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Becoming a Disciple
By G.Campbell Morgan
‘Disciple’ is the term consistently used in the four Gospels to mark the relationship between Christ and His followers. Jesus used it Himself in speaking of them and they in speaking of each other, and it continued to be used in the new days of Pentecostal power. It runs right through the Acts of the Apostles and it is interesting to remember that it was in this way that the angels spoke of these men to the women, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter” (Mark 14 v7), but it is not found in the epistles. This could be accounted for by the fact that the epistles were addressed to Christians in their corporate capacity as churches, and although it has largely fallen out of use it is of the utmost value still in marking that relationship existing between Christ and each soul.
1. The word signifies a taught or trained person. Jesus is the Teacher. He has all knowledge of the ultimate purposes of God for us, of the will of God concerning us and of the laws of God that mark our path.
Disciples are those who gather around this Teacher and are trained by Him. Seekers after truth, not merely in the abstract but as a life force, come to Him and join the circle of those to whom He reveals these great secrets of all true life. Sitting at His feet they learn from the unfolding of His lessons the will and ways of God for them. As they obey each successive word they realize within themselves the renewing force and uplifting power of the teaching. The true and perpetual condition of discipleship and its ultimate aim were clearly declared by the Lord Himself to the Jews who had believed on Him, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8 v31).
It is very important that we should have clearly in our minds the true meaning of the relationship which Jesus bears to His people. It is not that of a lecturer from whose messages we may or may not deduce applications for ourselves. It is not that of a prophet making a Divine pronouncement. It certainly is not that of a specialist on a given subject declaring his knowledge to the interest of a few, the amazement of more and the bewilderment of most.
It is that of a teacher possessing full knowledge, bending over a pupil, imparting that knowledge step by step, point by point, and working towards a definite end. We are not casual listeners, neither are we merely interested hearers desiring information, we are disciples, looking toward and desiring the same end as the Master, and therefore listening to every word, marking every inflection of voice, and applying all our energy to realizing the Teacher’s purpose for us.
2. Now let us consider the privileges the Teacher confers upon those who become His disciples.
a. The first is the establishment of the relationship which makes it possible for Him to teach and for us to be taught. The question of sin must be dealt with and that which results from sin, our inability to understand the teaching. Sin as actual transgression in the past must be pardoned, and sin as a principle of revolution within must be cleansed. So before He unfolds one word of the Divine law of life or reveals anything, He deals with this twofold aspect of sin. To the soul concerning past sin, by confessing it and turning from it, He gives forgiveness, pronouncing His priestly absolution by virtue of His own atonement on the Cross. To the soul yielded to Him absolutely and unreservedly, consenting to the death of self, He gives the blessing of cleansing from sin. There can be no real discipleship apart from the realization of the twofold blessing.
b. Beyond this there lies the dullness of our understanding, our inability to comprehend the truths He declares. This He overcomes by the gift of the Holy Spirit, who makes clear to us the teaching of the Master. What a priceless gift this is. The dullest natural intellect is rendered keen and receptive to God by the incoming of the Holy Spirit. So He Himself provides for and creates the relationship of communion through cleansing, and intelligence through the indwelling of the Spirit.
c. The other great privilege to be remembered is that the school of Jesus is a technical school. He provides opportunities for us to prove in practical life the truths He has to declare. This is a great essential in His method, and is another evidence of His abounding grace, that the proving in technical details of the lessons He teaches is just as much under His personal guidance and direction as the truth in theory, and is received directly from Him.
3. Upon what personal conditions may we become disciples? We would have these gifts of pardon, cleansing and illumination, but how can we receive them? No bar of race, or colour, or caste, or age stands across the entrance, yet because of the importance of the truths to be revealed and the necessity for the application of these truths, Jesus stands at the entrance forbidding any to enter except on certain conditions. Let us hear His threefold command, “If anyone comes to Me (to become a disciple) and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters - yes, even his own life - he CANNOT BE MY DISCIPLE” (Luke 14 v26). “Any of you who does not carry his cross and follow Me, CANNOT BE MY DISCIPLE” (Luke 14 v27). “Any of you who does not give up everything CANNOT BE MY DISCIPLE” (Luke 14 v33).
The new relationship must be superior to the claim of any earthly relationship and must be considered and answered before any claims of the self-life. The Teacher demands that we shall take up the cross and follow, even though the progress be through pain. More, we must take the deep spiritual vow of poverty, renouncing all, counting every word He shall speak and every truth He shall reveal, through whatever methods, as our chief and only wealth. In short, we must not be controlled, either by being possessed by others, or possessing anything. There must be a clean severance from all entanglement and an utter abandonment of ourselves to Him. Unless this is so we cannot be His disciples. If this is our attitude, then to us He gives pardon, cleansing and light, and so becoming His disciples and entering His school, we are ready for our course of instruction.
If these conditions seem hard and severe let it be remembered what depends on them. Character and destiny depend upon this question of discipleship. Jesus is not the Teacher to impart information or to satisfy curiosity. It is because the truth He teaches sanctifies and makes free that He reveals it, and because apart from the revelation He has to make there is no possible way of realizing God’s great purposes for us. Compare Jesus and His teaching with the most sacred and beautiful of earth’s loves and possessions, and these are unworthy of a moment’s thought. They must all go from between Him and ourselves so that we may know and do His Will. Such an attitude does not rob us of the enjoyment of all these things, so far as in themselves they are right, it rather adds to our joy.
‘Self’ renders it impossible to know Christ, when other loves and interests intervene, and breeds dissatisfaction with all else and makes that very self sad and weak. CHRIST alone lights the whole being with His love and joy and beauty, and shines on other loves to their sanctification, and so the abnegation of self is self's highest development. So let us enter the school of Jesus and receiving His gifts, await His teaching.