Wednesday, January 21, 2009

CHAPTER 12: The Cost of Discipleship

Jesus is our Savior, and part of our hope is the belief that He understands our problems, and that He will be with us at all times. Jesus had all the frailties that we mortals have, but He conquered them. He was tempted in all things—not just some things, but all things—only He didn’t yield to them as we do. (Heb. 4:15.) He knows what temptation is and understands our problems. Jesus says to us, "Yes, I will forgive you and make you clean. Yes, I will heal you and make you whole. Yes, come unto me and I will bear your burdens. Yes, my yoke is easy." He will do these things for us when we give our life to Him. Through His grace, there is no heart so hard that He cannot soften, and no life so low He cannot lift.

Though Jesus was left alone to finish His work, we are not. Many of the burdens we carry are various yokes placed upon us by differing people and establishments—businesses, schools, churches, governments, and so on. Feeling enslaved and yearning to be free, we take these burdens upon ourselves, trying to carry them alone. Part of our hope comes when we allow Jesus to carry our burdens for us. He wants us to seek Him and ask for relief. He wants us to trust Him in all things.

As we contemplate His willing agony in the garden, and sacrifice on the cross for the sins of mankind, we find the definitive example in devotion to the Father’s will. The love that Jesus bore for all of humanity knew no bounds. With Him there was no thought of quitting or turning back from the bitter affliction He knew He would have to suffer. Obedience to His Father’s plan, and the salvation for His Father’s children were His only concerns and His only desires. His compassion, because of the frailties of mankind, was without parallel. In like manner, we are commanded to follow Him. We are to follow His example, follow His willingness to sacrifice for the good of all mankind, and endure to the end, as He endured for the sake of all.

Being Committed
The result of our eternal reward depends upon the desires of our hearts. When we have a desire for something we have a basic reason to develop a belief in that thing. Without an understanding of the purpose for the desire, the commitment will be feeble and short-lived. Our efforts will be hollow and will crumble. Everything in life that is worth doing is worth having a commitment behind it. The Lord does not want us to be disciples of convenience, He wants us to have a commitment of purpose—those who will valiantly take up the cross and follow Him.

When we desire something we often think of it in our minds, mentally intellectualizing that which we want. It is not enough just to think of it though, we must also feel that desire. We must emotionalize as well as intellectualize it—stirring up the emotions for the desired goal.

When a young man is in love with a lovely young lady, he not only intellectually thinks of her in his mind, but his feelings and emotions are attached to those thoughts. When one is hungry, and thinks that he wants to partake of a particularly savory dish, he can often taste that food before he starts to eat.

So it is with our desires in relation to spiritual things. We not only desire mentally, but also emotionally, feeling deeply and sincerely that desired thing. Such feelings, or emotions, are a powerful and necessary motivating force in helping us achieve our desired goal—that which we treasure most.

When we commit ourselves, it means that we undertake to do something with a pledge, promise, oath, or covenant. In this case, the covenant made is to be with God. A commitment is more than a belief or understanding, it is an attitude. Simply an appreciation of the social ethics of Jesus is not enough, our hearts are to be changed. Instead of selfishness, we must be willing to dedicate our abilities, possessions, time, lives, and fortunes, for the relief of the world’s afflictions and the glory of God.

Many have considered making time for this or that. In reality, we cannot make time, it can only be utilized as we live from day-to-day. We can’t make time, we only organize our lives to effectively use the time God has allotted to us. The following ideas concerning time were sent to me by a niece of my late wife, Kay. I feel it’s of interest and might be good to consider.

"Imagine there is a bank which credits your account each morning with $86,400. It carries over no balance from day to day, allows you to keep no cash balance, and every evening cancels whatever part of the amount you had failed to use during the day. What would you do? Draw out every cent, of course!

"Well, everyone has such a bank. Its name is TIME. Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft. Each day it opens a new account for you. Each night it burns the remains of the day. If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the "tomorrow." You must live in the present on today’s deposits; so invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness and success! The clock is running. Make the most of today.

