The Promise of Discipleship: A Heavenly Reunion

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

Jesus Christ

Home. That’s where we’re going. There Jesus is preparing a special place for us in the Father’s house. There we will join the jubilant multitude of the redeemed from every age. There we will meet Jesus face to face. There we will spend eternity with our Savior. What a reunion that will be!

To the Christ follower, nothing could be more thrilling than the prospect of being welcomed into our heavenly home by Christ himself. But this is more than a hopeful prospect. It’s as certain as anything we know. On Christ’s promise, we will reach our destination. Until then, we press on in hopeful expectation, because “Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). Or, as the apostle Paul put it, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

E. M. Bounds says,

To the true Christian, heaven is not a mere sentiment, or poetry, or dreamland, but real solid and abiding granite in strength, home-drawing in sweetness and influence. . . . What does God think of us who have no sighings for heaven, no longings for it; earth, earthly, earthened? God’s throne is in heaven. His power, person and glory are preeminently there. Does God attract and hold us? Then heaven attracts and holds. Do we thirst after God?[1]

 John Donne once wrote, “No man ever saw God and lived; and yet, I shall not live till I see God; and when I have seen him I shall never die.”[2] This is the hope and destiny of every disciple of Jesus.

Soon will our Savior from Heaven appear,

Sweet is the hope and its power to cheer;

All will be changed by a glimpse of His face;

This is the goal at the end of our race.

—Ada R. Habershon

[1]E. M. Bounds, Heaven: A Place—A City—A Home (NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1921), 108-109.

[2]John Donne, Donne’s Sermons: Selected Passages With an Essay by Logan Pearsall Smith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1919), 224.


The Proof of Discipleship: Bearing Good Fruit

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to by my disciples.

Jesus Christ

“We don’t smoke. We don’t chew. And we don’t go with girls who do.” That about sums up what some people think it means to be a Christian. In their minds, what sets a Christ follower apart is what he or she does not do.

I don’t know about yours, but this doesn’t ring true in my experience. I know plenty of people who don’t smoke or chew who aren’t Christ followers. I also know some Christ followers who smoke and chew.

Jesus said we show ourselves to be his disciples by bearing much fruit. But we can get so focused on keeping the weeds out of the vineyard that we forget to check to see if there’s even any good fruit growing there. As one writer put it, “True spirituality does not consist in what one does not do, it is rather what one does. It is not suppression: it is expression. It is not holding in self: it is living out Christ.”[1]

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good,” Jesus said, “or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). The point is that a true disciple of Christ can be recognized by the good fruit of his or her life—fruit that’s consistent with the character of Christ.

The apostle Paul refers to this good fruit as “the fruit of the Spirit.” He says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). These virtues, which the Holy Spirit produces in us, are the fruit of our discipleship to Jesus.

Our fruitfulness is inevitable when we remain in Christ. Jesus promised that “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). As Andrew Murray points out,

If Christ, the heavenly Vine, has taken the believer as a branch, then He has pledged Himself, in the very nature of things, to supply the sap and spirit and nourishment to make it bring forth fruit.[2]

A true disciple will bear good fruit. We have Christ’s word on it.

[1]Lewis Sperry Chafer, He That is Spiritual (Wheaton, IL: Van Kampen Press, 1918), 68.

[2]Andrew Murray, Abide in Christ (Fort Washington,PA: Christian Literature Crusade, n. d.), 115.

The Prudence of Discipleship: Building Our House on Bedrock

Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

Jesus Christ

Life is dangerous and unpredictable. The sheer magnitude of the insurance industry is a testimony to our fear of some unforeseen catastrophe befalling us. We have life insurance, health insurance, disability insurance, homeowners insurance, and auto insurance, just to name a few.

But there’s another kind of insurance that’s more foundational than all of these. And it’s free. Call it “endurance insurance,” if you like. Jesus spoke about it at the end of his Sermon on the Mount. He said,

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. (Matthew 7:24-27)

Notice that Jesus’ illustration assumes that there will be storms. The question is not whether our foundation will be tested. It will. The question is whether our foundation will hold, whether we will endure. Jesus recognizes only two approaches to life. One leads to destruction. The other leads to security and stability.

