“Disciple” signifies a follower, pupil or adherent to a teacher. In the Gospels it described those who followed John the Baptist as well as Jesus. Biblical authors also seem to have used this term to designate casual followers as well as those more fully committed (John 6:66; 8:31). The discipleship Jesus desires from us requires dying to ourselves (Mark 8:34-35). It also demands we abandon a sinful lifestyle, so that we might live for God (Romans 6:2,6,18,22).
While selfless living is commendable, it’s empty of eternal value and remains just a human-based spiritual activity, unless we are crucified with Christ. Paul knew that the life Jesus makes possible is not achieved by self-exertion.
Rather, Paul realized that Christ makes possible the disciple’s life. He wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Furthermore he understood Christ’s cross as the pivotal point transforming how he related to the world (Galatians 6:14).
If we desire to die to ourselves and to sin by being crucified with Christ, in order that our lives may become the result of God’s workmanship, we need to pay attention to scripture, not our feelings, regarding how to die with Christ. Christ makes disciples. Discipleship is not our self-help character development exercise program.
Paul described a specific moment when we die with Christ to our former way of living in order to begin to live for God. “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. … We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:3-4,6).
Following these thoughts, Paul commented on them by describing God’s liberating work in our lives when we obey the gospel: “though you were slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18).
This apostle understood baptism as a specific moment when God’s transforming power aligns with our faith response (Colossians 2:11-13). Ephesians 2:8-10 reiterates these thoughts how God’s power transforms us in our conversion. God also gives us the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 5:32).
These observations accord with Jesus’ words: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”(Matthew 28:18-20)
While this is one bright moment when we start following Christ, discipleship is a daily and lifelong journey (Luke 9:23). Jesus makes discipleship possible. We must choose to respond.
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