"To realize the value of ONE YEAR, ask a student who has failed a grade. To realize the value of ONE MONTH, ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby. To realize the value of ONE WEEK, ask an editor of a weekly newspaper. To realize the value of ONE DAY, ask a daily wage laborer who has kids to feed. To realize the value of ONE HOUR, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet. To realize the value of ONE MINUTE, ask a person who has missed the train. To realize the value of ONE SECOND, ask a person who has avoided an accident. To realize the value of ONE MILLI_SECOND, ask the person who has won a silver medal in the Olympics. Treasure every moment that you have! Remember: time waits for no one. . .

"Yesterday is history—Tomorrow a mystery! Today is a gift—That's why it's called the present."

The Lord calls us to serve. He sets us to the work, and He provides a way and the time. How committed are we? Have we consecrated our time to that service?

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we need to be willing to have the faith and pay the price of conversion through consecration. In reality, there is no true conversion without consecration. We can become worthy because of obedience, but not be really converted. True conversion involves a sincere desire to consecrate all things, a desire to want to give everything to the Lord. It isn’t the shallowness of worthiness (which is usually determined by compliance) that’s important, it’s the depth of conversion, which always involves a commitment to God. That commitment necessitates a covenant. When converted, we will not have to be concerned about being worthy—it will come as the natural result of true discipleship. Being a disciple of Christ takes a pure desire to love Him, having a reckless faith in His all-enveloping grace and atoning blood, and thus we consecrate our entire life to Him.

Abiding in Christ
As a disciple, and servant of Christ, a person must ask himself some important questions. For example: "Am I allowing my spiritual life to be squandered?" "Am I focusing it all into one center—that is, on the life, atonement, and glory of Christ?" "Is Jesus Christ more dominant in my life than every other interest?" "Is the glorification of Jesus’ name the one thing I desire most?" When the one central point, the greatest exerting influence in our life is the Lord Jesus Christ, when His love is the central power in us, then every phase of our life will bear fruit for Him.

To bear good fruit, however, we first take time to realize just what that central point of power is in our lives. In speaking to His disciples, Jesus said, "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples." (John 15:7-8.) There is personal power in the atonement, and in our Savior’s pleading our cause before the throne of God. It gives us the power of eternal life when we accept it and abide in Him. It also gives the power of hope and faith.

What does it mean to abide in Christ? To help answer this question, perhaps we could ask ourselves: "What is the greatest factor of power in my life?" "Is it my personal work?" "Is it some of my physical possessions?" "Is it a special achievement?" "Is it my family or friends?" "Is it various personal concerns?" "Is it my service and sacrifice for others?" "Is it trying to do God’s work?" As important as these things are, I believe the thing that ought to exert the greatest power in our lives is the realization of the atonement of Christ. To abide in Jesus simply means that we continue to think, act and work from that central point of influence; the influence Jesus has in our lives, and the meaning of His atoning sacrifice.

The thing that shapes us into what we will become is not the thing we spend most of our time working on. The greatest element that influences our being is the thing that exerts the most power. For the true disciple of Christ, that element is Jesus Christ. When we abide in Him, and He in us, then we become, and are, the will of God, and our free choices are the will of God. For this to take place, however, we free ourselves from the smooth and comfortable life.

Oswald Chambers wrote in his book, My Utmost for His Highest, "If you do not cut the moorings, God will have to break them by a storm and send you out." He continued: "If you believe in Jesus, you are not to spend all your time in the smooth waters just inside the harbor bar, full of delight, but always moored; you have to get out through the harbor bar into the great deeps of God and begin to know for yourself, begin to have spiritual discernment." (My Utmost for His Highest. p. 160.)

There are many great causes in the world. Many of them, though demanding, are safe and comfortable because they are well accepted. We can sacrifice ourselves to a great work, but we can also stifle our progression by not venturing into what some may feel is unpopular. In this case that venture is abiding in Christ, making Him the central point and focus of every part of our existence. Though we can be anxiously engaged in a great cause, we still have to abide in Him, and He in us.

Jesus is to be the main influence in every phase of our lives—the great power that motivates every aspect of our thinking. The reason that we can abide in Him, and He in us, is only due to the atonement. John said, "And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming." (1 John. 2:28.)

His Image in Your Countenance
There is a lot of darkness in the world today. Even as we go to Church we can see darkness in the faces of many of our friends. Why is this? What is in their troubled minds and hearts that shows in their faces? Could it be they have lost the joy of hope, the faith to give their lives to Christ, trusting that He will carry their burdens? Perhaps they have lost sight of the fact that because of what He endured He is able to bear our afflictions, and perhaps they have not committed to give their life over to Him, trusting Him with those cares.

