What does it mean to be Jesus’ disciple?

When you hear the word “disciple”, the first thing you might think of is Jesus’ twelve disciples. Twelve young men who followed Jesus while He was on earth. They learned from Him, spent time with Him, and ate with Him. After Jesus returned to Heaven, the twelve disciples spread the news about Him. Some even went on to write some of the books of the Bible.

But are they the only disciples? Certainly not. As a Christian, we are called to be Jesus’ disciples. But what is a disciple? What does the life of a disciple look like? These are questions that I have been trying to answer along with a group of college students that meet to study God’s Word and grow more like Him. The following is what I have learned while having discussions with the group, studying different scriptures, and seeking God’s guidance for my life.

First, what is a disciple? The word can be defined as a student. Jesus’ twelve disciples learned from Him during His ministry on earth. After Jesus returned to Heaven, the disciples went out and made disciples of other people by teaching them about Jesus. We are students of God’s Word, and we are called to spread the news about Jesus and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). But before we can go out and make disciples of others, we must first learn to be a disciple ourselves.

If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” – Luke 14:26-27

So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” – Luke 14:33

These verses are pretty clear that if we value anything, even our own life, more than following God we cannot be His disciple. That word “hate” used in Luke 14 actually comes from the Greek word for “lesser love”. The scriptures are clear that we are to love one another (Romans 12:9-10). What God is saying in these verses is if we love our family, our own life, or our possessions more than Him, we cannot be His disciple. Jesus was calling His disciples to be so devoted to Him, so in love with Him, that their love and attachment for anything else would seem like hatred by comparison.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” – Matthew 16:24

I have thought about this verse for the last couple of weeks asking God to show me how to live it out. I kept asking, “What does someone’s life really look like if they took up their cross and followed Jesus? What would it look like to sacrifice my own life, giving it completely to Him?”

When I started meeting once a week with a group of young adults, this was what the leaders talked about. We talked about what a disciple was and what the life of a disciple would look like. I was amazed that we began talking about the very thing that I had been thinking and praying about for a couple of weeks. God is amazing.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. – Romans 12:1

We talked about the cost of being a disciple and the sacrifices we must make. In Luke 14:26-33 and Matthew 16:24, Jesus is clear that there will be a cost to following Him. He never once said that it would be an easy, free ride. It will cost us something. Matthew 16:24 says that we must deny self and take up our cross. We must sacrifice all the desires of our flesh and follow Jesus. We must surrender whatever control we think we have over our own lives. For each person, the cost to follow Jesus will be different. Some may be called to leave their family behind and move to another country, or they may be called to sacrifice an unhealthy relationship. Others may be called to give up some of their time to serve and help others. The possibilities are endless. God won’t ask us to surrender just one small part of our life. He wants our whole life. He wants you and me completely and fully devoted to Him.

The leaders asked everyone in the group what God was calling us to sacrifice. For me, I knew God was showing me that I needed to sacrifice my own wants and desires. I knew He wanted me to give up doing whatever I wanted to do and instead do something that wasn’t necessarily fun. Something that would help someone else. But even more than that, I knew I should do those things gladly and with a cheerful heart. It’s one thing to help my family with something and do it with a bad attitude. What kind of message would that send about me and about God? Not a good one. Our actions and the choices we make reflect back not only on ourselves, but on God and what people may think about the Church. So for me, I know that means I need to work on looking out for opportunities to serve others even when it may not be the thing that I really want to do and do so gladly.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, preserving in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another, do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:9-21

I found these verses while studying the first couple of verses in Romans 12. I had been asking God to show me what a life fully devoted to Him looks like, and there it was clearly written out in Romans 12:9-21. God’s instructions for following Him and being His disciple are not limited to these few verses though. We can find clear instruction and examples of people who followed Him all throughout the Bible.

As I mentioned at the beginning, a disciple can be defined as simply as a student. As Jesus’ disciples, we are called to have a close and intimate relationship with Him through prayer and diligent studying of His Word. It is through studying His Word that we can learn more about our loving Father, what He requires from us, and what it means to be His disciple.

I want to encourage you to seriously think, study, and pray about what it means to be a disciple. It is not something to be taken lightly or done blindly. What does being Jesus’ disciple look like in your own life? What sacrifices is God calling you to make?

