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CALL TO . . .
[ The Purposes of Discipleship, Cont. ]
This is the second part in a study on "Discipleship." The term "disciple" appears in the New Testament about 250 times, the term "believer" about 12 times, and the term "Christian" only 3 times. So we can see the importance that Jesus and the early church placed on discipleship.
[ Part 1 Review ]
In part one , we saw that a "disciple" is a pupil or learner — one who has placed himself under the tutelage of another, to be disciplined in a way of life. It was understood by those who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah and Savior in the life of the early church that they were the followers of THE WAY, and the followers of Christ were frequently referred to as a part of this "way" (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). We saw in our last study that accepting Jesus as our Savior is only the "entrance gate" into Kingdom citizenship. But to ENTER INTO and BENEFIT from the greater blessings and rewards of that Kingdom, discipleship is a necessity. "Eternal life" is a free gift (Rom. 6:23), received by faith (Ephes. 2:8), and implies nothing more than the restoration of that which Adam lost on this earth. Beyond that, the Lord has great "vistas" of "sonship" responsibility, blessings, authority, and glory that are so vast in scope that the average Christian has but faint conception, or even a gross misconception. As I continue this study on "Discipleship," I think you will realize that this teaching complements and "fits" right into the lessons I have been giving on the "overcoming life" called "Names of Tribes on Gates of Pearl." It will be incorporated into those lessons when finished and put together into booklet form. [Ed. note: This series is not published on this site, but is available in hard copy through Shepherdsfield .]
In the last study, I presented first (1) The Perspective of Discipleship; then (2) The Position of Discipleship; and then I was in the midst of presenting (3) The Purposes of Discipleship, of which there are several. I had presented the following purposes of Discipleship based on Jesus' words in Mt. 11:29 (1) To get "yoked up" to Jesus Christ, even as He was "yoked" to the Father, that we might become "meek" even as He was "meek"; (2) To "learn of Christ" by diligently studying His Word — the Scriptures. We saw that such "learning" necessitated the quality of "humility", even as Jesus was "humble" (lowly in heart). We also saw that that the New Testament links humility with the "grace" of God (James 4:6; I Pet. 5:5). It is only through God's supernatural grace (favor) that we are given the "spirit of wisdom and revelation in the (full) knowledge of Christ" (Ephes. 1:17) that we might understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45).
[ Humility Cont., the Effect of Religious Tradition on Teachability ]
There are many aspects of humility, but there were three that I said I wanted to emphasize: (1) Our willingness to be "teachable"; (2) Our desperate need; and (3) Honesty. Last time I partially covered the first: "a teachable spirit." I said that there were three hindrances to most people, even Christians, to being truly teachable. I commented on the first: (1) Too much secular (humanistic) education; and I will now proceed to the second: (2) Too much religious tradition. Someone has said that "tradition sticks worse than sin." Jesus found it impossible to "get truth" into the heads of the vast majority of the religious leaders of His day because they were "bound" by their false religious traditions. Perceiving their total unwillingness to abandon their traditions, and "hear" the Word of God, He castigated them severely as we read in Mark 7:7-8, 13: "Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the traditions of men. . . making the Word of God of no effect through your traditions ." Even Jesus' own disciples, who were committed to Him, were so tradition-bound, that Jesus had extreme difficulty in getting them to understand that HIS Kingdom was NOT to be after the carnal, materialistic, even militaristic-conquering Kingdom, with a "swashbuckler" kind of Messiah, after the fashion of their great "hero-king" David, who was a great military leader, conquering all their enemies and establishing an outward kingdom of great "pomp and splendor." The disciples were sure, after seeing the demonstrations of His mighty miracle-working power, that Jesus would, in time, take up the sword, rally the multitudes, drive out the Romans, and restore the Davidic throne, taking the "scepter" of rulership, and sitting down on an earthly throne in Jerusalem,. This is why Peter had the audacity to rebuke Jesus for saying that He was going to
to DIE (Mt. 16:21-23), for Peter's traditional concept of the Kingdom had no place for a dead Messiah. Jerusalem
It is beyond the scope of this study to deal at length with the intriguing issue of Jesus' teaching anew of His disciples through much patience, repetition, even sharp rebuke at times, etc., but simply to make the point that their traditional religious concepts had to be changed, and that was no easy task, even for the very Son of God. As a matter of fact, it was not until after Jesus was raised from the dead, that the disciples began to recall many of the truths that He taught, enabling them to understand that He came to establish a spiritual Kingdom, which first had to take "root" in the human heart (through the power of divine regeneration — being "born anew" from above by the Spirit — John 3: 3-6) before it could be manifested outwardly in ever widening circles of influence .
