Jesus warned his disciples in Luke 9:23 that “any one (who) would come after me….must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Jesus appears to have issued
this call on at least three different occasions. In John Koessler’s book, True Discipleship, he says that “The cross is the most recognizable symbol of the Christian faith.“ He also says “the message of the Cross is at the center of the Christian faith, it is the life of the Cross that is at the heart of Christian discipleship.”
Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily. What does this mean? Koessler writes that “God is not satisfied with anything less than everything.” In Matthew 10:37-38, Jesus said, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me." In Luke 14:26-27, Luke recounts Jesus’ words much stronger than Matthew by saying, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Koessler writes that the “hatred spoken of in this passage is by way of comparison. It is a hyperbolic language meant to drive home our obligation to love Christ more than any other and to defer to Him in all our decisions.”
We are to "count the cost" of discipleship. Jesus compares counting the cost of discipleship to a man who builds a tower or a king who plans to go to war with another king (see Luke 14:28-32).
Koessler says that “both would estimate the potential cost of such a project before embarking on it.” Why does Jesus want us to count the cost before following him? Jesus wants followers who will go the distance, not quit the race halfway through. Jesus guarantees that if we pick up our
cross daily and follow him that it will not be easy. The cross itself represents persecution, torture, shame, abandonment and rejection. So if we are to pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus, that means we must anticipate shame, persecution, rejection and possibly martyrdom. We must count the cost and be willing to still follow even if it means we must go through what Jesus went through. We must love him enough to follow him no matter what the cost.
Picking up our cross to follow Jesus will include handling temptation, learning to avoid temptation by understanding the stages of temptation. The first stage is desire (James 1:14). Koessler says that “sin always promises more than it can deliver.” We see that in the story of the Garden of Eden. Satan (the serpent) promised Adam and Eve lies. Koessler says, “The stage of desire is the point when we need to look beyond the initial false promises of temptation and ask ourselves some
James, the brother of Jesus, described the second stage of temptation as conception: “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin” (James 1:15a). This is the stage where we rationalize sin, rather than flee from it. Why do so many people who profess to be Christians live as though they are slaves to sin? They don’t have to. We are commanded not to. Koessler says that “it is because they offer themselves to the flesh in voluntary slavery.” He concludes saying that “All who would be Christ’s disciples must bear the cross. Yet all who do, find to their eternal joy that it is really the cross that bears them.”
As a follower of Jesus Christ, do people perceive you as being
different than others who are not followers of Jesus Christ?
If we are true disciples, we will be noticeably different than those who are not. Jesus said that true disciples will be recognizable by the fruit they produce (Matthew 7:16-17).
In John Koessler’s book, True Discipleship, he writes that the
first mark of true discipleship is baptism. Koessler states, “It is one of the first acts that identifies us as followers of Jesus Christ and initiates us into a life of obedience.” In Matthew
28:19-20 when Jesus gave us his Great Commission he said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” John Calvin called baptism “the sign of the initiation by which we are received into the society of the church.” Calvin also said that “it is the mark by which we publicly profess that we wish to be reckoned God’s People, by which we testify that we agree in worshipping the same God, in one religion with all Christians; by which finally we openly affirm our faith.” Baptism on our part as followers is that of a “pledge of good conscience toward God” (1 Pet 3:21). Baptism on God’s part is an implied promise of forgiveness (Acts 2:38, 22:16; Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3).
Koessler writes, “When some in the Corinthian church began to boast about who had baptized them and divide into factions in the name of their favorite apostle, Paul wrote that he was glad that he had baptized so few. “The apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Koessler says that “Such a statement makes no sense if baptism is the
means of obtaining forgiveness through Christ.” Baptism is not a requirement for salvation. Baptism is a public proclamation to all that we have chose to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus said in Luke 9:26 that “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” When we
are publically baptized we are showing others that we are not ashamed to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Baptism symbolizes the believer’s decision to partake in Jesus’ burial and resurrection. As
believers we die to self and live a new life in Christ.
The additional marks of a true discipleship are obedience, abiding fruit and love. The second
major part of Jesus’ Great Commission to all of his disciples was to teach others “to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Obedience is definitely the true test of discipleship. Jesus said in John 8:31 (NIV), “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.” Jesus did not say that we become his disciples if we hold to his teaching, but we are true disciples if we do. Koessler says, “discipleship comes before obedience.” Obedience is
therefore the result of truly being a disciple, but it is not the cause. Koessler states that “there are two kinds of obedience, legalistic obedience and grace obedience. Legalistic obedience is rooted in human effort and achievement. Obedience that is rooted in grace comes from faith (Romans 1:5, 4:5). Grace-rooted obedience recognizes that righteousness can only be received as a gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit. It cannot be earned as a wage. Obedience to God is our expression of gratitude for his gift of his Holy Spirit to us.
If we abide in Jesus Christ we will have spiritual fruit. So what is spiritual fruit? Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) tells us exactly. It is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In John 15:7-8 (NIV) Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” Just prior to that Jesus described his relationship with his disciples as that of a vine. He said in John 15:5 (NIV), “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Many disciples will appear to be true followers of Jesus. They may prophesy, cast out demons and even do miracles, but Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV), “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” The key is to ‘remain’ or ‘abide’ in Christ. We must be connected to Jesus, the vine, in order to do the Father’s will.
I have witnessed so many Christians involved in ministry that had their pride at the forefront.
They wanted to be recognized as the church’s most outstanding ‘soul winner’ or they wanted recognition in front of the church body for every task (leading bible study, teaching VBS, singing in the choir, etc.) they were involved in. Jesus says we must die to ‘self,’ not promote self. In John 12:24 (NIV) Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." Jesus is saying that we must be like a seed. As a gardener, I gather all the seeds from all my plants in my back yard, mostly flowers, and dry them so I can replant them and produce an entire garden of flowers. A seed must completely die in order to be planted and reproduce and multiply. We are the same way. In order for God to use us in ministry for him, we must die to ‘self’ and when we do, he is able to use us in ministry for him to multiply his kingdom by winning souls. If we do not die to ‘self,’
then we are like those who Jesus speaks of in John 12:24 that are doing ministry but they do not know Jesus. They are not connected to the true vine. Therefore they may appear to be producing fruit, but they are doing it for their own glorification, not God’s glory.
Finally, the last mark of a disciple is love. So what does love look like? ! Corinthians 13 gives us the outline. Koessler says that love “ is reflected more in what we do than in how we feel.” Love pertains to our actions, not our feelings. He says that, “Love, like faith, involves an exercise of the will.” Our love also, must go beyond words. In James 2:15-17 (NIV), James, the brother of Jesus, said, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” The key is not to try harder to obey Jesus, but to live closer to Jesus Christ. We must abide in him and his words (the scripture). Then we will know the truth (Jesus Christ) and the truth will set us free (John 8:32).