By Ryan Shaw
Ryan is the International Lead Facilitator of Student Volunteer Movement 2 and currently lives among the unreached.
As we look at the scope of what is going on around the world today, we must concede that the days appear to be getting darker and darker.
Overwhelming problems such as rampant disease epidemics, unclean water and stark poverty are growing, wars and scuffles between nations and ethnic groups are on the rise, and religious fundamentalism and intolerance toward true followers of Jesus seems to be mounting.
This intolerance and even outright hatred of those who follow Christ is what I want to discuss in this article. How do we understand Jesus’ call to full discipleship in relation to the world today? What sort of believer is necessary in this hour?
Jesus’ view of discipleship is quite foreign in many of our church settings today. It is a view that does not seek out the disciple with various tantalizing incentives, but instead lays out a most stringent and exacting lifestyle to which the disciple is to follow.
Multitudes followed Jesus from a distance in the crowds as He went from town to town, yet most of these are nowhere to be found when He laid out His terms of true discipleship. Due to the healings and deliverances and other signs of extraordinary power that Jesus displayed, His popularity among the commoners skyrocketed.
At one point they even wanted to make Him their earthly king (John 6:15). He was presented with an incredible opportunity to capitalize on such popularity and adulation. Most of us (maybe all) would not have been able to handle the temptation to “be great” that Jesus faced.
Our fleshly ambition and drive for a sense of importance would have kicked in and we would have spiritualized what we were experiencing as “God’s will” for our ministry to grow. Yet, the Son of Man forsakes their praise, clings to meekness, and lays out an incredibly unpopular stance on what He is looking for in His followers (Matthew 20:27; Mark 9:35).
He almost seems to be deliberately laying down conditions which appeared incredibly difficult to walk in. In doing so He was intentionally seeking to eliminate those who were of a superficial bent toward Him.
No teaching that the great God-Man ever gave was more unpopular than the terms of full discipleship. He could have easily lowered His standards in order to keep the adoring crowd pleased, yet He didn’t. Why? First, Jesus wanted their whole affections and for them to love Him as He loved them.
He knew what was in the heart of man. He knew the fickleness and how easily they were swayed from one thing to the next. One who only wanted to be around Jesus due to His power would not love Him deeply at a heart level.
He wanted, while He was still with them, to cultivate an unswerving wholeheartedness toward Him that would not be easily shaken once He ascended. John Wesley grasped this truth when he commented in his day, “Give me 100 men who love nothing but God and hate nothing but sin and I’ll change the world in one generation.”
A second motivation of Jesus’ was evidently found in that He knew what lay ahead in the plans of the Father to see the gospel preached to all people groups. He knew the hostility His true followers would face both at the hands of those they thought would understand (their own people, the Jews) as well as those who were outside of Israel.
He was training them and preparing them for a road that would be wrought with hardship. He was purposefully after quality in the hearts and lives of His followers and not merely after quantity. He wanted a consecration among the few that would go the distance.
Could Jesus afford to use as His servants a follower whose commitment was not sacrificial and was prone to wavering? One who committed when things were easy and fun would not be faithful when hardships arose.
The issues at hand were so important and the stakes so high that He could only count one as His disciple if they were willing to comply with His conditions and sign up for His terms of discipleship, forsaking their own.
Today it is no different. Jesus is in the business of building people who are willing to forsake all to follow Him because He knows that it will be these who “turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6)!” I think it is safe to say that many of our churches globally are filled with people who are not really His disciples.
They may be received into heaven at the appointed time, but it will be “as through the fire (1 Cor. 3:15)!” They will receive no reward and will not hear the coveted words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
So, what are the terms of discipleship that Jesus calls all who follow Him to comply with? Luke 14: 25-33 spells out three essential conditions of discipleship. I will only briefly touch on these due to space, but encourage the thorough study of each of these on your own.
– We are a disciple only as we love Him more than any other. As His disciples, important decisions of loyalty will be made. God will deliberately put us in circumstances that require these decisions of loyalty to be made and our families and their varying levels of claim on us will be a primary one.
He requires a matchless love before any other in the hearts of those called “disciple.” The test is always ‘Will our natural affections prevail over our love of Him?’ Our love of self must also concede to love for Him. The overpowering concerns for self must be submitted to love first for Him.
