What is a disciple? – Part 1

It is not uncommon for us to misunderstand what it means to be a disciple. We see this in Jesus’ own ministry. Those who followed Him missed that discipleship wasn’t about being the greatest or sitting in the most privileged position (Mark 9:33-37; 10:35-45). Some who followed Jesus early on did so because of what He could do for them not necessarily because He was the Christ (Mark 8:27-33). It is possible to misunderstand what it means to be a disciple. It happened in Jesus’ own ministry and it happens today. 

How do we misunderstand what it means to be a disciple?

Many misunderstand church attendance for discipleship, thinking that if they come to church on a regular basis or every now and again, they are a disciple. Or they mistake their families church attendance for them being a disciple, they are in by connection. Some believe being connected to a social justice cause makes them a disciple. Still others believe discipleship is only for the super spiritual. Or that it is a program that we go through for a matter of weeks or months. There are many ways in which we can misunderstand discipleship. 

Misunderstanding discipleship is not an agree to disagree type of misunderstanding. It is a base level understanding that those who call themselves Christians need to understand. Likewise, if we are going to be a church that makes disciple-making disciples, we must all be on the same page as to what we are seeking to make. 

What is a disciple?

Over the next several posts, I am going to provide you with three characteristics of a disciple. We can add more to this list, but these are the three things I see in Matthew 11:28-30. 

(1) A disciple is someone who seeks rest in Jesus

Look at Matthew 11:28-30 with me,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.””

Mt 11:28–30

I read and handed Gentle and Lowly out to my congregation this last year. The book is written as an extended explanation of these verses. 

I believe Gentle and Lowly is an important book because popular culture has a tendency to paint Jesus as hard and harsh, especially towards those who are sinners. But that is far from the truth. 

Jesus is Gentle

When we allow Jesus to tell us who He is, He reveals that He is gentle and lowly.In other words, He is not a hard and harsh taskmaster. He is not trigger happy, ready to smite us as soon as we sin. Instead, He is gentle. He is tender towards those who are caught up in sin. 

Jesus is Lowly

Not only is He gentle, but He is lowly, meaning He is accessible. We don’t have to jump through hoops. We don’t have to clean ourselves up before we come to Him. He is not tucked away in a white castle surrounded by an impassable mote. He is lowly, accessible. 

Jesus offers rest

We should come to Jesus, we should approach Him because He can offer us rest for our weary souls. Jesus is able to offer rest because He does what we can’t do.

I don’t know about you but sometimes as I am scrolling through Facebook, I come across these videos that highlight incredible workers. It is typically someone who is working with wood, stone, metal or tile. Their skillset is absolutely next level. They are able to make things out of these mediums that seem impossible. Sometimes I watch those videos in amazement. I find myself thinking, “I could never do that.” 

The same thing I think about those workers and what they are able to accomplish, we need to think about Jesus and what He has accomplished — we can never do what He has done. No amount of effort on our behalf could ever get us to the same level as Jesus. It is when we try that we wear ourselves out. 

When we compete with Jesus, what we are trying to do is earn our own salvation through our own self-effort. We need to stop seeking self-salvation. We need “to come” to Jesus for rest. 

True disciples rest in Jesus’ work on their behalf. 

Why we need to rest in Jesus

True Disciples recognize they are sinners. It is their sin that hinders their relationship with the Father. God is holy — He is set apart from us. We can’t come into His presence on our own because we are unholy. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves holy. There is nothing we can do to pay our debt with the Father. The wages of sin is death. That is what we deserve. We deserve eternal death. Eternal separation from God and all that is good. But Jesus has repaired our relationship by dying on our behalf. All those who believe in Jesus experience rest. 

True disciples come to Jesus for rest. Rest from the consequences of their sin and the burden of seeking self-salvation. 

If you are weary, know that the only way you are going to experience rest and relief is by turning to Jesus. Working longer and harder, trying to be a better person, and giving more will not ultimately result in release. Only Jesus can provide you the rest you desire. True disciples recognize that and they come to Jesus for rest. 

Want to keep learning?

