The Conditions of Discipleship
From Notes of an Address
The word, disciple, is one that has largely dropped out of our vocabulary, or if it is held it is used in a very loose way, as though it were just interchangeable with the word, Christian. It is derived from a Latin word meaning a scholar, learner or follower, and that of course is what every Christian should be, for discipleship is just a full practical expression of Christianity. It is not God’s intention that there should be any divorce between the two. Waning affection for Christ may be the explanation of why we so rarely think and speak of ourselves as disciples. How often we have sung together,
“Oh! tell us often of Thy love,
Of all Thy grief and pain,
That we may in some small degree
Return Thy love again.”
Now discipleship is just that special way in which we can really return His love.
The term, disciple, is not limited to its Scriptural use. It is often used in connection with a school of thought or design initiated by some master mind. A great philosopher or painter arises and founds a school. Others charmed and fascinated by their teachings or works become their disciples. They set themselves to catch the master’s spirit and to follow his ideals. Presently you may see traits of these several masters exhibiting themselves in their disciples, and you may be able at once to recognize the school to which they belong. Sometimes the fascination is so great that men have surrendered many a comfort and lived on a mere pittance, at great cost to themselves, in order that they might reach their objective and become like their illustrious master. In this connection read Matthew 10:25 and Luke 6:40.
Discipleship then involves certain conditions, and if we would discover what they are we must read Luke 14:26, 27, 33. The Lord Jesus said that apart from the things He specified in these verses, “If any man come to Me . . . he cannot be My disciple.” Now contrast this with John 6:37, where He so plainly says, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” What a comfort these words have been to many a poor sinner! Have we not often told such that coming to Him is just a way of showing their faith in Him, and that believing in Him they are forgiven and saved, and they become Christians? What then about Luke 14?
Luke 14 shows us that many of us might more truthfully and more consistently be called believers than disciples! “If any man come to Me and hate not his father and mother . . . yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” “Whosoever does not bear his cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple.” “Whosoever . . . forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple.” Discipleship imposes these tests, whereas no test is imposed on those who would become Christians.
My salvation, my becoming a Christian, does not depend upon anything that I can do, but I am asked to do something very serious if I would become one of His disciples. It costs me nothing to be saved, but it costs me much to be a disciple. I get all the blessings of the Gospel by a simple faith, but then faith works by love, and it is this love to Him that will lead me after Him, that will take me into the path of a disciple. The moment I begin to show my allegiance and devotion to Him, or in other words, begin to “return His love again,” that moment it begins to cost me something.
What is the reason for this? It is because, as we sometimes sing, “Our Lord is now rejected.” When the circumstances depicted in Revelation 14:4 are reached it will be quite easy to “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth,” but it is not so now. If the Master has been “disallowed indeed of men,” then His disciples must be prepared to be disallowed also; not perhaps by fire and sword and rack, as our predecessors were, but by being cut by old friends, by being left out of their company, by being ridiculed and sneered at. A disciple is not above his Master, and He said, “if the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18).
There is nothing of legal constraint about true discipleship, but rather the constraint of love. “The love of Christ constraineth us,” is the language of one whose heart has been won by grace.
Grace is the character His love takes in its activity towards us, so utterly undeserving. Discipleship is the character our love takes in its activities towards Him, who is so infinitely deserving.
Grace displayed costs Him. Discipleship displayed costs us. We rightly sing,
“For this, Oh may we freely count
What’er we have but loss;
The dearest object of our love,
Compared with Thee, but dross.”
It is Luke alone who gives us the absolute conditions, the sine qua non, of true discipleship, though both Matthew and Mark refer to following Him, and Matthew records the words in which the Lord expressed His desire for them. “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me.” In that way we are to take character from the Master. It indicates that there is such a thing as growth in discipleship.
How sweeping are the conditions! “If any man . . . hate not . . .” How is it that I am called upon to hate those whom the Word of God says I am to love? The fact is, He must have no rival in the heart of a true disciple. In what sense then am I to hate my father, my mother, etc.? The thing that I hate I turn away from as intolerable to me. Anything that would stand between me and my Master must be turned away from as cordially as I would turn away from the thing that I hated. I may have to do violence to all natural affections and relationships in order to follow Him.
We have a striking illustration of this kind of thing in the life of the Lord, when Peter would have come in between Him and obedience to His Father’s will, recorded in Matthew 16:21-23. In Peter’s words the Lord recognized the voice of the tempter, endeavouring to turn Him aside, and He said, “Get thee behind Me, Satan.” It looked as if His love for Peter had suddenly become hatred. He was turning away from one who would have prevented Him following the One He loved, with the same feelings as He would have had in turning away from one that He hated.