If you are perceptive, you no doubt already know the point I now want to make. Is human nature any different today than it was in Jesus' day? Are people any less "bound" by religious traditions today than in the day that Jesus almost vainly sought to penetrate the "tradition-clogged" minds of those to whom He was sent? I doubt that we need to argue that our multitudinous denominations, sects, and religious organizations of various kinds, with many divergent beliefs, attest to the fact that we are as "tradition-bound" as the generation to which Jesus came.
Yes, religious tradition, which can vary from outright falsehood and error to a mixture of truth and error, can definitely be a hindrance to having a "teachable spirit." It has been my experience that those who make the most rapid advance in truth and vital, spirit-quickened realities are those who have had no church background or religious training of any "kind. This is because their minds were not "cluttered" with a lot of things to unlearn. It is a fact that the hardest part of learning is the task of unlearning that which has become so entrenched in the human mind. I speak from personal experience! I won't belabor the details, but how I praise the Lord that because of a hunger for truth from my youth, and because of the willingness (by God's grace) to make the sacrifices necessary to "loose" myself from the necessity of having to "conform" to the indoctrination received through 7 years of schooling to be accepted for pastoral ministry within a certain religious group, I am now (and have been for a number of years) FREE to sit at the "feet of Jesus" and learn from Him, as He "quickens" His Word by the Holy Spirit. What a JOY to seek and "fall in LOVE" with TRUTH — to become literally "ecstatic" with God's wondrous plan for man and this earth — to literally BEHOLD how ALL "facets" of His planning and working FIT TOGETHER in a SYMPHONY of "beauty" that both staggers and elates the mind, and causes one's heart to bow in humble awe and adoration before our indescribably wonderful heavenly Father, and His glorious Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
[ Effect of Carnality on Teachability ]
Finally, I want to mention a third factor that hinders a "teachable spirit." It is simply "carnality" within the human heart, which is, again, directly related to pride. People just hate to admit that they have been wrong. I can't give all the possible reasons for this, but I'm sure you are well acquainted with the innate stubbornness of human nature which automatically tends to resist change in traditional habit-patterns of thinking and acting. Some may not want to "lose face" with friends, relatives, or those with whom they are associated. Some may love the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:43). Among pastors and other church officials, peer pressure is a powerful force, as the tendency is to "thrive" on the honor given and received from one another. In the light of this, Jesus profound statements in John 5:41 & 44 — "I do not receive honor from men. . . How can you believe, when you receive honor from one another, and do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” — become a serious warning. Another factor among church leaders is security of position. Jewish religious leaders rejected Jesus, not so much for what He taught (although that was a significant consideration) but because of their fear of losing their coveted positions which gave them their security. Listen to their fears: "If we let Him (Jesus) go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation" (John 11:48).
