Are you a faithful disciple of our Lord? Is it possible to be faithful and only be a disciple outwardly? Is discipleship related to the whole matter of one’s church membership? Is church reformation only possible where men and women of faith clearly perceive the meaning and requirements of a disciple of Christ? Is faithfulness to biblical doctrine important to a conscientious disciple or immaterial. Are the precepts which Christ taught His people through the apostles and prophets of the Old and New Testaments still governing principles for the lives of His disciples today?
What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ? What is discipleship? In the great mission mandate to the Church, Jesus said: “Go, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father…” The term translated in the text “teach” can also be translated “to make disciples.” Through the process of teaching various spiritual disciplines the Church would make disciples of all nations.
Exactly what were the apostles to teach? What was to be the contents of the various spiritual disciplines to which the nations would be exposed? Jesus defines the content of this instruction by adding: “Teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:20) The term ’’disciple” is by itself a purely formal term. The heathen and pagan religious teachers have their disciples. Modernists teachers have their disciples. The term disciple, therefore, is something like the term “religious”. Everyone is religious; but the content of one’s discipleship and religion varies from one to another. Therefore, Christ commanded His Church to teach all nations “to observe whatsoever I have commanded you.”
We believe that the Bible is a revelation of our covenant God and Father through Christ Jesus. The infallible inspired Word must be and is the content of all the teaching and preaching whereby Christ would make disciples. The Scriptures are the “Things” which Christ commanded us to observe. Therefore, the Word of God alone must be the content of our teaching that it may be personally appropriated by the disciples of Christ Jesus.
What specifically, then, does it mean to be a disciple of our Lord? Many times we think of a disciple as a follower. This is a true conception, but we would warn against all superficial thinking in this regard. A disciple of Christ is not a mindless follower or mere traditionalist. A disciple faithful to Christ is one who follows His specific precepts and doctrines or teachings. A faithful disciple is one whose life is governed by these precepts and doctrines. These precepts and doctrines of Christ rule the disciple’s will, guide his thinking, direct his feet. The Master rules and directs His followers through the Word!
Nothing less is discipleship before Christ. Mere traditionalism is not discipleship, nor is outward religious formalism with its spiritually destruction rituals and ostentatious ceremonies. The Word of God must be preached and lived in every sphere of life. God’s people often forget this truth. Before God’s people realize what is happening to them the institution of the Church often has substituted for the lively preaching of the Word mere formalism of rituals and ceremonies. Knowledge of the Word is gradually lost and many rejoice to have it so. The result? Sensitivity to one’s sin is lost, all fear of hell is gone, and the way of sanctification or holy living in dedication and consecration to Jehovah God is abandoned for the roads of worldly mindedness.
But a faithful disciple lives out of the Word. He keeps or observes all things whatsoever Christ commanded. (Matthew 28:20) This implies, of course, that a disciple knows the Word. To be a disciple of Christ is to be a student of the Word. A faithful disciple carefully listens to the Word. He is not judge who proudly exalts himself above the word, but he submits to the Word in childlike humility.
We should note that discipleship is an exclusive relationship. That fact should be readily apparent when we note the words that qualify the expression disciple. One is a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ. A believer is not a disciple of Christ and the philosophers and false prophets of our day. He is a disciple of Christ alone. He heeds the Word of God alone. To be a disciple of Christ is to be exclusively committed to Him and His Word. If one is a disciple of Christ he follows Christ at all times. In John 10:5 the word of Christ concerning the faithful exclusive comment of His own is found. Jesus said: “And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him:” A disciple of Christ does not follow those who fail to bring the Master’s Words. Rather a disciple of Christ will flee from those who bring the lie instead of the truth, false doctrine rather than the truth of the Word, stones instead of bread. The disciple clings to Christ and to His Word alone.
The exclusive character of the relationship of a disciple to Christ is rooted in the reality of love. A disciple not only knows Christ but he loves Him and His Father. Love is an exclusive relationship. The love of Christ and His Word does not permit the love of this world nor the things of this world. (I John 2:15) This love relationship between the Master and His disciples is a bond of fellowship in righteousness. In that bond of fellowship not only does Christ seek His redeemed people, but His redeemed people seek Him and find their joy and delight in His service and fellowship.
In this connection it would be good to point out the great importance of biblical doctrine to a disciple of Christ. Many so-called Christians today have little use for doctrine. The moment one begins to speak of “doctrine’ people “tune out.” Doctrine is repulsive to many and despised as unnecessary for a loving relationship with Jesus. But, we ask, can one be a disciple of Christ without a strong commitment to doctrine? Further, can one even know Christ and God our Father apart from doctrine? Obviously not! Discipleship implies the appropriation of doctrine. The doctrines of the Trinity, of Christ’s deity, the doctrines of redemption and atonement, justification, sanctification and of the creation and fall of mankind are all inseparably related to the relationship of discipleship in Christ Jesus. Only the truth leads to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. The lie always obscures Christ and precludes fellowship with Him. A disciple flees from false doctrine brought by strangers. But the disciple holds fast that which is good and called in Scripture “sound doctrine.” (I Thessalonians 5:21 and Titus 2:1)
The Church of our day must once again learn to do what the saints of Berea did when Paul and Silas preached in that city on their second missionary journey. We read of these disciples in Berea that they “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:11) The Word, doctrine, and truth were important to these saints of Berea; today, many account biblical doctrine of little or no importance. Besides in Berea the preaching of the great apostle Paul was subjected to an examination of its faithfulness in the light of scripture: but today many account this examination unnecessary and as possibly offensive to the preacher. But by what other measure will the disciple of Christ distinguish Christ’s voice from that of strangers? (John 10:5)
Doctrine is very important to a disciple’s life is governed by the Word. Through this Word Christ, The Master, dictates legal requirements for our walk in the world. What we are to confess is taught us in the Word. Disciples cling to the doctrine of the Word and through them to Christ. It ca not be any other way, for apart from the doctrines of the Word we cannot know the Christ whom the Scriptures declare. Unless the Church would lose itself in subjectivism and mysticism she must demand that the pulpit bring the Word alone.
Discipleship in Christ is difficult! Many picture the Christian life as free of all tension, trouble, struggle, fighting and disappointments; instead the life of a disciple is supposedly only happiness, joy and roses. But this view of the life of a disciple is not true. The Bible teaches that the disciple of Christ must expect trouble, persecution, a great spiritual battle, and affliction. The Bible teaches that the believer must fight against the old man of sin in himself and crucify his own sinful nature. True discipleship is contrary to our flesh. Further, the disciples of Christ as children of light are always opposed by those who are children of darkness. Scripture warns the disciples of Christ that we must put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11) If there was no battle against the forces of sin, why then the armor? Disciples are called daily to a spiritual battle. Besides our Master warned that ever as he was hated by wicked men even so would His disciples be hated and despised by the world. We should remember that he who refused to bear the scorn of the apostatizing church and the hatred of the world is unfaithful to Christ.
This truth is not meant to deny that the Christian also experiences happiness, blessedness and the joy of his salvation. But the attainment of the later is only through the way of obedience to the former. The disciples of Christ only enjoy this blessed fellowship with Him in and through the spiritual struggle against the lie and sin. Disciples are soldiers of Christ’s cross, as he was scorned so we. The life of faithful obedience to God’s Word is the life of victory.
“Then said Jesus unto the Jews which believed in Him, If we continue in my work, then are ye my disciples indeed and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.’’ (John 8:31 & 32)