The Conditions of Discipleship

Webster defined “condition” as “anything called for before the performance or completion of something else.”  A condition of graduation with an MDiv, for example, is the satisfactory completion of a certain number of courses and mastery of a certain basic body of information.  Dr. Mike Mitchell postulates several conditions for discipleship, including self denial, renunciation, leaving all, steadfastness, fruitfulness and love.  Anyone who wishes to be a true disciple of Christ must demonstrate these qualities.  It is important to differentiate “disciple” from “follower”.  Elwell’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology suggests that the word disciple (μαθητής mathētēs) may be rendered “pupil” in English but actually connotes a far more personal attachment and commitment. The idea is that a disciple is a pupil with a personal relationship with the Master.  While one can be a casual follower, one can only be a devoted disciple.

Self-Denial

Denial is a dirty word in a culture in which it is our “right” to “have it our way” and “do it my way”.  We “deserve” everything we get and are personally offended if we do not get everything we want, whether we have earned it or not.  Such an attitude is foreign to the true disciple of Christ.  The true disciple understands that before God we have no rights except the “right” to be eternally separated from Him for our rebellion.  We have no merit before Him, no matter how good we look to ourselves and to those around.  Knowing that he deserves nothing, the true disciple denies himself everything that impairs him from becoming more like Christ and embraces everything that makes him more like his beloved Savior.

Renunciation

Related to self-denial, renunciation is giving up a right, claim, title, or something else.  Jesus was the ultimate renunciator, giving up His prerogatives as God and becoming man.  A true disciple of Christ is willing to give up things to which he is genuinely entitled for the purpose of serving His Lord.

Leaving all

Jesus said in Luke 14:33 that unless a man gives up everything he has he cannot be His disciple.  Taken in light of other Scriptures, it may mean literally abandoning everything as Paul seems to have done.  Certainly it includes the willingness to give up all one has.  Usually in Scripture, it refers to “laying aside every weight and running the race that is before us.”  (Hebrews 12:1).  Even more it suggests that we understand that everything is worthless compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).   The true disciple of Christ is prepared at a moment to leave everything he has and does to follow the Master.

Steadfastness

If humans are nothing else, we are unstable.  Shaken and tossed by wind and waves of life, our only constancy is inconstancy and only consistency is undulation.  The true disciple of Jesus, given a foundation of the love of the Lord, is able to remain steadfast in his actions, thoughts and emotions regardless of the swirl of events around him.  Isaiah 26:3 says “thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee”, and the disciple lives day by day in that peace because he keeps his mind fixed on God.

Fruitfulness

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.  If disciples of Jesus must remove self-interest, renounce their rights, and be willing to leave everything, they also receive the opportunity to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.

Love

In First Corinthians 13, Paul provides an excellent description of what the love of God, agape, is.  Disciples receive this love from their Master and then express the Master’s love to others.

The conditions of being a true disciple are hard to meet and being a disciple is strenuous.  However, as Stott recounted in The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, doing what Jesus commands is the most reasonable, logical, and rational way to live life. Giving up what the world offers, fame, riches, pleasure and power, is difficult.  Gaining what the Lord offers, however, is better.  As Jim Elliot, one of the US missionaries killed by the Auca Indians in 1956 said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

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