Have you ever admired someone and thought someday you would be like them? Maybe it was a sports figure or a celebrity. I’ve had a few people I looked up to over the years. These were people I considered great Christians who seemed to walk closely with the Lord.
When I was about 18, I started Bible college in Sacramento. I didn’t know how I was going to pay for anything, I didn’t know how I was going to eat or take care of myself. I just knew God was calling me to do something in ministry so I stepped out on faith that he would meet my needs.
I needed a stack of books for my classes, but I had no money and no job. I got a bill for the books and didn’t know how I was going to pay for them. The next morning, I walk into my room, and someone had left a whole stack of books, the very ones I needed, on my bed. There was a note saying God had taken care of my book bill. Someone had paid for my books and wanted to bless me.
Years later, I found out that an older student named Don La Barbara had purchased them for me. I had really liked Don and looked up to him as a godly man. He’s a man who knows how to pray and hear from the Lord. I ended up dropping out of Bible college, that’s another story for another time, but I lost touch with Don. We reconnected 20 or so years later. He was on my board of directors for Gold Country Chaplaincy. He recently turned 86. He is a great man of God, and I still look up to him.
There are some people who pray, and God just seems to react to their prayers. It seems they have a special relationship with the Lord. I thought when I was a young Christian that someday when I became more mature and older that sin would not be such an issue for me. I would be closer to the Lord, and it would be easy to live for Christ. These things would not affect me the way they did. As a young man, I thought if I prayed more: if I memorized scripture: if I resisted sin more, then I would draw closer to God, and I would be able to just kind of coast along for the rest of my life. I thought prayer would become as natural as breathing, and the devil would realize I’m going all the way with Jesus and leave me alone.
Unfortunately, our spiritual life doesn’t work that way. My dreams of spirituality coming naturally crashed on the rocks.
What I discovered is spiritual warfare is real. Our spiritual formation is something that takes a lifetime. There are no shortcuts. It’s never easy. Those who seem “super spiritual” have gone through deep tragedy, heartache, and severe trials to get to where they are. They have gone through the fire. When we don’t use our physical muscles, they atrophy. We become weaker. I used to do a lot of weightlifting when I was young. I was very strong, and could easily lift my own weight and more. But staying strong like that required that I keep lifting weights.
The same is true spiritually. If you want to be strong, your spiritual faith muscles must be exercised.
One real problem in the church today, is we are taught we can become a Christian without ever becoming a disciple of Jesus. So many today are told to say that they believe in Christ, but you don’t have to live as if you believe. I like to call that getting your fire insurance paid up. There used to be a common bumper sticker that said, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” There is some truth to that. The problem is we have been taught to simply use that as an excuse instead of trying to do better.
Jesus never told his disciples to make converts. The fact is Jesus often talked about the difficulties of following him. From a marketing strategy, he was the opposite of a high-pressure salesperson. Here is what Jesus had to say about following him found in Luke 14:25-33, “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”
Salvation is the first step. Unfortunately, the church started preaching an easy salvation and has ignored discipleship. In other words, we would teach the ABCs of salvation. Accept Jesus Christ as your savior. Believe he died and was resurrected on the third day. Commit your life to Jesus Christ. And that’s it. When you die, you get to go to Heaven. But really, that’s just the beginning. That’s not the end of things. I can remember the church teaching me to just get someone saved – to say a sinner’s prayer, then no matter what else happens the rest of their life they are going to go to Heaven when they die. They told me there was no need to see any fruit of being a Christian in their lives, as long as they said the words.
There is a big difference between a conversion-centered Gospel and a disciple-centered Gospel. Jesus preached a disciple-centered Gospel, and that is what we preach here at New Hope.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is one of the Kingdom of God. Jesus preached that we can have a present relationship with him. When the church started preaching just conversion, their only goal was to prevent people from going to Hell or missing the rapture. The problem is, people get the attitude that they are going to Heaven, so they don’t need to do anything else. Discipleship is like a second level to them. It’s not something necessary and is reserved for super Christians and pastors. But the reality is, Jesus wants us all to be disciples, not just converts. The Bible says that the entry-level of being a Christian is being a disciple. It’s interesting to note that the title Christian is only used 4 times in the New Testament, whereas the title disciple is used at least 265 times.
