The subject of discipleship is not very frequently brought before us; if we neglect it, we lose a great deal that is most helpful to us in our Christian life and service. Let us consider it now, with the hope of benefiting by a brief study of things we ought to know if we are to be the Lord’s intelligent and devoted disciples.
When the Lord first called His disciples, He said to them all He had to say in two words: “follow me.” The disciples, then, were his followers. In this way they learned their lessons. They saw Him, heard Him, and obeyed Him. The teaching they received had practical character. They did what He told them to do in simplicity of heart and with a ready mind. In His service they were happy, for His commandments were not grievous, nor was His yoke heavy.
In the scripture cited above, we see that at that time, “there went a great multitude with Him.” It could not be said that the Lord was a popular teacher, or that He ever aimed at attracting the populace, as such, to Himself. We read of Him sending the multitudes away (after He had ministered to their bodily needs) because in no sense were the multitudes his disciples.
They sought Him that He might heal them of their diseases, or give them food to satisfy their hunger, but beyond these creature necessities they do not seem to have had any particular desire for Him. The Lord knew this, and said to them, “ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled” (Jn. 6:26).
However, on this occasion the multitudes went with Him, and this gave the Lord the opportunity to give them the conditions of discipleship, saying, “if any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, He cannot be my disciple.” This hating of one’s own family, of one’s own life, and bearing of one’s cross were the essentials of discipleship. There must be a complete break with the old life.
If we allow natural feelings and reason to sway us as we consider these words, we shall greatly err. The spirit of God alone can teach us what they mean, and to His teaching we submit. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the spirit is sprit” (Jn. 3:6). The reasoning and feeling of the flesh are fleshly, and the teaching of the spirit is spiritual.
Peter made a great mistake when he rebuked the Lord; He had told His disciples that He must suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed; though in three days He would rise again. But the Lord severely rebuked Peter, seeing Satan behind his words, for he savored not the things of God, but the things of men (Mk. 8:31-34).
Having said this to Peter, He called the people and His disciples to Him, and said, “whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
Peter was governed by the things that are of men - a fatal error! But how easily it is done. We only need to give rein to our flesh and we run into error immediately. On the other hand, we have the flesh ruled out altogether when we bear our cross. The cross carries the sentence of death on the flesh. Only one thing ends it – death. The cross is the power to affect it; how important, then, that we should have the cross continually upon us.
Then we need to learn the lesson that the Lord taught in the two parables: the building of the tower, and the king going to war confronted by another king with twice as many men. In both cases the call is to count the cost. Not to count the cost is folly, yet there are many who start forth as Christians without considering the responsibilities to be faced. It behooves us to quietly and carefully reckon not simply how to begin, but also how to carry on and ultimately reach an honorable conclusion. If we do count the cost, we shall quickly realize that no power for these things is found in our flesh and that we may find all our sufficiency and power in the Spirit of God. He it is who builds up what is of God, and gives grace and strength for the conflict that is involved.
Of all this, the apostle Paul is a good example. He counted the cost and suffered the loss of all things, as he tells us in Phil. 3. He did his work well, ending it in honour and glory. He could say, “I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). What now remained for him was the crown. The cross when born faithfully secures the crown. And this is what the Lord would have us emulate, an honorable ending to the path of faith; what Peter calls an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom.
Then again, if one king were to go to war with another, he would surely count the cost, and face the facts governing the conflict. True discipleship involves conflict, and we have no sufficiency for this save in the power of the Spirit of God. But if it were also asked, “What then has the disciple of the Lord Jesus to give?” In one word, His answer is, all. “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”
When the Lord Jesus was on earth, many would have liked to follow Him as disciples. One was rich, but when told to sell all that he had, and follow Christ, taking up his cross, he wanted to retain his riches. Another said that he would follow the Lord wherever He went, but when the Lord told him that He had not where to lay His head, and that in consequence he would have to suffer great privations, he turned aside and abandoned the thought of becoming a disciple.
The fact of the matter is that if we are truly disciples of the Lord Jesus, we cannot allow anything to come between us and Him, anything which would displace the supreme place which He is to have in our hearts.
Has the Lord called us to follow Him? Then let us answer to His call in a worthy way, by forsaking all else; that He may have the supreme place in our hearts; and that we may follow, and be with Him. He must be enthroned in our hearts, and there must be no rival there. Whether it be father, mother, wife, children, brethren, sisters, friends, or even our own life, all must be left to acknowledge his supremacy and follow Him.
We should not think that those earthly relationships whom we leave in order to follow the Lord, are forever lost to us. No, we get them in a better way. Not simply now, as of old flesh, but rather as in the Lord. To have them in the flesh is to have them for the brief span of our earthly lives. When we hold them in the Lord, we have them forever; not only in this life but also in that which is to come. Set free from earthly entanglements, we truly became disciples of the Lord Jesus.