Miguel Luna, PhD, Stewardship Director
Northern Asia-Pacific Division
Summary: This stewardship director for the North Asia-Pacific Division talks about “exploring biblical dimensions of discipleship.”
Question: “So what does it means to follow Jesus?”
My answer: The phrase “follow me” speaks of discipleship and denotes the student/master relationship. Here Jesus invests the term with the significance of following Him by obeying God’s will, that is, by self-denial and taking up the cross. To “follow” Jesus is to pattern our lives after His life, and to serve God and our fellow men, as He did (1 John 2:6). Following Jesus, consequently, meant a true commitment and no turning back (Matthew 10:39).
Question: “How do the Gospels describe the nature of discipleship?”
My answer: Jesus Himself established the conditions for discipleship. In the dialogue with His disciples at Caesarea Philippi, He declared, “If any one would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). These conditions should be interpreted in light of the preceding prediction of Jesus’ suffering and death. As it cost Jesus to follow the Father’s will, so it would cost His disciples to do the same. Jesus is addressing each one of the disciples and others in the crowd, as testified by the gospel of Mark (Mark 8:34), to “renounce himself,” to submit his will to Christ; therefore, to live for Christ rather than for himself. Clearly Jesus is about to submit Himself and His own desires to the desire of the Father’s will, which signifies that He will pass through suffering and death. To deny oneself refers contextually to being mindful of the things of God, not the “things of man” (Matthew 16:23). Therefore, the disciple must first renounce himself. His own plans, his own desires; then he must be willing to bear any cross that duty calls him to take up; finally, he must “follow” in the footsteps of Jesus (1 Peter 2:21).
Question: “Does being a disciple include surrender and sacrifice?”
My answer: Being disciples involves surrender and sacrifice. Addressing the crowd Jesus mentioned “in the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). What is the cost? Disciples may face loss of social status or wealth. They may have to give up control over their money, their time, or their career. They may be hated, separated from their family. Following Christ does not mean a trouble-free life. As usual, Jesus clearly states the lesson His parables are designed to teach. Discipleship involves the complete placing on the altar of all that a man has in his life—plans, ambitions, friends, relatives, possessions, riches—anything and everything that might interfere with service for the kingdom of heaven (cf. Phil 3:8-10). As true disciples of Jesus we need to acknowledge first the will of God and His mission in our planning and decisions and renounce our own personal agenda.
Question: “Does discipleship imply obedience?”
My answer: The call to discipleship also includes obedience. For example, the gospel of Matthew records that Levi immediately followed Jesus. “Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him” (Mark 2:13). Called upon to make the greatest decision of his life on a moment’s notice, Matthew was ready; such a decision would presuppose having previous contact with Jesus. In his heart there must have already been a longing to follow him. Luke added that Matthew “left everything” in order to follow Jesus; he left a profitable business to serve without pay. “No man can succeed in the service for God unless his whole heart is in the work and he counts all things but loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ” (Desire of Ages, p 273).
Question: “Does discipleship mean also to follow His teachings?”
My answer: Being a disciple is not only to believe in Him but also to believe in His teachings. For instance, in His address to the Jews who believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). By nature being a disciple means to follow His precepts and instructions. The idea of the Greek word meno is to keep or remain in the truth of Jesus teachings, which is to continue resting in His doctrine based on the Scriptures. Continuance in the doctrine of Jesus is evidence of the sincerity of the original profession of faith in Jesus. He Himself is the truth that set us free (John 8:36). He is the source of truth, the perfect standard of what is right. This is the reason why in the context of the great commission “to make disciples” implies to teach and instruct regarding Jesus teachings (Matthew 28:20).
Question: “How is discipleship related to a fruitful life?”
My answer: The disciple of Jesus is the one who carries fruit. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). And again Jesus emphasizes the same idea when He declared, “You did not choose me, but I choose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (John 15:16). The reflection of the Christian graces is evidence of discipleship. Without vital connection with Christ it is impossible to bring forth the fruits of righteousness. As believers we need to promote spirituality among ourselves through a significant devotional life, Bible study and a deep attitude of prayer in order to have a fruitful life.
Question: “How can we witness if indeed we are disciples of Jesus?”
My answer: In the last week of Jesus’ ministry, during the celebration of the Last Supper, Jesus made a remarkable statement about the way other people will recognize His disciples. “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). To love others was not a new commandment (Leviticus 19:18), but to love others as much as Christ loved others was radical. Now we are to love others based on Jesus’ sacrificial love for us. Such love not only brings unbelievers to Christ, it will also keep believers strong and united in a world hostile to God. Jesus was a living example of God’s love, as we are to be living examples of Jesus’ love. So, we need to “follow him” by exercising this type of love which indicates forgiveness, tolerance and compassion among each other (cf. 1 John 3:23).
Ellen White clearly emphasized “when men are bound together, not by force or self-interest, but by love, they show the working of an influence that is above every human influence. Where this oneness exists, it is evidence that the image of God is being restored in humanity, that a new principle of life has been implanted. It shows that there is power in the divine nature to withstand the supernatural agencies of evil, and that the grace of God subdues the selfishness inherent in the natural heart” (Desire of Ages, p 678).
Question: “So what is the cost of discipleship?”
My answer: Our examination of the conditions of discipleship given in the Gospels show that they are directed toward challenging believers and church leaders to live a life of obedience, submission, sacrifice, personal commitment, humility, love and self-denial. There is not the slightest evidence that they are intended for unbelievers.
Discipleship is indeed costly, but the cost can only be paid in response to the grace received at salvation. When we as believers understand the sacrifice of God for our redemption, we will want to respond to the grace given with a reciprocal commitment. As we learn to also sacrifice, obey, and deny ourselves, we will become more like the Savior who exemplifies these things. In synthesis, a true disciple of Jesus Christ is indeed a true steward in the kingdom of God.