Watch the sermon this post is based on.

Are you looking for a church?

Eastridge Baptist Church is a multi-generational thriving community of real people experiencing real life together. We seek to be the church every day and everywhere we go, as we live in community and on mission for Jesus. We are located in the heart of Red Oak, Texas. Our desire is to make Jesus’ name famous as we seek to make “disciple-making” disciples who prize community and Jesus’ mission.

How do we work for the good of the city?

In my last post, I argued that we should work for the good of our cities. Our work is important and we should be motivated to work for the good of our cities since our welfare is tied up with the welfare of the city. In other words, as the city prospers, we will prosper. Not only will we prosper, but the gospel will have a more peaceful platform from which to launch. If we want to see our cities reached with the gospel and changed for good, we should work for the good of our cities. (Learn more from my last post here .)

You may be “amening” me at this point. You’re ready to jump on board. But you might be wondering, “how do I work for the good of the city? What are some practical actions I can take?” I’m glad you asked.

At the outset, let me say that we aren’t to work to bring about good with violence. Violence never accomplishes that which we believe it will accomplish. Instead, we are to work for the good of our cities in other ways. Here are three ways you can work for the good of your city.

(1) Participating in Politics and Law making.

Before you completely write this option off, hear me out. I’ll start with a quote because I believe it sets up the idea well.

“True justice exists only in the society of God, and this will be truly fulfilled only after the Judgment. Nevertheless, while no society on earth can fully express this justice, the one that is more influenced by Christians and Christian teaching will more perfectly reflect a just society. For this reason, Christians have a duty toward government.”

 Robert E. Webber in Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner’s, City of Man, 27.

I like what this guy has to say. It is reasonable and balanced. He knows politics aren’t going to solve all our problems. But he also knows that societies that are influenced by Christians are those that operate better than those that aren’t.

That’s because, as this same author goes on to argue:

“Laws express moral beliefs and judgments…They tells citizens what our society ought to value and condemn, what is worthy of our respect and what we should disapprove of.”

 Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, City of Man, 31.

Think about the state of Colorado: Marijuana is now legal. That is a big deal. Not only because its citizens readily have access to drugs, but also because it influences Coloradans morality. Right now, some citizens may see the use of Marijuana as being morally wrong, but think about how people will see it in fifty years. As a generation comes and goes the view that it is wrong to use marijuana is going to fade into the background. Laws express moral beliefs and judgments, they tell us what we should and shouldn’t approve of.

While politics and law is not for everyone, Christians can’t neglect its importance. It’s one way we can work for the good of the city as we live in the in-between.

(2) Truly Living as Disciples of Jesus

A friend of mine asked me in the past:

“What if the world actually saw Christians living out their calling?”

The reason he asked that is because a lot of people who claim to be Christian don’t live out their calling. While they might attend church on Sunday, the rest of the week they go about their business as usual. They don’t operate out of a Christian worldview, allowing it to drive and influence their everyday lives.

But imagine if we did? Imagine the impact we could have if we truly lived out our Christian convictions in every area of life? One author presses into this idea saying,

“It is therefore the church’s duty to display in an evil age of self-seeking, pride, and animosity the life and fellowship of the Kingdom of God and of the Age to Come.”

George Eldon Ladd, A theology of the New Testament, 113.

In other words, we are to live in a way that shows what it will be like to live in the new kingdom. We are to be witnesses to the change Jesus can bring about as we live in the every day. If we do, we will have considerable influence in the community.

Another way we can bring about change is actually living distinctly Christian lives.

(3) Preaching the Gospel

I left this one for last because I believe it’s the most important and that which we should ultimately be working towards. While changing laws and policies can bring about positive change in a society, they don’t deal with the core problem, which is the heart. When the Bible refers to the heart, it refers to our inner-self — our will, wants, and desires. It is what drives us. Naturally, we are sinful people. While laws and policies can restrain sin, it can’t cure it. Only the gospel can cure a sin sick heart.

When someone believes Jesus is their Lord and Savior, they experience a change in heart. Their desires, will, and wants should change. Instead of desiring sin, they should desire God. That desire should continually grow.

