What would you change in your relationship with God, with Christians and with other people in your life? A lot of people would want to:
Pray more faithfully
Hear more clearly
Live more confidently
All true disciples of Jesus would want these things. What we tend to think about, however, is how bad we are at these things. We look at what Jesus requires of us and feel daunted because a disciple is supposed to:
Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself (Lk.10:27)
Love other Christians (Jn.15:17
Go and make disciples - more people to challenge your capacity to love unconditionally (Mt.28:18-20)
Lets face it, we become Christians, perhaps do a course or two, but then what on earth do we do? Most of us simply get lost in the general melee of church life (melee, from the French, meaning a confused crowd. It can seem like that sometimes can't it?) What is a disciple and what is a disciple meant to look like?
Discipleship was commonplace in the ancient world. Philip Vogel calls us apprentices in his excellent book Go and Make Apprentices, still available at Amazon. Some notable biblical apprentices are, Joshua who was apprenticed to Moses; Elisha who learned his craft from Elijah; Timothy who learned everything he knew from Paul. Then, of course, there were the disciples of John the Baptist. Disciples are not confined to the Bible. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle had their followers.
Disciples chose who they would follow so if you were drawn to a materialist philosophy you might follow an Epicurean teacher. If you were searching for a philosophy that taught clear judgement and inner calm you might seek out a Stoic teacher. In this respect what made Jesus stand out was his statement:
“You did not chose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit...” (Jn.15:16)
The fruit that will last is grounded in love. Love for God, love for our neighbour, love for Christians and a determination to share that love with others – make disciples. But how do we do that? What does it look like when we are doing it? Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, gives us a start when he writes:
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts in things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col.3:1-4)
Having died to ourselves and been raised with Christ, we are now citizens of another kingdom altogether, the kingdom of God. Our hearts and minds, then, should be set on the progress, the service of that kingdom and, if they are, they become capable of loving with all our hearts, souls, mind and strength, because they are heavenly hearts, heavenly minds.
What do we see when we set our hearts and minds on things above? We see Christ sitting on the right hand of God. We see the One to whom we are apprenticed:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Col.1:15-19)
Take a breath for a moment, take another look at that powerful description of Jesus and consider this: you did not chose him, he chose you. Astonishing, isn't it? So now we have our eyes on him we need never, dare not take them off him again because, you see, he is the way (Jn.14:16) and he is the light (Jn.1:1-4) Jesus is the truth lived out and demonstrated for the world to see.
The original disciples spent a lot of time with Jesus and eventually were sent to live out the truth among the people the way Jesus did. So the way to be a disciple is to have our eyes on Jesus and follow him, like an apprentice following and copying the master strokes of the craftsman. Paul describes this way of learning by copying in this passage:
“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” (1 Thess.1:5-7)
Did you get that? You know you have been chosen by God when your faith is worked out in power and conviction and the indwelling Spirit. If you are a disciple you will imitate the mature lives of others and of the Lord and you will become an example to others. Furthermore, this life of fixing our eyes on Jesus, imitating him and the good examples of others brings us peace (Philip.4:9)
Disciples of Jesus spend time with Jesus and encourage one another in the things of the kingdom (Acts 2:42-47) Discipleship is not a solitary enterprise but is practised in community. That is why we need to learn to love one another. We are going to spend eternity together and we will spend it in the kingdom of God so we had better learn to love and the sooner we set our hearts and minds there the better prepared we will be for his coming and for that time when nothing will ever again get in the way of our knowing and worshipping him.