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Conditions of Discipleship (Part One)
When Jesus Christ gathered His core disciples as He began His ministry, He knew who and what kind of men they were. He needed principled and devout worshippers of God to teach and prepare for the immense work of spreading the gospel in the early decades of the church. He could not pick up just anyone off the street. What kind of person was He looking for?
For starters, He looked for people who could deny themselves and bear a cross, as He says in Matthew 16:24, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." Adam Clarke comments: "[A Christian is] to renounce self-dependence, and selfish pursuits . . . [and] to embrace the condition which God has appointed, and bear the troubles and difficulties he may meet with in walking the Christian road."
In Galatians 5:24, the apostle Paul writes something similar: "And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." A Christian must take a hard and unyielding position against his own urges and desires that go against God's righteousness. Instead of allowing them to hold sway in his life, he must walk Christ's path and shoulder the trials and sufferings of being a Christian in an ungodly world.
Jesus' reaction and words to the rich young ruler in Mark 10:21 add another layer to the conditions of discipleship: "Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.'"
The situation on the ground was that Christ was recruiting disciples, and He wanted twelve men who fit the bill. He needed those who would literally leave everything behind, and He chose His words to the rich young ruler to test for this trait in him. The next verse tells us that Jesus' command to give away his riches was, for him, a bridge too far.
Jesus says in Luke 14:33, "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple." Some of those He chose were wealthy, like Matthew, a well-to-do tax collector (Luke 5:29); some had wives, like Peter (Matthew 8:14). When Jesus called them, they had to decide if they would give up everything to follow Him.
However, the situation on the ground has changed in our time. Christ is no longer physically eating, walking, or talking with us. He is no longer organizing a small cadre of followers to witness His earthly ministry. Giving up our careers or our families to walk the nation's roads does not make as much sense these days. He is no longer working with us that way.
Yet, even in today's world, some men and women spend their entire lives living in monasteries and convents, having given up literally everything. But to what avail? If God's Spirit does not guide such abandonment of goods and livelihood, it means little, gains little. What a tragic waste of a life!
What God is looking for today is an attitude willing to give up everything for the Kingdom! He will probably not require it completely of us, but He still wants proof of our willingness. How does He find it? The only proof we can offer Him is our good works, of which James 2 points out the extreme importance.
So, do we have any good works? Matthew 25:35-36, 40 helps us see how we measure up:
This list should provide us an idea of whether we are among the few God has chosen, as these are some of the works Christ requires of those to whom He will give salvation. Paul prays that God's elect "may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:10; emphasis ours).
There are, of course, other good works we can do. Paul, in I Timothy 5:3-16, writes about helping widows—true widows and older, unmarried women (whom we once called "spinsters"). He also charges "the strong" in the church "to bear with the scruples [weaknesses, margin; infirmities, KJV] of the weak, and not to please ourselves" (Romans 15:1). Leviticus 25:35-37 explains what this can entail:
Few of us have the resources to support someone and his family. However, what Jesus says in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25 suggests offering help rather than providing total support: supplying food and drink, providing temporary housing, giving clothing, helping when sick, and visiting when imprisoned. If an entire congregation obeyed God's commands in this way, more of those in desperate situations would receive the help they need.
Here is a final good work to ponder. Paul writes in I Corinthians 8:10-11:
The apostle asks us to consider if we are sensitive to the weaker consciences of newer brethren or those with shallower knowledge. He calls it like it is and tells us what he would do: "But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble" (I Corinthians 8:12-13).
A Christian does not have to give up eating what God has provided as clean food, but if someone who lacks understanding sees us partaking of something he believes to be sin, we should forbear from eating it in his presence. Paul states this principle more broadly in Philippians 2:4: "Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." Sometimes, looking out for others' best interests means sacrificing our rights and freedoms for their benefit, which is the essence of godly love.
In Part Two, we will discuss a few of Jesus' other conditions of discipleship.