It is that desire that led David in Psalm 51:10 to pray,

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps 51:10)

Without his heart first being changed to desire the things of God, he would not have ever prayed that prayer. Nor would he have ever seen any life change.

If we truly want to make an impact on the cities in which we live, we need to preach the gospel. Telling others of the hope of Jesus. As they believe, their hearts will change, which should ultimately have an impact on the community as they live out their daily lives as disciples of Jesus.

Watch the sermon from which this post is developed.

We Should Work for the Good of Our Cities

As Christians, we should work for the good of cities. The idea appears sound. It appears that working for the good of the city is something we should definitely do.

But some Christians struggle with the idea. They would rather retreat from the city than work towards its good.

There are many objections we could explore but the one I want to tackle today is that this world is not our home. We belong to Jesus’ kingdom. As citizens of Jesus’ heavenly kingdom, we should work for its good but not the good of an earthly kingdom. Instead, we should distance ourselves from the world so that we are not tainted by the evil found therein. 

While some make the above argument, it is not biblical. Instead, the biblical view is that we should do all we can to work to bring about change in our cities now. 

Why should we work to bring about change in our cities? 

For the same reason Judah was supposed to work to bring about change in Babylon. As you read through the history of Israel, one thing becomes apparent — they were a rebellious people. Instead of worshipping the Lord, they worshipped other gods and relied on other nations to fight their battles instead of the Lord. As punishment for their unfaithfulness, God allowed His people to be conquered and exiled from the Promised Land. Israel was taken first by the Assyrians, then later Judah was taken by the Babylonians.

Right before the Babylonian exile, a number of false prophets told the people that they would come back to Jerusalem in just two short years, but that wasn’t God’s plan. In fact, Judah wasn’t coming back anytime soon. Instead they were going to stay in Babylon for 70 years (Jer. 29:10). 

While they would ultimately come back to the Promised Land, God didn’t want Judah to live as exiles. Instead he wanted them to take root. Jeremiah tells them in chapter 29 starting in verse 5:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf…” (Jer. 29:5-7a).

They were to take root — to have sons and daughters, to give them in marriage, and even to work for the good of the city. That might seem odd, but look at the rest of verse 7. It says, 

for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29:7b).

In other words, as the city prospers, they will prosper. As the city flourishes, they will flourish. That same idea applies to us. While our home is the kingdom to come, we live here now. 

Instead of living as strangers, as exiles, we are to take root. We aren’t to live on the fringes, we aren’t to pull back. Instead, we are to work for the good of our country, city, and community. We are to work for good because as the city prospers, we prosper. As the city flourishes, we flourish.

While we are here, we are to work to make things better. We are to show the world a sliver of the kingdom to come. As we do so, we will not only enjoy a better life, but we will act as witnesses of the kingdom for which we find our hope. Hopefully, others will find their hope in the kingdom to come too.

Watch the sermon from which this post was developed.

Tenderness is not a sign of weakness 

Reading through 1 Thessalonians this morning, and as a follow up to my last post, I am struck by Paul’s care and desire for the Thessalonians. Certainly, his care extends to their physical needs, but his focus is on the spiritual in the latter verses of chapter 2 into chapter 3. His own boasting before the Lord is wrapped up in their spiritual steadfastness and growth (1 Thess 2:19). His desire to know how they are doing spiritually causes him to send Timothy ahead of himself and leaving him without his trusted associate (1 Thess 3:1-2). Upon Timothy’s return, his good report causes him joy (1 Thess 3:9). 

Paul as Model

Paul is a model in many ways. His boldness to proclaim the gospel and plant churches is inspiring. His willingness to put his life on the line for the sake of Christ time and time again is convicting. But his boldness and bravado are balanced by tenderness. As Christian leaders, we must not only be bold and brave, but we must also be tender with those whom the Lord has placed under our care. 

Tenderness is not a sign of weakness.

Rather it is evidence that the gospel has affected your heart. Our Lord is tender. He cares for those who are His like a nursing mother cares for her child. 