But not only do natural relationships often stand in the way, but self-love, and all that I possess, must also be set aside. The thing I love the best, my own life, must not be allowed to hinder my following Him.
In Luke 9:23, the Lord speaks of our denying ourselves as well as our taking up the cross, and in the end of that chapter we read of two men that crossed His path: one was a volunteer, the other was called to follow Him, and neither of them did so.
One failed because the path involved the forsaking of all that made for comfort in his life; the other because he allowed human relationships to hinder. “Me first,” was his motto, and that cannot be in the path of discipleship, He loved his own life. He put his father before the Lord. Now if a man loves his own life he shall lose it. To follow Christ here all this must be faced, for the world will never change its judgment of Christ. The opposition may change its character but not its nature.
To deny self is not merely to deny certain things to self. That would only be recognizing self, though curbing it. When Peter denied the Lord he was not denying certain things to the Lord; rather he disowned Him altogether as having no sort of link with Him. To deny self is practically to put self to death, to reckon without self; when no doubt we shall have done with many a thing that hinders. Baptism is really an acknowledgement that the old self-life is at an end—“buried with Him by baptism unto death.” A man had been baptized and after he came up out of the water a pipe was found in the water. They got it out and said to him, “Is this yours?” “No,” he replied, “it belonged to the man you have just buried.”
To forsake all that I have is to surrender my claim to all that I have and henceforth to hold it at the disposal of the Master. It is to say,
“Nought that I have my own I call,
I hold it for the Giver,
My heart, my life, my soul, my all,
Are His, and His for ever.”
Discipleship does not admit of, “Some of self, and some of Thee,” nor even of, “Less of self, and more of Thee.” It is, “None of self, and all of Thee.”
Some of us may be saying, “This hating of father and mother, this hating my own life, this bearing the cross, and forsaking all that I have, are demands too staggering to be entertained. If I can be a Christian without being a disciple, then I will be contented with that.” But suppose the Master had argued that way when it was a question of our salvation, and said, “I see it is going to cost Me too much,” what would have become of us? We need to know how to count the cost in the right way.
Turning again to Luke 14, verses 28 to 32, we find that the Master is preparing His disciples for following Him in an evil day and in an enemy’s country. He is not leading them into paths of glory though they may ultimately lead to glory. He speaks of building a tower, of counting the cost, and of making war.
The building of a tower is preparation for being on the defensive. A tower moreover is a conspicuous thing even if it is built for protection and defence. To be an avowed disciple of Christ is to make myself conspicuous in the world and an object of attack. The very stand we make incites the enemy’s opposition and we need to be on the defensive. We need to be built up. It is no guerrilla warfare. We have to meet an organized attack of the foe. An outward life of testimony will only provoke the enemy’s animosity, and if we are not built up by an inward life of faith and communion we shall fall before the foe.
Meeting a king with his army gives the idea of taking the offensive against an organized force, and then comes the question of being able to make the attempt when we know that the odds are against us as regards numbers. We shall never make the attempt if we only consider our own limited resources.
To count the cost properly we must know where our resources really lie, and how to value things aright. We have an illustration of good and bad calculation in the history of Israel. In Numbers 13 and 14 we hear the ten spies saying, “We are not able.” “We are well able,” say Joshua and Caleb. They followed this by saying, “If the Lord delight in us then He will bring us into this land,” and this was the solution to everything. We have to remember that word, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” So if we ask, “Who is sufficient for these things?” our answer must be, “Our sufficiency is of God.”
Many a time men have to make a loss in order to make a superior gain. Paul was like that. He suffered the loss of all things, but then he had Christ for his gain. What an infinite gainer he was too! Do we feel like that? The fullest compensation, it is true, will only be received in the kingdom. When the Lord gave the three disciples a sight of the glory of the kingdom on the Mount of Transfiguration He was showing them the end of the path of discipleship for their encouragement, and ours.
Still it is not all loss in this world. Luke 18:30 tells us we are to receive, “manifold more in this present time,” as well as “in the world to come life everlasting.” Paul measured things accurately when he spoke of loss and suffering for Christ as “light affliction,” and the compensation as “an eternal weight of glory.”
We are all desirous of serving Christ and it is well to see the close relation there is between true service and true discipleship.
“If any man serve Me let him follow Me” (John 12:26). Though discipleship is not exactly service yet it gives character and colour to service.
“Teach us Master how to give
All we have and are to Thee.
Grant us Saviour, while we live,
Wholly, only Thine to be.”