What it means to be a disciple and how Christian character is formed
25 Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— Luke 14:25-28 (NKJV)
So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:33 (ESV)
Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. Luke 17:33 (NKJV)
Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.Deuteronomy 8:5 (RSV)
“……for those who honour me I will honour, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.”1 Samuel 2:30(b) (RSV)
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;John 8:31 (NASB)
12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 (ESV)
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:35 (RSV)
Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62 (ESV)
40 So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.Acts 5:40-41 (RSV)
There are many false teachings, wrong ideas and unrealistic expectations about what is involved in being a Christian
The main reason I wrote this chapter was to try to correct some of the misconceptions in the Western churches about what it means to be a Christian. In my own experience, over more than 30 years, I have heard very little preaching about the cost and difficulty of being a disciple. On the rare occasions when discipleship is mentioned at all, the impression is given that the Christian life is meant to be easy and comfortable, with little or no opposition.
Accordingly, most of us have no expectation of there being any price to pay for being a disciple. Most ‘churchgoers’ today are not taught to expect any affliction, pressure or testing. Instead, the general impression given is that the Christian life is meant to be non-challenging, uncontroversial, moderate and that we should fit in nicely with the unbelieving world around us.
Some leaders go even further and preach what has come to be known as a “prosperity gospel”. That is the idea that Christians should expect to prosper financially and that they should pray for and expect to receive wealth, property and prestige in this life. Indeed, the absence of such privileges is then portrayed as if it was evidence that one lacks faith, or that one is not living right, or not pleasing God.
There is actually an element of truth in such teaching about prosperity, but only an element. It is frequently taken much too far, until it becomes a dangerously false teaching. So, as a general rule, if we live in accordance with God’s will, develop the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and put biblical principles into practice, then we will prosper. Moreover, that will often include financial success and promotion in one’s career.
The problem is that that is very far from being the whole truth about what it means to ‘prosper’. That is because, in addition to receiving such blessings, every real Christian must also expect to receive affliction, opposition, struggles, testing and also God’s discipline. On top of all that, we also have to wage a lifelong war on three different fronts against the world, the flesh and the Devil. (See below for more information about these three battles and see also Books Seven and Nine which address them in detail.)
Experiencing all of these things is not inconsistent with prospering. At least there is no contradiction if we correctly define prosperity. It really means being where God wants you to be, and successfully doing what He wants you to do. By that definition, even as Jesus hung on the cross, He was prospering, because He was achieving God’s purposes, and on a massive scale.
In this chapter I hope to set out a more realistic picture of what we can expect to experience in our lives if we become a real Christian, as opposed to a nominal one. Then we can count the cost properly, ideally even before we are converted. If so, we will be much better placed to handle the struggles and persecution that later come our way, rather than be surprised or resentful when they arise.
That said, the average ‘churchgoer’ in the West does not receive much, if any, affliction, or at least not as a result of his beliefs. Many of us are not sufficiently recognizable as Christians to be seen as a threat by any of God’s enemies, whether human or demonic. In fact, the average Christian does not even give the subject of affliction any thought, mainly because he has never been told that he ought to.
That, in turn, is because a lot of church leaders take the view (correctly) that if they told the truth about what the Bible actually tells us to expect, then many of us would leave their churches. They know that many of us would go elsewhere, so as to hear a more comfortable message. A large percentage of church leaders are hirelings, doing a paid job, rather than genuine shepherds. They choose to limit themselves to saying what people want to hear rather than what they need to hear. (See Book Eight for more details of the differences between hirelings and shepherds)
I will now attempt to summarise what the Bible actually tells a disciple to expect. However, for the reasons stated above, you may find that it is a message that you have not heard before.