There are no pictures of Paul. Photography didn’t exist in Paul’s day. But I can’t help but think of Paul as a big, burly guy. I could be wrong. But that is the image that comes to mind when I think of Paul. If a big burly guy like Paul can be tender and caring so can we. Men, Pastor, allow Paul to be your example.

Tenderness is not a sign of weakness. 

Whose glory are you seeking?

Our world is full of those seeking their own glory. If you need an example, open your Instagram feed. There are examples after examples of those who seek their own glory, whether they use whit, sex, interest, or charm. The currency of glory, at least on Instagram, is hearts and comments. The more the better. 

But I am not here to pick on Instagram. I post pictures on my account regularly. It is not a bad medium. I gain a lot of inspiration from others for my own photography. It is, however, an example of the natural human desire for self-glory. 

I believe we all need to be aware of our natural tendencies, but today I want to speak specifically to ministry leaders and pastors. As leaders, we must be aware of our natural desire for self-glory. If we don’t, we will forget our reason for ministry. 

Paul, as example

Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, seeks to clear up a misunderstanding they had regarding him and his ministry when he says: 

For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” (1 Thess 2:3-8)

Paul is clear. He didn’t come:

  • To please man but to please God. 
  • He didn’t seek to flatter.
  • He wasn’t after their money. 
  • Nor was he seeking self-glory. 

Paul came to the Thessalonians in order to preach the gospel to bring glory to God.

Not Our Glory

As ministry leaders, our desires must be pure. Our motives must always be right and good. We must not seek position in the church for our own glory or gain. If we are in it for what we can get out of it, we will be tempted to hedge when times are tough. Instead of standing up for what is right, we will let things slide to keep our position or status. Unwillingness to take a stand, seeking self glory, is not how healthy churches are formed. As ministry leaders, our goal should be to win others to Christ, help them grow in the faith, and bring glory to God. If that is not our focus, then we are deceiving ourselves and the people/church to whom we are seeking to minister.

For Our Ultimate Boss

While we might be able to hide our motives from men, we can’t hide them from God. He is the only One who can peer into the innermost recesses of our lives, into our very heart — will, mind, emotions — and see why we do what we do. He is the ultimate judge. Not only should we seek to please Him in all we do, but we must also seek His glory above our own.

Whose glory are you seeking?

Don’t Retreat, Engage!

While it might be the case that many of you work and live among non-believers, it is also true that Christians often look for ways to retreat into their holy huddle.

Instead of gathering together in a holy huddle, I believe we are supposed to interact with and engage non-believers. If we don’t, we can’t accomplish the Great Commission — to make disciples because we don’t know any non-believers. If we want to win non-believers to Christ, we have to know some non-believers.

The reason I bring this up is because I know it is easy for us as Christians to gather together in our holy huddle. That is fine for a time, but at some point we have to break the huddle and engage those around us with the gospel, especially knowing that Jesus could return at any point. 

Imagine throwing down a couple of hundred dollars for a ticket to a Cowboys game, fighting traffic all the way over to Arlington, and spending even more time finding a parking spot and even more money at the concession stand, only to see the Cowboys never break the huddle after fielding the first kickoff and having to turn the ball over to the other team because of delay of game penalties. Imagine that? Imagine seeing that? 

That is exactly what we do if we remain in our holy huddle. Sure it is safe in there, but if we never engage anyone with the gospel, all we are doing is turning things over to the other team. That’s not good because the other team isn’t just going to score a touchdown. The other team is scoring someone’s soul. Instead of remaining in a holy huddle, we need to engage those around us with the gospel.

In order to do that we have to know people who are non-believers. When I say know, I don’t mean know of, but actually know them — as in you have a relationship with them. If we are going to accomplish the Great Commission, we have to know non-believers. We have to interact with them on a regular basis. 

We have to be like the world, engaging them in relationship with the gospel, while at the same time we must be unlike the world, so that they can see what it would look like for them to live as a Christian. 

Use the relationships you have. Engage the people you know on a regular basis. Get to know non-believers and engage them with the gospel.