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Matthew 16: 24

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”

We discuss discipleship much in the church, but it can be a difficult idea to fully wrap your head around. The reason is that it is not a concept which is common in western culture. In fact, it kinda flies in the face of our individualistic approach to life.

We can begin to understand discipleship when we think about Jesus’ disciples. When he called them, they not only followed him, but they left their way of life and essentially took on a new way of life. When we talk about following Christ, we have a loose idea of “being Christian”. In other words, we have some pre-conceived, though esoteric, ideas about what it means to be a Christian and we overlay those nebulous ideas over the word discipleship. The result is that we do not have a clear idea of what it means to be a Christian much less a disciple. Looking back to Jesus’ followers may help us refine our picture of what a disciple is.

A good example of discipleship comes from when Jesus said, “Follow me,” and his soon to be disciples left what they were doing, left their businesses, arose and literally went with him (Matthew 4: 19 – 20). They literally walked in his footsteps, literally laying aside their old life in favor of the new life in him. The key here is that following Jesus radically changed these people’s lives. Ultimately discipleship means transformation. Being a disciple of Christ should change us. It should reform us in his image.

We sometimes hear people discuss discipleship in terms of being a student. That may work in other cultures but not in western culture. The word which I believe fits better is adherent. We are to adhere to the ways and teachings of the mentor. When I think in these terms, I find myself thinking of glue or some other adhesive. Adherents stick to their mentor so that the one is inseparable from the other. We are to be transformed or changed by our teacher. We are to follow them so closely that we walk in their footsteps. We do as we see them do. We leave our ways behind and adopt those of the teacher. This is not the western idea of a student. Thinking about movies about Asian Monks creates a closer model to Jesus’ experience with his disciples. And, just so you don’t freak – remember that Jesus did not live in a western culture. He lived in the middle east where Asian ideas were understood and lived.

In western culture, students learn, academically what the teacher gives. There is not a discipline involved nor is there a requirement that the student adhere to the teachers’ beliefs, only that he/she be able to regurgitate what has been taught. There is no assimilation required. The student does not have to agree with the teacher. The point I am trying to make is not that the western ideas of education and student/teacher relationships are wrong, but instead, that they are different. We cannot understand discipleship through a western paradigm because discipleship is a non-western concept. If we can shake ourselves free of our intellectual restrictions, we can see what it means to Jesus that he has called us to be disciples.

It is my hope that this will not so much answer questions for you as stimulate your own musings. We should perceive discipleship in its light as a transformative process. Discipleship implies leaving our ways and devoting our lives to obedience, discipline and following our Lord and teacher in surrendered subservience. Boy, that is a word we don’t like. However, discipleship means surrendering our will to that of the master and walking in the way he chooses. It means he gets to make the decisions and we respond, “Yes Lord.”

I hope today’s devotional blesses you, but also that it stimulates within you a desire to draw more closely to Jesus. I pray you find within you the ability to lay aside your “stuff” and follow him wherever he may lead.

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