The word for disciple is mathetes (Math-ay-tes) in Greek. This means student, apprentice, or learner. This was normally associated with someone who faithfully followed a teacher or a leader.
Dallas Willard once said, “The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples of Jesus Christ.
Willard goes on to say, “The disciple of Jesus is not the deluxe or heavy-duty model of the Christian – especially padded, textured, streamlined and empowered for the fast lane on the straight and narrow way. He stands on the pages of the New Testament as the first level of basic transportation in the Kingdom of God.”
To grow in Christ, and be a disciple of Jesus, and not just a convert, we do have to put in some effort. Salvation is a free gift from God. We can’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, it is a gift of Grace from God. We owed a debt we could never repay, and Jesus paid the debt that he didn’t owe by dying on the cross for us. So salvation is not something we can earn. But our spiritual formation is something that we team up with the Holy Spirit to accomplish. Spiritual transformation is how we over time are transformed to be more and more like Jesus.
The work of transformation is God’s work, but we are not to be passive in that. Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Salvation is a work of Jesus Christ. He completely accomplished this on the cross. Being a disciple is about us and God working together.
Titus 2:11-14 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
The same Grace that saves us becomes the grace that teaches us. It’s a lifelong process. It’s not just that we are forgiven, so someday we will get to go to Heaven and avoid Hell.
In the time of Christ, when a person wanted to learn a trade, they would become like a servant of the person who had the trade they wanted to learn. So for example, if a person wanted to be a rabbi, they would move in with the rabbi. They would do anything the rabbi needed to be done. This might be cleaning, cooking, and washing the rabbi’s feet. The servant or disciple of the rabbi would be constantly around the rabbi as they went about their work. They would observe what the rabbi did, and be taught by the rabbi. They would spend time with the rabbi, day in and day out until the disciple learned everything about the rabbi, and after several years, they would become much like the rabbi. They will have learned enough to call themselves a rabbi and be able to take a position as a rabbi with disciples of their own.
The same would be true of other trades. If you wanted to be a carpenter, or a tentmaker like Paul. You would apprentice yourself and learn to be like your teacher.
Many years later during the time of kings and knights, a person wanting to become a knight would find a knight looking for a squire. A squire would become the armor bearer for the knight. They would live with the knight and serve him. They would be responsible for caring for the armor, cleaning it, polishing it, and keeping it up. They would serve the knight and all of his wishes. Over time learning to joust, to fight, and how to be honorable. If they learned all their lessons well, and they served the knight faithfully eventually they too could become a knight.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we serve the Lord and try to do whatever he asks us to do. But we also have lessons to be learned. There are spiritual disciplines for us to practice that draw us closer to Him. There are several spiritual disciplines. Some examples would be studying the Bible, praying, attending church, and doing good works. Over a lifetime, we can become more and more like Christ.
So a disciple could be broken down in its simplest form to one who is a faithful student and a servant. We are formed through the spiritual formation to be like our teacher, Jesus. We serve him and spend time with him, and learn the lessons he wants us to learn.
Some people think the way to become more like Christ is to grit your teeth, get determined, and resist sin with all the willpower you can muster. Have you ever thought that way? If you only try hard enough you will be able to lose weight; if you only try hard enough, you will be able to get in shape; if you only try hard enough, you will be able to overcome sin and live more like Christ. With enough willpower and hard work, you can do anything you need to do.
Willpower is important. Sometimes you can accomplish a lot by just trying hard and having willpower. But we cannot become more like Jesus by just using willpower alone. If we only depend on our own strength, eventually we are going to fail. We all sin. I sin every day, not because I want to but because I have a sinful nature.
Thinking that we can do it in our own strength is a way that leads to failure, guilt, and feelings of discouragement.
John 8:31-32, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
I was recently ministering to an 86-year-old woman. She had some questions about what it means to be a Christian. One of her concerns was a difficult passage in the Bible where Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” She said she had never been able to forgive her mother and father for how they had treated her and her brothers and sisters growing up. Her father was a womanizer, a thief, very abusive, and a pedophile, and her mother was aware of it, and seemingly supported what he was doing. They practiced seances in their home, and welcomed evil spirits in. She told me about a lot of the horrible things her parents did to her and her siblings.