[ Effect of the "Comfort Zone" on Teachability ]
Another factor relating to carnality that hinders "teachableness" is the fact that most people believe what they want to, based upon the kind of life they want to live. Someone has said that "a person's morality dictates their theology." God help such! They are deceived and blinded by their own selfish pride! Whether "high society" or "low society," people tend to "gravitate" to that which "suits their style." Many are church members, but not even saved. Some are saved, but in the "baby", "carnal" state described by Paul in I Cor. 3:1-3. And there they "stagnate"— pretty much left to "do their own thing." Fed a little "milk" once a week (or less, if their attendance is not regular), they become a spectacle of "anemia" and much of the time a disgrace to the cause of Christ. As a whole, the church has committed "high treason" against the HEAD (Jesus Christ) in not carrying out His commission to "MAKE DISCIPLES." When we come to the parts in this study where I deal with the "priorities of discipleship" and the "proofs of discipleship," the GRAVITY of this situation will become more apparent. Christians have not been challenged! They have been pampered! Generally (this is not a wholesale indictment — there are notable exceptions) "men of the cloth" have been more interested in promoting their reputation, building their churches (in size and numbers), pleasing their denominational superiors, climbing the "ladder" of success to larger and better paid pulpits, and seeking to please men (Gal. 1:1), than in PROMOTING THE INTERESTS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. In the pulpits there are too many "PARROTS" and not enough "PROPHETS!”
But thank God there is a "stir" in the land. Increasing numbers of people are becoming dissatisfied with the fact that they are not being FED; nor taught how to get into the Word and "feed themselves." There is a tremendous HUNGER for LIVING TRUTH — "fresh bread from the ovens of God." God is shedding forth His light as never before, and those who want reality, and their lives to be changed, are coming to that light (see John 3:19-21). More "seekers" are discovering that ONLY Christ and His "living Word" can satisfy the desires of the heart. You can find a measure of fulfillment in personal relationships and material things, but truly satisfying and ULTIMATE fulfillment can ONLY come through finding your "delight" in a personal, living relationship to Jesus Christ. He will give you every desire of your heart when you start "delighting" yourself in Him (Ps. 37:4), for He will even change some of your desires. If you are unhappy, I can guarantee that you are trying to find fulfillment in someone or something other than the Lord Himself. And that fulfillment cannot be complete without coming to know Him more intimately through His WORD and His Spirit. Jesus said, "It is the spirit that [makes alive]; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak to you, they are spirit ([activated ]) and they are LIFE" (John 6:63). Studying the Word of God is like a treasure-hunt. Col. 2:3 declares that in Christ "are HID ALL THE TREASURES OF WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE." "Hid"— yes, but READY TO BE REVEALED to YOU when you take your discipleship seriously enough to search and "dig" into the Word. Ah, beloved, the "gems" that you will "uncover" will delight your heart as they "sparkle" in the "sunlight" of GOD' S LOVE FOR YOU. You will also rejoice in articles and studies written and sent out by "scribes" instructed in the things of the Kingdom of God who are able to bring out of God's "storehouse" TREASURES NEW and OLD (Mt. 13:52). Do I hear any JOY-SHOUTS? When they come you might have to explain to your neighbor; wouldn't that be great!
[ Desperation: The Second Aspect of Humility ]
Now back to "humility" — the KEY to "learning of (from) Jesus." I said I wanted to impress upon you three important aspects of humility. I just finished the first: a teachable spirit, and also commented on three hindrances to having a teachable spirit: too much secular (humanistic) education, too much religious tradition, and too much carnality within the heart. The second important aspect of "humility" that I want to emphasize is: "our desperate need." Before focusing in on our desperate need to "learn of Jesus," I will make a few general remarks. A "proud" person usually feels self-sufficient— he is so often "blind" to desperate needs in his spiritual life. And who among us can say that we have no pride? I remember the story of some Christians who were kneeling in prayer at the altar preceding a church service. A young man was praying over and over again, "Lord, keep me humble." His words were over-heard by an older and much wiser sister in the Lord who was kneeling next to him. She leaned over and whispered in his ear: "Young men, you should be praying, 'Lord, make me humble;' for when you pray, 'Lord, keep me humble,' you are assuming that you are already fully humble." You and I know that no matter how much we seek to humble ourselves before the Lord, there are still areas of pride that we are not aware of. Therefore God has to take us through experiences that humble us. Every one of you can remember experiences that caused you to think to yourself, even to confess to someone: "what an humbling experience that was!"