When you give your life to Jesus, you covenant to go where He wants you to go, say what He wants you to say, do what He wants you to do, and be what He wants you to be. When you are willing to do these things, and you feel it in your heart with the Spirit moving upon you, there will be a light about you that testifies of your faith and hope in Christ.

When we give our lives to Jesus, trusting in Him in all things and accepting Him, as our only Savior and Lawgiver, we shall experience a mighty change in our hearts, having the image of God engraven upon our countenances. When we seek to partake of the divine nature of Christ by seeking to be in His presence, that hope brightens our spirits and radiates from our countenances. Where is the light that is to shine forth to lighten the world? We are to have Jesus in our heart, He is to be the light shining through us, and that love will radiate to help brighten a darkened world.

"Ye are the light of the world.... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in heaven." (See Matt. 5:14-16.)

Love, the Retroactive Effect
If it were not for the atonement of Christ, the shedding of His blood, and the assumption by proxy for our sins, man could never be forgiven and cleansed. The Lord desires all to be converted, and to be found clean from sin when they appear before Him at the last day. For that to come about, however, the blood of this generation must not come upon our heads.

The New Testament tells us that, "... the blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanseth us from all sin." (1 Jn. 1:7.) Do we recognize all of our sins? Do we remember and realize that our personal sins are what caused Jesus to suffer in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross of calvary? Do we feel a sense of guilt, remorse, and anguish for our causing Jesus to suffer? Before we can truly be changed, be born again and receive a remission of our sins, we must arrive at a certain and forthright recognition that we are personally responsible for the suffering and sacrifice of our Lord.

Once Paul testified to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. The scriptures record that, "and when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles." (Acts 18:6.)

Man must suffer spiritual death because of his sin, and if he is left without repentance he will die in his sins. When we do not cry repentance unto our neighbor when we have an opportunity, as the Spirit directs, then we will be held responsible for our neighbor’s sins and spiritual death if he does not repent. Therefore, we will have his blood upon our heads.

One of the reasons God cannot look upon sin with any degree of allowance is because sin caused Jesus to suffer and die a most horrible death. Our sin, even the least bit, caused the agony and suffering of Jesus. However, if we do not repent, we will have to suffer for our own sins. This is even true about those sins committed after His mortal life. We must remember what Paul said to the Galatians, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free... Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace."( Gal. 5:1-4.) The Galatians were not unbelievers, they were baptized members of Christ’s Church.

Every time we now commit a sin, Jesus has already suffered and bled for it. Therefore, if we cause a sin to be committed, He has already paid for that sin in advance. If no one sinned, He would not have had to endure the agonizing pain of sin, and bear the burdens of the world. The adversity He bore is to be grievous to all of us. We are the reason He suffered in agony. Godly sorrow is a gift of the Spirit, and it’s a sharp realization that we have offended God. It’s a keen reminder that our actions have caused our Lord to suffer.

It’s a sobering thought to realize that when we choose not to sin, we choose not to have had the Savior suffer needlessly, and we have saved Him some pain and loss of blood. When we choose not to sin, we choose to have saved Jesus from suffering so much. Conversely, when we choose to sin, we choose to cause Him pain; we are responsible for shedding His precious blood. When we knowingly sin, and we know it caused Him pain, it may be considered as if we helped crucify Him, because we shed His blood knowingly.

If we commit a murder, then we know that the victim’s blood is on our hands, but when we do not murder, then of whose blood is the Bible speaking of when it says that blood will be on our heads? Simply speaking, it is the blood we caused Jesus to spill for us. Are sins are responsible for the blood of Christ. Therefore, the sinner has blood on his hands and he will have to suffer unless he repents, and how can he repent unless he is taught? This is part of the good news of the gospel we share with our neighbors.

We are to call others to repentance so they can also be free from such guilt. This is our responsibility. If we do not, we will be contributing to their sin, to the suffering of Jesus, and to their loss of salvation. We, then, become partly responsible for those sins if we allow them to continue without trying to stop them. When we consent to them because of apathy, we then have the blood of this generation upon our heads. True love for our Savior has a retroactive effect when we do not sin. It saved Him from having to shed so much of his blood for us.