I explained to her that forgiveness is a choice, not necessarily a feeling. And forgiving does not excuse what they did. Romans 12:18-19 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” I explained how when someone does something to us like what happened to her, we may have to keep forgiving and ask God to help us forgive.
Remember the man who brought his son to Jesus for healing. He asked Jesus if he could heal his son. Jesus said all things are possible to him that believes. He told Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.” Jesus healed the boy. In the same way, we may have to ask the Lord to help us forgive. We choose to forgive or to hold a grudge, but forgiveness may not be a one-time thing. We may have to forgive every day and ask God to help us forgive every day. This woman prayed to become a Christian and asked God to help her forgive. She then asked to be baptized, so I explained baptism to her and baptized her. This question was something she had struggled with for years. At 86 years old, we have a new sister in the Lord.
It’s not all about willpower. We need the Lord’s help to overcome sin. See there are three sources of temptation that come against us. 1. Comes from our own fleshly desires. We have a sinful nature that wants to continue in sin. Our flesh is extremely selfish and wants to do what makes it feel good, no matter whom it hurts. Paul described it as a dead man attached to us. He said, “Oh, wretched man that I am, who will set me free from this body of death.” 2. Secondly, we live in a fallen world. Since the sin of Adam and Eve, the world is corrupt and seeks to have everyone act out in pride, arrogance, and have our own way as opposed to following God. Bad things happen to us not because God wants them to happen, but because we live in a fallen world. 3. Finally, the devil and his demons will try to tempt us and lead us away from the Lord. The only way we can overcome these three is with the help of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t mean that we are passive and don’t do anything, but we partner with the Holy Spirit working together to overcome sin and temptation.
This is the final point I want us to look at today.
When we look at how Jesus called the disciples, we never see him making a sales pitch. He never says, “Follow me and life will be grand.” Or “Come to me, and your life will be so much easier.”
When Jesus called Andrew and Peter he said, “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” That sounds like Jesus is saying, “follow me and I will put you to work.”
Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song a few years ago called “For the Sake of the Call.” I think he put the call of Jesus so eloquently. The first few stanzas go like this:
We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die for the sake of the call
Nobody stood and applauded them
So they knew from the start
This road would not lead to fame
All they really knew for sure
Was Jesus had called to them
He said “come follow Me” and they came
With reckless abandon, they came
Empty nets lying there at the water’s edge
Told a story that few could believe
And none could explain
How some crazy fishermen agreed to go where Jesus lead
With no thought to what they would gain
For Jesus had called them by name
And they answered…
We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die for the sake of the call
If you have never given your life and heart to Christ, if you have never made that decision to become a Christian, you can do that today. Jesus told us to count the cost. The 86-year-old woman I talked about looked at forgiving her father and mother. This was the biggest cost to her. She weighed it and decided it was worth the cost.
Coming to Christ is not just about avoiding Hell and going to Heaven when we die. That is very important. But this is about living your life for Christ. It’s about having a relationship with God starting right now.
Statistics show that young people come to Christ a lot easier than older people. I think that is because when they count the cost, there is a lot less to consider. But just like that 86-year-old woman last week, or the 101-year-old woman I had the privilege of seeing come to Christ a few months ago, we have to decide, is it worth it?
Jesus is calling your name today. Will you answer that call?
Jesus said in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
You may say you have not been so bad. Or maybe you think you are not a sinner at all. But have you ever told a lie? The Bible says if you have ever told a lie, you are a liar. Have you ever stolen anything? The Bible says that makes you a thief. The Bible says that every liar and every thief will have their part in the Lake of Fire along with murderers, pedophiles, prostitutes, and drunkards. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
There are only two kinds of people who get to avoid Hell and go to Heaven. The first is all the perfect people, who never break any of the ten commandments. The problem is, there has only ever been one person who was perfect, and that was Jesus Christ. That means he is the only one qualified to get to Heaven that way. The other people that get to go the Heaven are those who let someone else pay the cost.
Jesus was willing to go to the cross, to shed his blood for our sins, and to die in our place, without any guarantee that anyone would accept his free gift of salvation. He wants us to count the cost and determine if we will follow him, just like those crazy fishermen. Will you answer that call today?