As we said before, pride "blinds;" but humility causes us to "see" our desperate need. I am deliberately using the word "desperate" because I believe our need is that serious. We have a desperate need to "learn of" (and "from") Jesus, if we are not to remain "stagnant" or even "regress" in our Christian life. Only as we continue to learn, grow, overcome, incorporate and apply the principles of the Kingdom of Christ can we reap the blessings and benefits that God has for us, as well as prepare ourselves for "usefulness" in the Kingdom, both now and in the age to come. We are now determining our FUTURE DESTINY AND GLORY (beyond just "salvation") by what we do with the time and opportunities we have. We need to get our minds and hearts "saturated" with the Spirit-quickened — "living" WORD OF GOD. How else can God "write" His spiritual LAWS on our minds and hearts, which is the essence and purpose of the "New Covenant" — see Heb. 8:10; 10:16 .
[ Natural Types Illustrating our Depth of Need ]
All through the Bible there is a parallel between the natural and the spiritual. As a matter of fact, all natural things are TYPES of spiritual truths and realities. God made them that way to help get simple truths through our stupid heads. So I will take some very simple natural illustrations to help us to see our desperate need to "get INTO the Word of God," and "get the Word of God INTO us." I know this will seem elementary to some of you, but bear with me while I get this point across for those who NEED it. It doesn't take long for you to go without food to realize that you are hungry, and if are without food for many days, you are very much aware of your desperate need to feed your body in order to live. When you receive Christ and are "born anew" within, NEW LIFE, and a "new creation" has begun WITHIN you by the power of the Divine Life-seed of Christ. That new life needs to grow and develop— changing you from within into the very likeness of Jesus Christ— from glory to glory (II Cor. 5:17; 3:18). That new life needs to be FED with the WORD OF GOD. There is the "milk" of the Word for new "babes" in Christ to grow by; there is the "bread" of the Word to BUILD spiritual strength and character; there is the "meat" of the Word in order to MATURE and progress DEEPER into Christ and develop that WISDOM which will enhance your usefulness in His service (see I Pet. 2:2; John 6:32-35, 48; I Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:13-14). The WORD is also said to be "sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb" (Ps. 19:10), because it truly delights the heart. Jeremiah said, "Your words were found, and I did EAT them; and your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart" (Jer. 15:16).
There are so many symbols of the Word of God taken from nature and from the types of the Old Testament, that it would take pages to deal with them all. So I am going to limit myself to just a couple more illustrations to get my point across [of] the importance of "learning from Jesus" through HIS WORD. Besides food, as illustrated above, the Word of God is likened to WATER (John 15:3; Ephes. 5:26). Now, beloved, if you are in your right faculties, no one has to tell you when your body has collected enough dirt and un-cleanness that you need to take a bath or shower. And how good it feels afterwards to feel clean and refreshed. Spiritually, as we read and meditate in the Word of God, it WASHES us WITHIN from the "filth" and "uncleanness" of this world.
[ - An Aside: The Scriptural Use of "Walk" to Define Behavior]
In the New Testament, the word "walk" is used to symbolize the manner or way in which we LIVE our Christian life — in thought, motive and conduct. We are instructed to "walk by faith, not by sight" (II Cor. 5:7); "walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4); "walk honestly, as in the day" (Rom. 13:13); "walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16, see also Rom. 8: 1,4); "walk in good works. . . for we are God's workmanship" (Ephes. 2:10); "walk worthy of the vocation to which you are called" (Ephes. 4:1; see [also] I Thess. 2:12; 4:7, II Thess. 2:14); "walk in love, as Christ loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice" (Ephes. 5:2); "walk circumspectly (carefully), not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Ephes. 5:15-16); "walk worthy of the Lord to all pleasing [of Him], being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10—but continue to read vs. 11 on); "as therefore you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk [ ] in him: rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving" (Col. 2:6-7); "walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how to answer every man" (Col. 4:5-6). "If we say that we have fellowship with him (Christ), and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin" (I John 1:6-7). "He that abides in him (Christ) ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked" (I John 2:6). "And this is love, that we walk after his commandments" (III John 6). "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth;" III John 4).
