Discipleship and the Revelation 5/30/21
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about discipleship as we’ve been working our way through the book of Revelation. In light of persecution, what does it mean to be a faithful disciple of Jesus? In light of suffering and loss, what does it mean to be a faithful disciple of Jesus? Maybe even harder, in light of prosperity and comfort, what does it mean to be a faithful disciple of Jesus?
I think an obvious place to start is with faith in Jesus. What exactly does that mean? It means that you have no plan “B” for salvation. You know you’re a sinner, you agree with God that you are in the wrong, that is, you confess your sins, and you make a conscious decision to turn from all that God says is wrong, that’s repentance. (That, by the way, is not a one-time decision.) With those decisions made, you decide that you will take Jesus at His word, He said He would save you, He said that God would forgive you if you placed your faith and Him, and you believe Him. That’s faith. No plan “B.”
Once that happens, (which by the way, can only happen under the enabling of the Holy Spirit as God, in mercy, draws you to Himself) God does an entire boatload of things on your behalf. He forgives you, He justifies you (that is, He declares you “not guilty” in His eyes, and in fact, treats you as if you had never sinned at all), and He regenerates your spirit as His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, takes up residence in you. You are adopted into God’s family, and your eternal passport is changed as your citizenship moves from earth to the New Earth. And then, to top it all off, He grants you spiritual gifts that are supposed to be used for the building up of your new brothers and sisters in the faith.
Even as amazing as all that is, it is really only the beginning. At that point you have become a “convert” and you are a “believer.” Being a believer is not the same as being a disciple. A disciple is someone who takes what happened at conversion and decides to follow another person (that would be Jesus), and who submits himself to the discipline (teaching) of that Leader.
The word in the Greek is [mathētēs] (μαθητής) and conveys the idea of being the pupil of a teacher. Since the pupils would often adopt the distinctive teachings of their masters, the word came to mean an adherent of a specific outlook in religion or philosophy. However, for disciples of Jesus, discipleship was based on a call extended by the Lord. It required a personal allegiance to Him that was expressed through following Him as well as extending to Him exclusive loyalty. This went beyond the expectations of the Greek culture and, in every case, required being prepared to put the claims of Jesus first. This was (and is) expected regardless of the personal cost. The result was that this gave the word ‘disciple’ a new meaning in the Christian context.
So, obviously, we aren’t able to literally walk around following Jesus and observing Him as He teaches, heals, and interacts with the crowds. What does it mean for today to be a disciple, a learner, a follower, of Jesus? Through the centuries the Church has found that certain practices are helpful in promoting spiritual growth.
These are the Spiritual Disciplines. The most common are: (1) Reading, study, meditation, memorization, and journaling as we saturate our minds with the Scriptures. This practice allows the Scriptures to be absorbed into our minds. (2) Prayer, which is nothing less than a conversation with God; and that means that there should be times when we stop talking and allow Him to speak. (3) Fasting, where we decide that meeting with God is more important than food, and we seek Him in utter reliance. (4) Submission, where we intentionally subordinate our desires to those around us in order to allow the Spirit to reveal our true motives and attitudes. (5) Confession, as we find trusted individuals we can turn to for support as we fight against sin in our lives. (6) Service, as we serve our church, our neighbors, and our community as unto the Lord. (7) Stewardship, as we seek to live out the reality that our “stuff” is really God’s stuff that He lets us use. (8) Worship, in which we train ourselves to enter His presence in praise and adoration, regardless of what is happening around us. (9) Simplicity, as we come to understand that very few things are actually all that important, and in doing so live for what is important.
None of these is easy; very few will feel “natural.” They all take time. That’s actually kind of the point. These are “DISCIPLINES” that we undertake in order to pursue God single-mindedly. We seek to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ.
A word of caution, it is very easy to make the practice of the Spiritual Disciplines the goal, they become a kind of law for us to follow. That’s not what they are for, or how they’re supposed to work. The focus in every single discipline is to seek Jesus in new and deeper ways. It is to learn more about Him and what He wants, it is to learn to hear Him more clearly, it is to learn to obey Him more completely, it is to learn to submit every aspect of our lives to Him more fully. Any other use of these practices misses the mark.
But, as individualistic as we tend to be, I think there is another element to this being a disciple that our culture misses. That’s accountability. We need someone that has the courage to hold us accountable, and in turn to be held accountable. As we study and meditate, the Spirit will start to reveal things to us, and we need someone we can trust to share these with, but also to hold us accountable to obey what we’re learning.
This business of being a disciple means we understand that our lives are lived on mission, becoming a pastor or cross cultural missionary is nothing more than a specific example of the general call to every-single-Christian to live life on mission, to be open to the divine appointments that God brings across our daily paths.
This is a life lived with our focus, as the song says, “in the good times and bad,” on Jesus. It means we are seeking Him in every encounter we have, in every problem we face, in all aspects of our lives. That… is easier said than done. Hence, the idea of being a learner.
 Paul Helm, “Disciple,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 629.  I. H. Marshall, “Disciple,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 277.  I. H. Marshall, “Disciple,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 277.  I. H. Marshall, “Disciple,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 277.  I. H. Marshall, “Disciple,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 277.  I. H. Marshall, “Disciple,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 277.