The life of security and stability belongs to those who hear Jesus’ words and put them into practice. The disciple of Jesus builds his life on the bedrock of Christ’s teachings.

As the old hymn puts it,

On Christ the solid rock I stand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

All other ground is sinking sand.

—Edward Mote

The Pleasure of Discipleship: Inexpressible and Glorious Joy

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

—The apostle Peter

Following Jesus is not a quest for happiness. Happiness is fleeting anyway. When we follow Jesus, we discover something better. We discover joy.[1] Inexpressible and glorious joy. We experience this joy despite hardships.[2] We even experience this joy because of hardships,[3] knowing that these difficulties are designed to make us “mature and complete” (James 1:4).

Jesus never said the life of a disciple would be easy. But he did say that it would be marked by joy, that it would be a blessed life. Jesus made this clear in his first recorded sermon (see Matthew 5-7). We know it as “The Sermon on the Mount.” The very first word of that sermon is the word “blessed.” In fact, Jesus used that word nine times in the opening section of the sermon[4] to refer to those who manifest the values of the kingdom of heaven. There Jesus paints a portrait of who we are becoming as his disciples. It’s a picture of the kind of person God approves, the kind of person on whom his favor rests. From the start, Jesus calls us to a life that’s blessed in ways this world knows nothing about. In fact, we’ve been blessed with “every spiritual blessing in Christ” (see Ephesians 1:3).

But ultimately, the anchor and source of our joy is not the blessings Christ gives us. It is Christ himself. He is our joy. A. W. Tozer is right:

The man who has God for his treasure has all things in One. Many ordinary treasures may be denied him, or if he is allowed to have them, the enjoyment of them will be so tempered that they will never be necessary to his happiness. Or if he must see them go, one after one, he will scarcely feel a sense of loss, for having the Source of all things he has in One all satisfaction, all pleasure, all delight. Whatever he may lose, he has actually lost nothing, for he now has it all in One, and he has it purely, legitimately and forever.”[5]

The closer we draw to Christ, the closer we draw to the source of our joy. This, my fellow disciples, is our destiny.

[1]Passages that speak of this joy include Matthew 13:44, Luke 2:10, Luke 10:17, Luke 24:52, John 15:11, John 17:13, Acts 16:34, 2 Corinthians 8:2, and Philippians 1:25-26.

[2]See, for example, 1 Peter 1:6.

[3]See especially Matthew 5:11-12, Romans 5:3-5, 2 Corinthians 12:10, James 1:2-4, and 1 Peter 4:13.

[4]This section, Matthew 5:3-12, is often referred to as “The Beatitudes.”

[5]A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1948), 20.

The Perspective for Discipleship: The Family of God

Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.

—Jesus, Matthew 12:50

To become a disciple of Jesus is to become part of a new family, the family of God.[1] In fact, Jesus spoke of the bond between members of this “faith family” as surpassing even those of our biological family.

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)

What an amazing truth this is, that Jesus would call us (his disciples) his true brothers and sisters!

This, of course, means we are brothers and sisters to one another as well. The New Testament writers took this very seriously. They not only referred to their fellow believers using family terms.[2] They also had plenty to say about how we should treat our brothers and sisters in Christ. Relational phrases like “one another” and “each other” show up dozens of times in the New Testament.[3] For example, the writer of Hebrews says, “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13). How easy it is to lose our perspective when we neglect our relationships with our fellow disciples!

But the most pivotal “one another” of all is found in John 13:35, where Jesus says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The implication here is that disciples who decide to “go it alone” are not only jeopardizing their chances of staying the course as a disciple. They are already off mission. A loner disciple is a contradiction in terms. We need each other if we are going to follow Jesus. God designed it that way.

Joseph Hellerman spells it out:

Spiritual formation occurs primarily in the context of community. People who remain connected with their brothers and sisters in the local church almost invariably grow in self-understanding, and they mature in their ability to relate in healthy ways to God and to their fellow human beings. This is especially the case for those courageous Christians who stick it out through the often messy process of interpersonal discord and conflict resolution. Long-term interpersonal relationships are the crucible of genuine progress in the Christian life. People who stay also grow.[4]

It turns out that doing life together, in community, is not only a good idea. It’s God’s idea. We need each other if we are going to thrive in our discipleship to Jesus.