I usually do not quote so many scriptures, but felt to set these before you, so that as you read and meditate on them you might grasp more clearly just how we are to "walk" (conduct our lives in thought, motive, word and deed) in this world. This may not be the study in "deeper truth" that you like to read, but I want to say emphatically that God is requiring us to get our lives in order In a practical way, and all the "deeper truths" that we study will avail nothing unless we learn to "walk" (LIVE and conduct our lives in a way that is pleasing to the Lord).
[ Focus on the Illustration of "Washing" ]
Getting back to the symbolism of the "washing" of the Word: In Bible days, people walked a lot, and their "footwear" usually consisted of open sandals which exposed their feet to a lot of dirt. It was customary when arriving home after considerable "walking," to wash one's feet upon entering the house. Or, if a person was invited to another's house for some occasion, it was customary to provide a basin of water and a towel so that the guest could wash his feet on entering the house of the host. Or, if one was rich enough, he would provide a servant to wash the guest's feet. (Notice how inconsiderate Simon the Pharisee was to Jesus who was a guest in his house— Luke 7:44). Now the spiritual truth that I want to emphasize is this: as we go about our daily activities, or engage in the business or job whereby we make a living, we inevitably have a certain amount of contact with this world and worldly people; and in doing so, a certain amount of the "dirt" (ungodly words and actions— unkindness, lies, deceit, compromise, and just plain carnal "filth") is "picked up" or "rubbed off" on you, affecting your mind and emotions, and thus "contaminating" your "daily WALK" with the Lord. Thus you desperately need to get by yourself to read and meditate in the WORD OF GOD (along with prayer) to let THE LORD "WASH YOUR FEET!"
The above is graphically symbolized by Jesus' action as recorded in John, chap. 13. I cannot here explain the symbolism of the whole story, which is so beautiful, but point out some important highlights. The scene was at the Passover supper which Jesus partook with his disciples before His death. In John 13:4-5, we read that Jesus "rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, girded himself about. Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded." Jesus "laying aside" His garments, is a symbolic picture of His voluntary sacrificial DEATH for us. When His Spirit "withdrew" on the cross, His "outer" or physical body was laid aside in the tomb, and His "inner" soul body was, according to Isa. 53:12: "poured out unto death" and went into "hades" (the unseen realm, for a soul-body cannot be seen by physical eyes). But Ps. 16:10 assures us that His soul was not to be left in "hades" ("sheol" is the O.T. word)— see also Acts 2:31. In John 13:1 we see that He "took up" His garments, symbolically portraying His Resurrection. Thus the symbolic picture shows us that His death and resurrection has made possible our cleansing. His blood cleanses our conscience from the guilt of sin, and His WORD ("'quickened' by the Sprit" — even as His resurrection body was "quickened" or "made alive" by the Spirit) WASHES us from the contamination ("dirt") that gathers in our mental-emotional being through contact with this sinful world as we seek to live the Christian life in our "daily walk."
When Jesus came to Peter, his response was: "You shall never wash my feet." But Jesus reply was: "If I [don't] wash you, you have no part with me" (John 13:8). Now in verse 10, a beautiful truth is brought out that is not conveyed in the English translation because of a lack of distinction in two Greek words. I will quote the verse, inserting the Greek words according to their meaning: "Jesus says to him, He that is washed (Gr. louo: meaning to bathe the whole person) needs not [bathe] except to wash (Gr. nipto: meaning to cleanse a part of the body— the hands, face, or feet) his feet, but is clean completely ." When Jesus uses the first word "washed" (Gr. louo) it symbolizes our initial "regeneration" or "new birth" by the incorruptible seed of the Word of God (John 3:3, I Pet. 1:23). An apt description of this is given in Titus 3:5: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." The word for "washing" in this verse is loutron— meaning "a bath," and comes from louo , which is the same word that Jesus used in John 3:10 when He said, "he that is washed (louo) needs not [bathe] except to wash (nipto) his feet." In other words, our initial "washing of regeneration," or "new birth," when "eternal life" is engrafted into our soul through the glorified life-seed of Jesus (see James 1:21; I Pet. 1:23), does not need to be repeated.