2) A Relentless Commitment to Bear the Cross – Bearing the cross is a voluntary affair and is symbolized to refer to shame, suffering and death. One only bears a cross who is rejected by the world and who shares the scorn, hatred and ostracism of it for Jesus’ sake.
One author has stated, “When we voluntarily embrace the adverse circumstances of life as instruments of death to the self-centered and selfish existence, we are bearing our own cross. Received aright, the sufferings, limitations and trials of life will lead us to our true position as crucified with Christ.”*
3) An Abandonment of Material Possessions – This requirement is a full surrender of all. Vs. 33 calls us to forsake all that one has. Jesus’ command here appears staggering and absolute. He claims the right to every material thing in His disciples possession to use as He sees fit in His incomparable wisdom.
He does this evidently because He knows the clinging power that human beings have for their “stuff.” He expects a disciple to hold his possessions, property, etc with an open hand giving Him full access to it.
Though His standard is immense and incredibly stringent, we see clearly in the gospel accounts that His disciples were prone to mistakes, just like us. In the midst of this fact, Jesus’ grace, tenderness, kindness and love abounds and is on full display.
He is not after perfection, but a heart that is turned toward Him with abandon. Do not miss the forest for the trees. In seeing His high calling, many have looked at themselves and seeing their inadequacy, backed away and ceased following Him.
Instead, a right response is to fully identify, recognize and cling to our utter inability to follow Him in such a way and throw ourselves completely and unashamedly at His feet.
The early disciples could not do it and neither can any of us. Yet, God’s power through His Spirit is ample enough and sufficient enough to prop us up and make of us something we could never have imagined or expected.
Observe Peter as an example – a man who seemed to constantly put his foot in his mouth and speak at the wrong time. Yet, Jesus saw His heart intention though he failed consistently and was pleased with him.
He trained Him and prepared Him (as He will do for each of us who respond to His call to full discipleship). Then in the book of Acts we see this same Peter, now endued with the power of the Holy Spirit (the same Spirit available and ready to be poured out on each of us), boldly witnessing of Christ and preaching the Kingdom of God.
Let us remind ourselves that the societal pressure and persecution that he and the other apostles faced was similar to what many serving among the unreached today face.
They prayed for boldness to do what God had called them to (be His witnesses) and they received it and faithfully went forward. No doubt their training and preparation with Jesus kept them moving in the face of incredible obstacles.
I am concerned that in many of our circles today a spirit of fear has gripped God’s people. As intolerance and hostility towards Jesus followers increases globally, many are shrinking back.
In a time when message bearers should be going to the most hostile areas and lovingly incarnating the gospel among the unreached, many are being cautious, citing this as some spiritual virtue. This idea was foreign to Jesus’ teaching as seen above.
Yes, He taught to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16) yet the context of this admonition is to do so in the midst of being delivered up to councils and persecuted.
They were not being told to do this in order to get out of trouble, but to respond rightly and with godly wisdom in the midst of it. Jesus expects His people to willingly go into potentially dangerous situations with a vision and strategy for harvest in that area and to not hide and cower in a corner once they arrive.
Have we become too comfortable? Have we allowed ourselves to become too calculating in our mission strategy? I believe it is high time to throw caution to the wind and follow the example of the apostles laid out for us in Acts 1-5. This is what Jesus is preparing us for and what His heart and purpose is in the world.
“Jesus, I long to be a person wholly devoted to you. I want to grow as Your disciple. I know I cannot do this in my own power or by my own strength. I pour my heart out to You and ask You for the anointing of Your Spirit to follow You according to the conditions You have laid out in Your Word.
I confess that I have shied away from such conditions because they seem hard, but I want You to know that I love You more then I love my own comfort and my own ways. I commit myself afresh to follow You as Your disciple, by Your empowering and enabling grace.
Help me face and overcome any love that I have that rivals my heart’s ability to love you in an unsurpassed manner. Enable me to voluntarily take up my cross and bear the shame, scorn and rejection of the world as I identify myself with You.
Empower me to surrender my right to my material possessions, knowing that I cannot serve two masters. They are Yours and only on loan to me. I love You Jesus and sign up for Your training program and regimen. Have Your way in me…”