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders

Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against the house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.” – Luke 6:47-49

This parable is also told in Matthew 7:21-27. I choose to use the verses from Luke because of the words “dug down”.

Last year, I read Joshua Harris’s book Dug Down Deep. This parable was at the center of his message. I never really understood this parable until I read Dug Down Deep.

I always knew that the Wise Builder who built his house on the rock represented a man who built his life on God’s word. The Foolish Builder who built his house on the sand being the man who ignored God. Trials and judgement came in the form of rain and storms. The Wise Builder’s house was still standing because his foundation was the word of God. The Foolish Builder’s house, and life, was destroyed.

It sounds easy enough. Build your life upon God’s word, and He will help you through the trails. But it’s not quite that simple.

In his book, Joshua Harris points out two words that I’d never noticed before: “dug down”. In order for the Wise Builder to even begin building his house on the rock, he has to first dig down into the rock so that he can set the foundation. This is grueling work. The Wise Builder labors hard to dig down and build a strong foundation for his house.

The same applies to our study of God’s word. We have to dig down deep into God’s word to set the strong foundation for our life. It’s more than just reading the Word; it’s reading it, studying it, learning it, and obeying it. It takes a lot of time and hard labor, but God makes it clear that we need to put in the work.

Those who hear God’s words and do not act on them are like the Foolish Builder. Those who hear God’s words and do act on them are like the Wise Builder. Trials, and ultimately judgement, will come either way. But it’s not enough just to hear or read God’s word. We must obey His word and live it out. (James 2:14-26)

If you haven’t read Joshua Harris’s book, Dug Down Deep, I would strongly recommend it. It’s a great read about what he has learned about theology, orthodoxy, and doctrine, and just how important those things are to a Christian’s life. I loved it, and I’m planning on reading again soon.

Relationship and Responsibility

I spent last week at a CIY MOVE conference with my youth group. We traveled to Lee University in Tennessee, and I spent the week there worshiping God and hearing from different speakers alongside 1,400 high schoolers. It was an amazing week. I had a lot of fun, and I learned so much about God and His Word during that week.

The main speaker that week (and my personal favorite) was Ben Hardman. He was the speaker for the morning sessions as well as the senior classes. I just want to share what I learned from him about Relationship and Responsibility along with my own studies on the subject.

A relationship with God is exactly what it says. It’s time we spend with Him and getting to know Him. It focuses on reading His Word, spending time in prayer, and worshiping Him. Responsibility focuses on doing God’s work. It’s serving others, telling other people about Him, or social justice. A relationship with God is extremely important, and so is handling the responsibility that He gives us.

The problem comes when we try to live out one and not the other. Relationship on its own can become very inwardly focused. Pray and worship suddenly becomes all about us. Responsibility on its own can still involve doing good things. However, without a relationship with God, we have no way of knowing how He wants us to serve Him. The difference between doing good things and doing God’s things is huge.

We must have a balance between our relationship and our responsibility. They must go together. One without the other only results in falling away from our Father.

John 15:1-11 gives us a picture of how a relationship with God and the responsibility He gives us goes hand in hand.

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” – John 15:1-2

Jesus uses the illustration of a vine and its branches.

My grandparents own a daylily farm, so I’ve grown up around gardens. I became a Junior Master Gardener when I was 12, and I’ve even been to a couple of Master Gardener classes with my grandparents.

I learned a long time ago that pruning a plant promotes growth. We have apple and pear trees and a pomegranate tree. In the fall, we’re supposed to prune the branches. By doing so, we promote growth in the trees so that the next year they will bear forth even more fruit than they did the year before.

John 15:2 tells us that God does the same thing to us. Of course, this is just a metaphor, but the point is that God works in us to get rid of anything that would prevent us from growing and bearing more fruit. Namely, sin.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5

Jesus calls us to “abide” in Him. “Abide” means to remain or to stay. He wants us to have a continuous relationship with Him. Jesus makes it clear that, without a relationship, we can not take on responsibility. Without responsibility, we cannot bear fruit. We can’t do anything apart from Jesus.

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” – John 15:6

This verse is a picture of destruction. It shows the judgement that will come to those who were never saved. Those who never know God and never bear fruit will one day spend eternity in hell. (Matt. 3:10, 7:19, 22-23)

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” – John 15:7-8

If we truly believe in God, if we have a relationship with him, we will obey his commandments. John 14:21 & 23 tell us that those who keep God’s commandments are the ones who love Him. It also says if we love Him, we will keep His word. If we are committed to God’s word and His will, our prayers will be fruitful (Matt. 7:7-8). God is glorified when He answers our prayers.

Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” – John 15:9-10

This love comes from obedience (John 14:21,23). Jude 21 tells us to “keep in the love of God”. Jesus sets an example for us by abiding in our Father’s love and perfectly keeping His commandments. We are to strive every day to be like Jesus.

These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” – John 15:11

We can find true joy in God as we obey His commandments.

I’ve realized that I usually stray toward the responsibility side, neglecting the relationship side. All these things help me remember that it’s not just about the relationship, and it’s not just about the responsibility. I must have both.

I can find love and joy in my relationship with God. As I get to know Him and grow, He will lead me in His will. He will give me responsibilities so that I may serve Him and bring Him glory.

Relationship + Responsibility = Fruit

Promise Island

This week, we had VBS at our church, Eastridge Community Church. The theme was Promise Island. During the week, the kids got to learn bible stories along with God’s promises for us. There were skits, worship, games, crafts, and snacks for the kids.

I was a crew leader during VBS. I had three kids in my group, and I got to go around with them to the different activities. It was so cute to watch the little kids worship. I loved asking the kids questions about the bible story and seeing how well they listened. It’s amazing to see such little kids talk about God.

Here’s a video of our VBS that my sister made for the end of the week. Check it out!

“If the Lord wills,…”

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. – James 4:13-16

I’ve been thinking about these verses for the last couple of days. They came to mind while I was thinking about my summer. I didn’t have any plans for this summer, and yet I’ve been kept very busy with writing, work, tennis camp, and VBS. I’m only part way through this summer, and next month might keep me even busier. It just made me stop and think about how true those verses in James are.

Since I kept thinking about these verses, I decided to do some studying.

James most likely wrote the book to scattered Jewish believers. His emphasis was on the believer living out a godly life. One way to look at this book is as a series of tests to examine the genuineness of a person’s faith. Many of the truths in this book can be found in the Old Testament as well as many references to the Sermon on the Mount.

Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. – Proverbs 27:1

It’s easy for me to plan my week and think that it will all happen exactly as I have planned. However, it seems more often than not, things never go as planned. Or, as this summer has shown, I can have no plans and later realize that I have been kept busy with things I never would have imagined myself doing. A good reminder that I have no way of knowing what my future will look like.

Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the LORD will stand. – Proverbs 19:21

Man’s steps are ordained by the LORD, how then can man understand his way? – Proverbs 20:24

God already has our life planned out for us. No matter what we think we want or what we think we already have planned, it is nothing compared to what God has in store for us. We can’t know what God has ordained for us, but we can know who God is. We know that we can trust Him to take care of us. We must constantly walk in faith knowing that God has only the best planned out for us. (Matthew 6:25-34)

James tells us to say “If the Lord wills” when making plans to do something. I remember the first time I heard someone say that. My 11th and 12th grade teachers would say at the end of class, “See you tomorrow, Lord willing.” I thought it was weird. I think that was just because I wasn’t used to hearing that. Some people might even call it “old fashioned”. Yet, James tells us to say that.

Paul uses some variation of “If the Lord wills” at least 6 times (Acts 18:21, 21:14 Romans 1:10, 15:32, 1 Corinthians 4:19, 16:7). He understood that he could only do what the Lord had already planned for him. Paul trusted God completely, and he showed it my submitting his life to the Lord and by being willing to follow and serve Him in whatever way He chose.

However, it’s not just the act of saying “Lord willing”, but it’s believing that we can’t know what tomorrow will bring. It’s believing that only God knows, and it’s trusting Him with our life, no matter what happens. When we make plans, we should remind ourselves of God’s sovereignty. We need to remember that God is always in control of everything. Paul’s life showed that he truly believed this.

For me, I believe all these things. Yet, I know I can easily forget them. It’s easy to fall into the lie that we can plan out our own lives better than God. I don’t want to do that. I pray that God reminds me of these truths when I try to plan my own life. I know God has plans for me that are bigger and better than anything I could imagine. I pray that I don’t get caught up in the lie and forget how important His plans are. He is all-knowing, and He gives me peace and hope for my life.