However, the symbolic drama which J esus portrayed in John 13, was to demonstrate the absolute necessity of letting the Lord cleanse the "feet" (Christian "walk") of every one who has received the initial "bath of the new birth" (which is the way the Amplified Version renders Titus 3:5). The cleansing of our "walk" must be a continuous experience, for daily we "pick up" the "dirt" (mental — emotional impressions) from the world which need to be "washed away" by meditation in the Word of God .
The distinguishing of the two different Greek words used in the John 13 "drama" helps us to understand an important truth with reference to our relationship to Jesus and our future destiny. When Jesus responded to Peter's refusal to let Him wash his feet, Jesus did NOT use the word louo which we have seen refers to our initial "regeneration" and GIFT of "eternal LIFE." But He used the Greek word nipto, when He said to Peter: "If I [don't ] wash (nipto) you , you have no part with me" (John 13:8). Now listen carefully, for this is simply something most Christians do not understand. It is possible to have received Jesus as our SAVIOR, and have been "born anew"; yet that, in itself, DOES NOT QUALIFY us to be a part of that "elect" BODY, "called, chosen, and faithful" (Rev. 17:14) who will be intimately associated WITH HIM in His heavenly Kingdom GLORY to REIGN with Him. Salvation is just the FIRST STEP. Beyond that there must be a DEEP CLEANSING of the heart of the bondage of all carnality. Only the pure(ified) in heart shall see God (Mt. 5:8). Without holiness (separation from sin and uncleanness) no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14). So when Jesus said to Peter, "If I [don't] wash you, you have no part with me", He was NOT dealing with the matter of salvation. In the symbolic drama of John 13, Peter represents a ''saved person," but who must submit to the continual "washing" by Jesus (THE WORD) of his "feet" (Christian walk) if he aspires to have a part WITH JESUS in His "ruling retinue" of "overcoming" sons and daughters.
After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus said: "You call me Master (Teacher) and Lord: and you say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another's feet . For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Truly, Truly, I say to you, the servant is not greater than his Lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him" (John 13:13-16). I personally do not believe that Jesus, by these words, was establishing an ordinance for the church of literal foot washing. I have no objection to literal foot-washing for those who believe that they should practice it. However, I believe the KEY to the John 13 passage is that Jesus was portraying by symbolic (or "parabolic") drama the basic truth of "inner cleansing" which I have been seeking to convey. Now, in the passage just quoted, Jesus says that WE should follow His example. Perhaps generally speaking, we could say that He was admonishing us to see our need to humble ourselves to serve one another in ANY menial task or way. If our Lord was so willing to humble Himself, we are certainly not greater than our Lord. But more specifically, I believe He was saying that we should have enough concern for one another's spiritual welfare that we are willing to "humble" ourselves, and take the time and effort to HELP one another with the spiritual problems, temptations, concerns, and perplexities involved in our "daily walk" for the Lord. And especially ministering relevant and meaningful SCRIPTURE verses that will help to bring "release" and "cleaning" to heart and mind. This, I believe, is the true "washing of one another's "feet."
But HOW can we do this unless we KNOW THE WORD OF GOD! This is why I have been seeking to impress on you that aspect of "humility" which enables us to see our desperate need to "learn of Jesus" and get HIS WORD into our minds and hearts."If you continue (abide, remain, live) in my word: then are you my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31-32).
(to be continued)
[Next: The Purposes of Discipleship, Cont ]
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