Friday, October 19, 2012

The Goal of Christian Discipleship

οὐκ ἔστιν μαθητὴς ὑπὲρ τὸν διδάσκαλον· κατηρτισμένος δὲ πᾶς ἔσται ὡς ὁ διδάσκαλος αὐτοῦ.[1] (Matt. 6:40)

A disciple is not above the teacher; but everyone being fully trained will be like his teacher. (my translation)

Three very important truths stand out in this text. The first one is that it is impossible for the disciple to be above His teacher. The second is that disciples are to undergo intense, goal-oriented training. The third thing is that the disciple is to be like his teacher. The manner in which Christianity is described in much of the world falls far short of the profound truths revealed in the words of Jesus located in Matthew 6:40. For many self-professed Christians, the lifestyle requires very little by way of effort. True, being inducted into the Christian group is entirely a work of God in the act we call regeneration. However, the fruit of that work of God could not be more intense, more serious, or more radical in terms of its impact on the individual’s thinking, speaking, and over-all behavior in every single aspect of their new life. The induction into the Christian group is so radical, Scripture refers to it as being “born again.”

In the third chapter of John, Jesus is having an extended exchange with one of the spiritual leaders of Israel, Nicodemus. Jesus began His conversation by asserting that no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again! The idea is indeed a radical one. The modern presentation of “becoming a Christian” is essentially a man-made substitute for God’s induction into the Christian group. Modern pastors teach people to walk down an isle, say a prayer, receive baptism, sign a card and now you are a Christian. After this event, you proceed along with life without much of anything really changing. There is very little biblical inquiry if any at all. Almost no change in how one reasons. Very little modification of behavior or, as Scripture calls it, mortification of sin. In addition, very few take the Bible that seriously getting off on the notion that no one is perfect, everyone sins, God loves us and is gracious, so why bother. John called people inducted into the Christian group literally, “ἐκ θεοῦ ἐγεννήθησαν” “born of God.” Becoming a Christian is not simply a decision one makes from their own will. That kind of thinking produces little more than a self-righteous moralism that ends up relying on a god that doesn’t even exist. The only way anyone can genuine become part of the Christian group is if God regenerates their heart and births them in a divine act that is both mysterious and glorious at the same time. This divine act of regeneration has serious implications for anyone who has been privileged enough to experience it. What these implications? I am glad you asked.

First, to be a disciple involves complete and entire submission to Christ in all things. Christ resides over the disciple for as long as he lives. The disciple willing submits to the teachings, imperatives, and values of his teacher. Failure to do so represents an open departure from being a disciple of that particular teacher. For the man who thinks that God understands his weakness for other women outside his marriage, discipleship is not an option and regeneration clearly has not occurred. This is not to say that a Christian cannot fall into temptation and sin. We can and we do. But the mindset of the disciple about sin is far different from that of the false disciple. The true disciple repents of his wicked behavior trusting in God’s mercy to forgive and His grace to help resist future temptations. The false disciple makes excuses about his sin and refuses to repent. He will argue that God understands that he is human and has weaknesses and loves him regardless. He will point to others who sin as an excuse. He will do everything but recognize his own sin, and hate it enough to forsake it. In doing so, he elevates himself above the teachings, imperatives, and values of his teacher. This is something Jesus said explicitly that a disciple cannot do. In other words, when a person behaves in this manner, they are admitting that they are not actually a disciple. They say they are because it sounds really cool to be part of the Christian group.

The second and radically profound impact that being a disciple has on an individual is the intense training they must endure. Jesus used the word καταρτίζω, which carries the idea of being put in a condition to perform well, to out in order, restore. It means to make something completely adequate or sufficient for a particular task, to furnish completely, to cause to be fully qualified. The word is translated “mending” in Matt. 4:21 where James and John are said to have been “mending their nets.” A fishing net has to meet certain standards in order to perform its function of catching fish. James and John were working to get the nets back up to standard. In Rom. 9:22 the word καταρτίζω is translated “prepared” in Paul’s comments about the vessels of wrath. In 2 Cor. 13:11 it is translated complete and in Ga. 6:1 it is translated restore. The idea is that Jesus has a state in mind for every disciple and in order to reach that state, training is essential. The word indoctrination has fallen on hard times in our era, but it is an excellent description of what it means to become a Christian, a disciple of Christ. Everything must change when you are inducted into the body of Christ, the Christian group. It is true that as the mind goes, so goes behavior. Paul commands the Roman church not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed. The disciple forsakes all for Christ, even his or her most intimate relationships may evaporate as a result of these new found values. Believers must be prepared for such consequences of being inducted into the Christian group. This preparation takes place in training at church, in small groups, and above all, in one on one discipleship relations. Discipleship training is radical and intense. It turns everything upside down on its head, beginning with how we think. The transformation Paul commands comes through a renewal of the mind. We find the word metamorphous n the word translated “transform” in this text. The disciple goes through a complete metamorphous. In the beginning, she looks like one thing. By the time she reaches the end of the cycle, she looks entirely different. Think about how the butterfly changes its appearance through a complete metamorphous. There is no resemblance whatever between the final stage and the beginning stage. Paul says we are to make this metamorphous through a renewal of the mind. This word renewal, which is the word ἀνακαινώσει, means to cause something to become new and different, with the implication of becoming superior. The reason superiority comes into view is because we move from thinking like fallen, sinful, self-absorbed humans to thinking like Christ. We adopt the mind of Christ on all matters, submitting to Him as His disciple. This radical new way of reasoning, of thinking produces radical new values and even impacts our emotions. In short, it changes how we look at and interpret the world at the most fundamental levels.

Finally, being trained to be a disciple of Jesus has, as it’s basic goal, to make us like Jesus. The disciple is not above his teacher, but every disciple, having been fully trained, fully equipped, will be like his teacher. We are to become like Jesus in this world. Paul says, “But we have the mind of Christ.” 2 Cor. 2:16. As the Father loves the Son and the Son loves us, so we are to love one another. Just as the Father and Son are one, so too are we to be one. Jesus said I am the way, the truth, and the life. We are to embrace, love, submit, propagate and defend the truth. The goal of every disciple is to be just like his teacher. When we are tempted to reject our Lord’s commands and values, we must remember that we are not simply deciding to reject one aspect of our Master. Rather, we are deciding not to be his disciple. Judas did not reject everything Jesus said. There were a great many things he received and practiced. But he did not receive everything Christ taught about Himself. When a man thinks he can cut out this teaching or ignore that value and still be a disciple of Christ, he deceives himself. When Christians think they can divorce on a whim and that God understands, they reveal that Christ’s values, and hence Christ Himself means very little to them. Being a part of the Christian group, a disciple of Christ, has far reaching implications to every aspect of our life. We think differently. We see the world differently. We interpret reality differently. Our priorities change. In short, everything changes. The disciple is not above His teacher, therefore he cannot change the teachings or values of his teacher. The disciple is one who is being trained toward a very specific state. This state is a state of Christlikeness. Every disciple who is fully trained will be like his teacher. There is no such thing as a disciple who is NOT in training.

[1] Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Matthew Black et al., The Greek New Testament, 4th ed. (Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies, 1993), 174.

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