Boletim dos Obreiros

The True Disciple

"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me."
Luke 9:23

The expression “disciple”, which means “follower”, is one of the most important of the Christian vocabulary. It indicates those who are authentic Christians, distinguishing them from the merely nominal ones.

We see this expression at solemn and very special moments of the Christian experience:

  • When the Lord Jesus chose the twelve disciples who would have to follow Him in all His ministry, amongst the others, to whom He gave the name of Apostles, (“sent” or “commissioned”), He acted in a most solemn way. The act was so special and important that before doing it, “He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12);
  • When the Lord commissioned His own for the important evangelistic work of the world, before His ascension, He used the expression “make disciples”, to define His understanding on such an important Christian accomplishment, in all times, affirming: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations... teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18 - 20).
  • The historical and remarkable report of the Christian experience in Antioch recorded in Acts 11:19 - 26, uses the expression “disciples” to define those who were for the first time called “Christians”. There we see the fundamental relation of authentic Christianity with the condition of “true disciple”.

To be a disciple does not imply a mere cheap and formal adhesion. Some thus frivolously call themselves only to enjoy the opportunity of a personal privilege, a convenient popularity or to exercise an advantageous secular power.

To be a “disciple” presupposes that there is a “Master”, because without the latter the former could not exist. Jesus Christ wants us as disciples, He being the Master par excellence, capable and available (Matthew 7:28 - 29… “the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority”; John 13:13… “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.”).

The disciple is he who learns from the Master the “discipline” which is taught to him, accepting with humble submission the corrective “discipline” that is applied to him when necessary. In Matthew 11:29 the Lord Jesus emphasized the need of learning from Him (“learn of Me”). The best way to learn from Him (true disciple) is to see, listen to, and imitate Him. In John 8:31 the Lord stated: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed”. To exert “true discipleship” there must first be absolute faithfulness in learning, so as to finally attain the essential and privileged condition of master (“make disciples”), not forgetting, however, that we never can give up our continuous relationship with our Master par excellence, the Lord Jesus Christ (“learn of Me” and “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you”).

Let us see three essential conditions of the “true discipleship”, having as a basis Luke 9:23:

1. RENOUNCING - “To deny oneself”.

The first condition for “true discipleship” is given there. Jesus Christ said that if anybody desires to come after Him, that is, wants to be a “true disciple”, he must deny himself. This statement by the Lord does not mean that we have no value or that we are good for nothing, but that we may have a correct understanding of the need to enable ourselves in Him and to depend on His resources to carry through His Sovereign purpose in our life (John 15:5… “Without me you can do nothing”). We ought not to judge ourselves to be self-sufficient, only trusting our capability, our personal resources and the accomplishments where we have been involved. There are three basic renunciations implied in this condition:

  • Renouncing our personal interests: The “true disciple” does not allow his own interest to overlap the interests of the Lord in what he does. What interests move us when we seek the Lord? See the negative example of the “rich young man”, in Luke 18:23, who wasn’t able to renounce his interest in wealth to reach that which was much more valuable: eternal life! He knew very well that this was a great and vital need. He sought it in the right person, the Lord Jesus, but he did not get the so necessary and longed for blessing, because he prioritized His personal interest: material wealth.
  • Renouncing our ideas: We are tremendously imaginative and multiple ideas rise in our mind. The “true disciple” abdicates them to guide himself by the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16). When calling upon the people to “search the Lord” the prophet Isaiah exhorts them firmly in these terms: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts... for My thoughts are not your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:7 - 8). Solomon teaches us in Proverbs 3:5 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding”. Let us not allow our ideas to move away from the immense possibilities that we can reach in the true knowledge that comes from the Lord! Paul exhorts us: “seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Colossians 3:1 - 2).
  • Renouncing our impulses: Impulsivity is a characteristic of human kind and is always present in what he does. The “true disciple” must know to renounce it firmly so as not to harm His performance, as much in the process of learning as in the one of teaching. The submission of our behavior to natural impulses deprives us of many spiritual privileges and of the enjoyment of blessings of the Lord in our life. It disqualifies us and even annuls our discipleship. See the sad negative example of David in 2 Samuel 11:2 - 4. His carnal impulsivity, not renounced at the right moment, cost him a great disgrace and a fatal fall. Satan avails himself a lot of this negative characteristic of human kind to annul him, but we must remember what Paul affirms: “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The impulsivity of Peter, in Gethsemane, striking the servant of the chief priest with a sword, was ready and firmly reprehended by the Lord Jesus. Although intending to defend The Lord, he acted in a wrong way, in the impulse of the flesh. How many times, even well intentioned, we harm our discipleship because of not knowing how to renounce carnal impulsivity at the right moment! The adequate remedy always will be exercise of self-control, which is an important aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23).

