distinguish between universal need and personal desire. We often fail to make a distinction between two realities. Because everyone needs to be Jesus' disciple does not mean that everyone wants to be Jesus' disciple. This can be a result of that failure: we convince people that they need to be immersed before they desire to be a disciple.

Too often Christians fail to distinguish between universal need and individual desire. Universally, all adults need the redemption, atonement, and cleansing from the personal evil resulting from personal ungodliness. However, that redemption, atonement, and cleansing from evil benefits those who desire those things. While desire is produced by the recognition of need, even the most urgent, dire need is addressed only when the person seeks to be Jesus Christ's disciple. The existence of need cannot eliminate the necessity of being Jesus' disciple.

When this situation occurs, it is too easy to convert the person to the church rather than converting him or her to Jesus Christ. If his or her concept of the church is that the church is a "religious organization," the immersion often results in one of two situations. (1) Either he or she quickly becomes disillusioned with his or her commitment to the "religious organization" and withdraws, or (2) he or she becomes obsessed with the organization while having little understanding of Jesus. Too many members of the church have a fierce loyalty to the church's positions, but little loyalty to Jesus.

The objective of Jesus Christ's disciples is to convert people to Jesus Christ. It is not to convert people to a religious institution. People converted to a religious institution are commonly discouraged or destroyed by other believers' weakness or failures. Disciples converted to a Savior are encouraged by Jesus' humanity and strengthened by Jesus' perfection. Disciples understand we are all sinners clinging to a Savior. Disciples do not expect perfection in other believers. A disciple's faith is not based on the ideal lives of others. As disciples, they learn how to love and forgive from Jesus. Those converted to a religious institution too often are horribly disappointed [even destroyed] by the weakness or failures of others from whom "they expected more." The avenue to spiritual maturity is followed by being the Savior's disciple rather than by maintaining "church membership."

No one's understanding of the universal need for forgiveness surpasses Jesus' understanding. Examined from a strictly human perspective, this Jewish peasant [from the a tiny former nation that existed through forced necessity as a Roman colony] had ridiculous aspirations. How could Jesus aspire to change the world when he had his background? How could Jesus aspire to change the world when his powerless nation was confined to a small territory and could not maintain its own independence? How could Jesus expect eleven disciples to go into the world and make more disciples? How could Jesus send such a small group of Jewish disciples into a world that was [in places] anti-Semitic, into an empire that would soon increase in its hatred of Jewish people, and expect the Roman world to be interested in following him?

Jesus understood the universal need for human salvation--better than any Christian! If any of us observed Jesus in the literal context of his place and day, we would regard his aspiration to be the Savior of the world as totally unrealistic. From a "this world" perspective it was totally unrealistic. From the divine perspective, it was not unrealistic.

Many of us quickly would answer this could happen because (1) Jesus was God's son and (2) discipling the world was God's objective. However, those answers assume a mature, correct understanding of God's purposes in Jesus and in the world. Those are the answers disciples should understand and give. But we disciples must understand that those who reject a discipleship dedicated to Jesus consider it a ridiculous, undesirable pursuit. People who reject the concept of discipleship to Jesus reject a disciple's perspective.

Christians urgently need a full, accurate understanding of what it means for (1) Jesus to be God's son whom He made the Christ and (2) the meaning of making disciples. We must realize the accuracy of our understanding is critical in helping others understand (1) the need for salvation and (2) develop the desire to be Jesus' disciples. Christians must stop assuming (1) everyone knows who Jesus was [is], and (2) everyone has a basic understanding of what Jesus' objectives were [are]. These understandings are not common knowledge! Even in the church, they are not common knowledge!

(1) Jesus lived his childhood as a Jewish peasant in an insignificant rural village in an insignificant area. (2) As an adult, he had the wrong background to be a Jewish rabbi in the Israel of his day. (3) He was not among the "who's who" of the Jewish religious aristocrats of his day. With that set of circumstances, we easily might conclude that Jesus enthusiastically welcomed anyone who expressed interest in being his disciple. He did not. In fact, he often emphasized that discipleship must be accepted as a serious, life-governing commitment.

Though Jesus understood the need for all to be his disciples, he also understood many would have no desire to be his disciples. He did not deceive people about the challenges of discipleship. He urged people to understand what they were deciding when they indicated interest in discipleship.