All of God’s children are so valuable, and of such worth, that Jesus gave His life’s blood for our eternal salvation. Our beloved Christ suffered for all sins—all the sins from before His time, and all sins that were to come, even until the end of the world. How this was done, we do not know. The challenge of our faith is to only believe. How we honor and love Him for that sacrifice will determine our worthiness to live again with our Heavenly Father, and His Only Begotten Son.

Jesus gave His life and blood that we might live eternally in the Father’s kingdom, and He gave His life in unselfish mortal service that we might have the definitive example of service to one’s neighbor. Life’s blood was given for us. Will we give in return? Many say they will die for Christ, but how many will live to help save their brother and sister? We are to so live as to have made His suffering and dying less painful. The words "go, and do likewise" (Luke 10:37), can aptly be applied to those who not only desire salvation for their own souls, but also for their neighbor.

The Cost of Discipleship
The cost of discipleship is something many of us do not consider as we contemplate devoting our life to Christ. In following our Master, we need to count the high cost of discipleship. When "a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest," we must understand the Savior’s answer when He said, "... The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." (Matt. 8:19-20.) He was trying to tell the scribe that life would not be easy if he chose to follow Him. Commitments will have to be made and some things sacrificed. In following Him, one may not have a life of ease but a life filled with deprivation and sacrifice. It would require a life of humility, charity toward all, and an unselfish eye single to God’s glory. It would require a life of true and total consecration of all we have, or will ever have.

Real Christianity is not attending a church meeting once a week and listening to someone preach a sermon, stuffing a little money into an envelope or dropping a few coins in the offering plate, reading the scriptures now and again, teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, or even serving on a foreign mission. To be a Christian, in the full sense of it meaning, is a twenty-four hour a day, 365 day a year commitment. Anything less than this is not true Christianity, but perfunctory church going and lip service.

I like to consider God as being the Great Chess Player in the sky, while we are nothing but His pawns. This is His game, and our job is to help in winning. He moves us to the square where He can use us best at the moment. He may leave us there for the duration of the game, or He may move us to another square where we can best minister in His cause. We must always remember that this is His game, and our blessing is to be willing and able to move from square to square as His wisdom sees fit for our own eternal good. Such willingness is also part of the cost of being a follower of Christ.

There’s a lovely daughter of God, by the name of Karen, that my wife became acquainted with. Karen has received her share of tragedy in life which she found difficult to cope with, until she learned how to be willing to move to the square God wanted her on. You see, Karen’s father and mother and eleven year old brother were all shot and murdered.

For many years Karen carried much anger and bitterness, even though she was a Christian and loved God. Because of this bitterness, she suffered from depression and became very ill. Negative feelings overcame her. This was compounded when she discovered that her fourteen year old son had cancer.

Karen is a believer in God’s power to heal, and she prayed for that healing power in behalf of her son. Karen was guilty because of her hatred of the man who had killed three members of her family, and the Spirit told her that she needed to take care of her negative feelings before she could have such a blessing. Karen needed a healing herself.

She prayed for personal forgiveness and immersed herself in the scriptures. Karen’s son believed and has turned his live over to Jesus Christ, and has been healed of his disease. She praises the Lord for His tender mercy and love.

Karen also has her own health problems. She has swelling in her legs from being on her feet too much, and has chest pain. While sitting with her foot propped up for relief, she praises the Lord that she has had time to read the Bible and write letters of encouragement to those in need. She still has daily stresses in her life, and she knows Satan tries to destroy, but God gives the power to overcome.

Karen’s prayers are sincere and she expects miracles. She asks for specifics and the Lord answers her prayers. She is a woman of faith and courage. She seeks to be a woman who is highly favored by the Lord. Each day Karen asks the Lord to go before her as she tenderly serves family and friends to whom Karen has become a great source of strength. She gives all the glory to God for His goodness. She is happy and receives much joy serving on the little square where the Lord has placed her for the time being.

Considering the cost of discipleship, are we willing to pay the price of giving our life to Jesus Christ? It is a matter of serious consideration; for Jesus said, "... No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62.)

Many early disciples of Jesus became disillusioned with what they heard, and the scriptures state, "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?" (John 6:66-67.) Being a Christian, in the real meaning of the word, requires a great commitment. After a choice is made to follow Him, there is a sobering question the individual needs to ask himself: "Will I also go away?"

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