2. REJECTION - “take up his cross daily”.

To reject does not always seem to be the best attitude when we consider things only from the human point of view. The Lord’s criteria are different because the values, from the point of view of God, also differ from our concepts, these being always affected by our carnal nature, limited to the immediate and personal interests. The Lord defines this essential attitude of the true discipleship with the expression:”deny himself”.

In order to practice “true discipleship”, it is required to firmly exert “rejection” in three aspects:

  • To reject the CONDITIONS of the world: The world has much to do with the carnal nature of the human being, affected by sinfulness, and offers him multiple conditions of secular success, but such conditions cannot be accepted by the authentic Christian. It is required of the “true disciple” to distinguish them and to reject them to be able to act spiritually and not carnally, so attaining the targets of God’s purposes in his Christian life. The Apostle John defines this type of spiritual behaviour well, of rejection to the conditions of the world, in the attitude of “true discipleship”: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15 - 17). Some remarkable examples of rejection of the conditions of the world, in the Bible, are expressively illustrative:

a) Joseph (Genesis 39:7 - 23) - rejected the worldly conditions of the wife of Potiphar; he came to be unjustly punished for his faithful attitude, but, in the end, the Lord honoured him exceedingly.

b) Daniel (Daniel 1:8) - “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.” God honoured the firm attitude of Daniel, rejecting the worldly conditions that had been offered to him.

c) The Lord Jesus (Matthew 4:3 - 11) – We see Him, during the period of temptation in the desert, rejecting firmly the satanic proposals. See the proposal of Satan in Matthew 4:9… “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Satan made this challenge to the Lord after showing all the kingdoms of the world and their glory (Matthew 4:8). We know that Satan is the prince of this world and is always offering his conditions to the Christian for secular success. We must reject his worldly conditions to exert “true discipleship”, resulting in the blessings of the Lord

  • To reject the ADVANTAGES of the world: Not only conditions proper to it does the world offer to the behaviour of the Christian to dissuade him from “true discipleship”, but also advantages often apparently irrefutable. The true Christian has to know how to spiritually discern such “advantageous” offers to be able to reject them, firmly, in order to remain faithful in the exercise of the will the Lord. Our natural trend, by force of the action of our flesh, is always in the direction of seeing the advantages that we can get in this or in that attitude that is offered in the behaviour, acting with sinful precipitation and looking at the immediate benefits that move us away from the necessary spiritual and faithful performance of the “true disciple”. We must be vigilant in our attitudes, resolutely assuming the attitude proposed by the Lord Jesus of carrying our cross each day. Moses offers us, a worthy example of rejection to the advantages of the world, as we read in Hebrews 11:24-25… “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.”. Note that this type of rejection implied in bearing a very painful situation (“to suffer affliction with the people of God”), but disclosed an ample vision of the compensating blessings of the Lord (“greater riches than the treasures in Egypt”; “for he looked to the reward”). What remarkable experience is obtained by those who behave with faithfulness in this area opting for rejection of the advantages of the world! They are worthy of the “true discipleship” and therefore they will be honoured by The Lord.
  • To accept the REJECTION of the world: This is another aspect that implies rejection of the world in the exercise of “true discipleship”. It is necessary total disposition to accept the rejection of the world. The Lord Jesus, in His intercessory prayer of which we were the object, in John 17, stated: “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:15 - 16). It is in the world that we have to act, therefore the Lord prayed that we should not be taken out of the world, but that as we are not of the world, the world rejects us. Therefore the Lord prayed that we should be kept from the evil with which the world seeks to harm us when we are rejected. He says that He is also not of this world. “World” is understood as the sinful system controlled by the prince of this world, Satan, and in which participate all those who do not want to know about God, nor His Word, and because of this they reject us. This necessary attitude of “rejection of the world” was also adopted by Him courageous and firmly, so much so that he ended unjustly (from the human viewpoint) crucified on Calvary. Accepting the rejection of the world, we will be identifying ourselves with the Lord and enabling ourselves to a “true discipleship”. Therefore The Lord Jesus solemnly warns us: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

3. SURRENDER - “follow me”.

This is one of the most sublime expressions which came out of the mouth of the Lord during His glorious ministry. The only valid alternative for the human being, moved away from God because of sin, is in the ready and positive reply to this wonderful request that He makes with love to all, no matter the condition they are in.

This invitation from the love of God is always the last word that He addresses us with, for the fruition of the blessings that He offers in them. The blessing of the Lord is not reached without following Him! All who followed Him were blessed and used gloriously, supplied by His wonderful Grace, enabled by His Word and fortified by His Spirit.