In Matthew 8:18-22 Jesus emphasized conditions that discouraged discipleship to persons who expressed their interest in discipleship. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus urged the weary and heavy laden to follow him, but he urged them to assume his yoke and load. In Matthew 16:23-28 Jesus declared "cross carrying" to be the cost of discipleship. Crucifixion had powerful, emotional implications to them it does not have to us. He also made a clear distinction between physical existence and life, a distinction his disciples must make and understand. In Matthew 18:1-20 he linked discipleship with humble concern for the "little ones," with the sacrificial elimination of personal considerations that oppose discipleship, and with extending personal forgiveness to those who do evil. Mark 10:17-22 tells of an impressive wealthy man whom Jesus' loved but rejected as a disciple. Luke 14:25-35 states Jesus' emphasis on people (1) regarding discipleship as more important than family ties, (2) carrying one's cross to be a disciple, and (3) determining one's willingness to meet discipleship's cost. John 6:31-71 records a declaration from Jesus that caused disciples to leave him.

These are gospel examples of the fact that Jesus would not allow people to declare discipleship without first realizing the nature of their commitment. He did not allow the reality of universal need for salvation to override the necessity of a personal desire for discipleship.

Jesus was a compassionate man, but he also was an honest man. He discussed the water of life with a Samaritan woman who was five times divorced. Yet, with some, he straightforwardly affirmed the challenges and difficulties of discipleship.

Jesus showed incredible compassion for the defeated and struggling. He also showed incredible honesty to those who had zeal without understanding.

Does that mean Jesus' disciples should use human judgment and human intuition to decide what people should and should not be Jesus' disciples? No. At no time did Jesus appoint his disciples as judges who determined those who can or cannot be Jesus' disciples. Quite the opposite [see Mark 9:38-40]! God knows all hearts. People easily deceive themselves about their own hearts. God understands when a struggling person has a penitent heart. Often we do not. While God can easily forgive 70 times 7 [and far beyond! See Matthew 18:21, 22], we humans often struggle to forgive someone who has hurt us three times.

The role Jesus gave his disciples was [is] the role of compassionate teachers who practice the teachings. He did not give his disciples the role of eternal judges of other disciples. Those who consider themselves "true" disciples too easily redefine their role. They want to "separate" those they consider "unfit" disciples from the "true" disciples. Jesus' parable of the dragnet in Matthew 13:47-50 plainly declared God's kingdom is like a dragnet that contains both the desirable and the undesirable. It also plainly declared the angels will separate the wicked from the righteous at the end of the age. Human disciples rarely can distinguish between penitent struggling disciples and rebelliously wicked disciples.

The point: Jesus knew some would be his disciples, but not everyone would be his disciples. To Jesus, discipleship was not a matter of "need." It was a matter of "desire." Jesus' purposes are served by disciples. Jesus' purposes are not and cannot be served by men or women who have no desire to be his disciples. Immersing people who do not wish to follow Jesus does not effectively destroy their sins. Immersion without the conviction that Jesus is God's Christ and without repentance [the resolve to redirect life] cannot produce (1) redemption from evil and (2) a newly created relationship with God.

No matter how dire people's need for salvation is, no matter how close we might feel to those who have that dire need but refuse salvation, those people's need for salvation never make their lack of desire to be Jesus' disciples insignificant or unimportant. They cannot enjoy the blessings and benefits of discipleship while in the perpetual condition of rejecting discipleship.

The point is not about humans deciding which other humans have a right to enter discipleship. Nor is it about humans deciding which other humans "measure up" to discipleship expectations. God uses His grace and mercy abundantly in the life of the disciple who tries. Only God knows who is and is not trying. "Trying" has appearances that radically differ. "Trying " looks quite different in these two situations: (1) a woman who spent childhood as an incest victim and turned to prostitution to escape her abuse prior to discipleship and (2) a man who spent his childhood in a loving, godly family and always received encouragement as a disciple.

Disciples clearly understand that no one "measures up." No one can be a disciple because he or she has the "right" [the earned entrance into that teacher/disciple relationship through human achievement] to belong to God. God's grace and mercy allow God to accept each person where he or she is. Each man or woman expresses appreciation for God's grace and mercy by obediently, sacrificially yielding to Jesus' teachings.

Our objectives in convincing people to be immersed and Jesus' discipleship objectives often are not identical objectives. Too often we seek to convince people to escape eternal danger by allowing themselves be immersed. To Jesus, immersion is an appropriate expression of commitment by those who want to be disciples.

It is possible to be so focused on convincing a person that he or she needs to be immersed that the person is baptized with little or no desire for discipleship. Many people immersed in the first century had a lot to learn and understand. Many idolatrous people who were baptized into Christ even had to learn the true identity of God! Those immersed had in common (1) a belief that Jesus was God's resurrected Christ and (2) a desire to be his disciple.

Discussion Question:

Discuss the importance of a person's desire to be Jesus' disciple.

Possible areas of discussion:

Link to Student Guide Lesson 2

Copyright © 2003
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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