[1]See, for example, John 1:12-13 and 1 John 3:1.

[2]The apostle Paul, for example, referred to fellow believers as “brother” (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:58, Colossians 1:1, 4:9), “sister” (e.g. Philemon 2, Romans 16:1), “son” (e.g. Philemon 10, Philippians 2:22, 2 Timothy 1:2), and “mother” (Romans 16:13).

[3]Looking these up makes for an interesting study.

[4]Joseph Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family (Nashville,TN: B & H Publishing, 2009), 1.

The Provision for Discipleship: The Grace of God

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

—Jesus, 2 Corinthians 12:9

As important as spiritual disciplines are to our spiritual growth, you and I can’t cause our spiritual growth any more than a farmer can cause his crops to grow. The best a farmer can do is to understand and submit to the natural laws God has established. The farmer can cultivate the soil, plant good seed, tend the plants, and harvest the crops when it’s time. If he is a good farmer, he will do these things diligently and in the proper order. Still, he can’t make the plants grow. In fact, he can’t even fully explain how it happens.

The same is true of our spiritual growth. Though we eagerly do those things that are known to foster spiritual growth, we can’t make growth happen. At most, the practice of spiritual disciplines opens us more fully to Christ’s work in our lives. And ultimately it’s his work that produces the spiritual growth we desire. The apostle Paul reminds us that it was God who began a good work in us and it is he who will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

The Bible has a word for this mysterious, growth-inducing power of God at work in us. That word is grace. So, when the apostle Paul was at the end of his rope, Christ told him, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). It always is.

God’s grace is his unmerited favor, and it manifests itself toward us in many different ways. Yes, his grace is the basis of our forgiveness. But it’s more than that. His grace is behind every blessing we’ll ever receive. In fact, his grace is behind every positive step we’ll ever take on our journey with Christ. So Peter says, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Without Christ’s grace there can be no spiritual progress.

Charles Spurgeon says,

Every good thing that is in a Christian not merely begins but progresses and is consummated by the fostering grace of God, through Jesus Christ. If my finger were on the golden latch of paradise, and my foot were on its jasper threshold, I should not take the last step so as to enter heaven unless the grace which brought me so far should enable me fully and fairly to complete my pilgrimage.[1]

This grace of Christ at work in us is his way of enabling our progress as his disciples. So, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).

[1]Charles H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C. H. Spurgeon, vol. 15 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1908), 291.

The Precepts for Discipleship: The Word of God

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

—Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, John 17:17

What would you think of someone who claimed to be a follower of some great spiritual master but was not familiar with what that master actually taught?

Weird, huh?

It goes without saying that someone identifying himself or herself as a disciple should be at least somewhat (if not thoroughly) familiar with that master’s teachings. And so it is with us. As disciples of Jesus, it’s our business to know well what Jesus taught and to come under that teaching.

So where do we go to learn what Jesus taught? Secular historians have recorded some of this information, but the only “authorized”[1] biographies of Jesus are found in the Scriptures. While the entire Bible points us to Jesus Christ,[2] the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) record the actual events of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, including his teachings.[3] As part of the Holy Scriptures, the Gospels are inspired by God himself and are designed for our progress in the faith. As the apostle Paul wrote,

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

So, we read the Scriptures expecting by them to be thoroughly equipped to follow Jesus. But we also expect the Scriptures to “read” us, because

The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

We don’t need to wonder what Jesus taught. His precepts have been recorded and preserved for us in the Scriptures—particularly in the Gospels. The only question is, Are we taking the time to really learn them?

[1]By authorized, I mean divinely inspired, recorded by an apostle of Christ (or a close associate of an apostle), and recognized as authentic by the early church.

[2]According to Luke 24:27, Jesus himself explained this to a couple of his disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection.

[3]The historical reliability of these Gospels has been well documented. See, for example, Craig L. Blomberg, “The Historical Reliability of the New Testament,” in Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, ed. William Lane Craig (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), 193-231.