It is not possible to reach the sublime and blessed experience of the “true discipleship” unless by following Him! To follow is not only to go after Him, to know a lot concerning Him or what He taught. To follow Him is to imitate Him. To live as He wants us to live each day, practicing what we learn from Him. It implies a total involvement with His Person and His Word, to be as He is, - and it is like this that He wants us to be -, and to do what He wants us to do in the way that He wants us to do (see John 8:31; 15:5, 7; 1 Peter 2:21).

We want to suggest three essential attitudes that substantiate this indispensable behaviour of the “true discipleship”:

  • To recognize His SOVEREIGNTY: Many calling themselves Christians are ready to accept Him only as Saviour to guarantee their passport to heaven. This is highly convenient, but they are not ready to pay the price of accepting him as Lord. They frontally refuse His SOVEREIGNTY.

Paul teaches in Romans 14:9… “to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” Note that Paul states that the Redemptive work had as its purpose to make Him “Lord”. Peter states in Acts 2:36… “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus (which means ‘Saviour’), whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." The SOVEREIGNTY of the Lord Jesus is amply demonstrated in the Holy Scriptures, which demand, unquestionably, that such SOVEREIGNTY is assumed unconditionally in the attitude of all calling themselves Christians.

In order that our discipleship can be true we must accept the total and ample SOVEREIGNTY of the Lord. For this to become real it is not enough to call Him “Lord”, but deliver to Him unconditionally the control of all the areas of our life, with the disposition of a total acceptance of His designs and His orientation in the decisions and attitudes to be adopted. There must be complete submission to His Word, which is “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).

  • To recognize His SUFFICIENCY: The SUFFICIENCY of the Lord is widely demonstrated in the Holy Scriptures. Already in Creation we see that God supplied to His creature all it needed to fulfill, with efficiency, His terrestrial mission (Genesis 2:1-17). In the course of the history of the people of Israel we find innumerable Biblical texts evidencing the constant presence of the Lord, supplying their needs in all the areas of their experience, even in the occasions of attitudes of rebellion, disobedience and complaining.

The Lord Jesus Christ, in His terrestrial ministry gave emphasis to this aspect of the Work of Redemption, which is not only saving, but, also, supplier. In the Gospel of John we find many statements of the Lord claiming the supplying SUFFICIENCY of His Person, as Good SHEPHERD, Light of the World, Living Water, Bread of Life, Eternal Life, True Grapevine etc. In John 15:5 the Lord states: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing”. This means that we must assume Him and give space for Him to act sufficiently through us.

The Word of God is another instrument of the supplying SUFFICIENCY of God, to teach and to enable the Christian (2 Timothy 3:14-17), guiding him in the discipling performance with full efficiency. The Holy Spirit, who inhabits every true Christian (John 14:16-17), is another precious and sufficient supplier to guide him in all truth (John 16:13) and to teach him (John 14:26), acting with divine power in the sustenance of His witness and in the fight against the powers of the enemies, who Satan adeptly manipulates against us; it attends him in his weaknesses, directing him in His prayers.

We cannot, yet, omit to mention the supplying sufficiency of the Grace of the Lord, who acts in many forms. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 we see how Paul receives from the Lord the blessing of the sufficient supply of His Grace, in the deep discouragement of His soul, when hearing the sublime words from the Lord: “my Grace is sufficient to you”. In the exercise of our “true discipleship” we can count on His SUFFICIENCY.

  • To REFLECT IT in our daily life: This results from our identification with Him. In other words, it becomes necessary that our Christianity be a manifestation of Him, in what we are and in what we do. He wants, more that everything, that we be a reflection of His Person and of His teaching. It is what Peter discloses in 1 Peter 2:21… “To this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps”. Paul uses an expression that gives a very clear idea of this teaching, when he states in 2 Corinthians 2:14-15… “thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place, for we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”

Our identification with Christ, to REFLECT Him in everything, as is His wish, demands we seek to have close communion with Him, on the terms that Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 3:18… “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord ”.

Our “true discipleship true” depends on this type of experience. It was by seeking this target that Paul reached it, stating: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). In Philippians 1:21 Paul says more: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” How extraordinary was the life of the great apostle reflecting in his ministerial experience! Let us follow His example in our “true discipleship”.

Conclusion: As we saw initially, the process established by the Lord for the efficacious process of evangelization of the world is that of the “true discipleship”. This implies, necessarily, that we are “true disciples”, accepting the challenge of the Lord in Luke 9:23, adopting the three conditions that this challenge contemplates, the RESIGNATION, the REJECTION and the SURRENDER we will be “true disciples” for the exercise of “true discipleship”.