Discipleship for Life
By Peter Amsterdam
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Discipleship isn’t easy. It never has been. Jesus made that clear from the beginning when He said: “If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple. Jesus saith unto His disciples, if any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it. If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.”1
None of that is easy, but that’s discipleship as Jesus described it.
In a way, discipleship is like playing sports professionally. Lots of people, for example, play basketball. Some just shoot hoops once in a while, others play with their friends or in pickup games, others are in amateur leagues, and a few—very few—are professionals. They’re all basketball players, but they aren’t all professionals. What’s the difference? For the vast majority of people who play basketball, it’s just play and exercise, something they do in their spare or free time. For the professional athlete, their sport of choice is what they live for.
To be a pro you have to give your sport everything. Your workday is taken up with training, practicing, playing, or traveling to games. In the off-season you continue to train, body-build, run, and keep in shape. You don’t smoke, overdrink, or abuse your body, because if you do, it affects your ability to play. You have to be away from your loved ones when you travel to other places to play. You play for a team. You wear a uniform. There are functions you’re required to attend. You’re expected to keep yourself in shape and work hard to improve your skill, and if you don’t, then the coaches get on your case and make you work out. If you constantly cause trouble on the team or your performance is consistently poor, you’re usually dropped or traded to another team. If you break the rules, you’re fined, suspended, or fired.
So why do the professional athletes do it? Only for the fame and/or the money? I believe they do it because they love the game. There are other rewards and benefits—such as the fame and money—but I believe most of them play because they love to. They’re willing to put up with a regimented lifestyle, the rigors of training, and the sacrifice of not being able to do some things that others can do, because they love the game.
Why would anyone choose to be a disciple? Why put up with all that’s expected of a disciple? Why make the sacrifices discipleship demands? Because we love the Lord. Our love for Him causes us to live the discipleship life, and that’s not easy. We’re not just casual Christians; we’re disciples for life.
For many of us, Christian service is our profession. It’s what we do. It’s what we live for. As a pro, we have to keep ourselves in shape, grow in skill, and submit to our Coach, just like a professional athlete.
The fact is, there are a lot of requirements involved in being a professional Christian. A lot is expected of you. It’s often difficult, it’s sacrificial, but it’s what it takes to be a disciple, and that’s not going to change. Not only has that been the foundation of the Family from the beginning, but it’s right there in Jesus’ own words in the Bible.
As a disciple, we have to realize that there are some things that simply aren’t good for our spirit. We might like to do those things, we might even want to do them, but because we’re Christians and disciples, doers of the Word, then we should choose not to do things that are bad for us.2
None of us are perfect; we all have faults and commit sins. Every one of us have things we like to do which aren’t good for us, which don’t help us in our service to the Lord. The question each of us is faced with is what do we do about those things. If we know that those things don’t edify us, if they dull us spiritually, if they hurt us physically, if they’re not a positive force in our lives, if the Word tells us those things are not good for us, then we have to make a choice. Do we go ahead and do them anyway, or do we try not to do them?
As disciples, we should commit to not doing those things. Trying to live according to the discipleship code Jesus mapped out in His Word sometimes means not being able to do some things that we would like to. That’s part of discipleship.
Inflexibility has its place when it comes to certain absolutes. For example, eternal salvation. That is an absolute. But not everything is an absolute. Part of the problem is that it’s easier to be rigid, to keep things black and white, with no shades of gray in between. If you go the black-and-white route, it’s easy to judge situations; it’s easy to say what is right and what is wrong. The problem is, many things in life are not that simple. Usually there’s lots of gray in almost any situation, and it takes wisdom, prayer, and counsel to make the proper judgment. It also takes more time and more work, because you have to stop, assess the situation or the question, and pray, counsel, and hear from the Lord. This is necessary to make good, well-rounded decisions, and it’s not easy.
I know of people who’ve gotten hooked on certain websites and online activities, and have spent an inordinate amount of time at these sites. They’ve stayed up until the wee hours of the morning playing computer games, viewing porn sites, or wasting time on meaningless surfing. They’ve done it night after night, even though it meant they could hardly function throughout the day because they were so tired. Yet the next night they were back at it, getting high off the Internet again.
The Internet itself isn’t the problem; it’s the misuse of it that causes problems. It’s the time wasting, the negative input, the addiction, the unedifying sites that are wrong. It’s detrimental when it draws you away from being a disciple, from caring for others, from keeping a close relationship with the Lord, by either taking large amounts of your time or by filling you with things of the world. Of course, the Internet can be useful and entertaining, and it isn’t all negative. But it can be spiritually unhealthy if you’re spending too much time at it or if you’re visiting sites that aren’t good for you.
Everyone makes mistakes, everyone sins, everyone does wrong or stupid things once in a while, because we’re human. We’re not trying to achieve personal perfection and we shouldn’t expect such from others either. If we do, it places unrealistic burdens on ourselves and others.
On the other hand, we are a faith, a religion, a mission-based movement. We’re a band of disciples who are here to do a job, and to do that job you have to commit to staying in good spiritual shape. If you want total freedom to do what you want, whenever you want, as much as you want, then Christian discipleship may not be for you. If total freedom is your goal in life, then you should realize that there are spiritual requirements for disciples; there are things the Lord expects of us, which we need to live up to as Christians.
To change that and to throw the rules away, we’d have to drop the Bible. We’d have to get rid of verses in the Bible like, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” or “Be ye separate and touch not the unclean thing” or “whosoever is the friend of the world is the enemy of God.”3
In today’s world that promotes personal freedoms, some feel that Christian faith and religion should allow people to do pretty much whatever they want to, that there should be no restrictions, and that even if something is spiritually or physically bad for them, they should be able to discern whether it works for them or not, as in “according to your faith be it unto you.”4
From the Bible that I’ve read, God seems to think that people need some rules and guidelines to live by. He’s put a number of them in the Bible. I think He knows that if there were no rules or guidelines to keep us in line, we’d stray pretty far from Him.
Jesus lived on earth. He was a man and He experienced the same feelings we do.5 And maybe that’s why He’s led His believers throughout all time to follow Him closely, because He knows how tempting and deceiving the things of the world can be. He said to His disciples, “You are in the world but not of the world.”6 Obviously He wanted His disciples to not be of the world. ”I have chosen you out of the world.”7
As a religion, we believe in “choosing the good and eschewing the evil.”8 We want to take things that are good and use them in a responsible manner. But some of those things, if misused, are no longer good and can be evil or damaging, either to ourselves or others.
As disciples, we are called to minimize ungodly influences in our lives, because ungodly things aren’t good for us spiritually. As disciples we should do our best to stay within the boundaries the Lord has set. We should have conviction to do the things the Lord is asking of us. However, no one is perfect, and there are times when we all slip. But if we’re constantly disobeying, if we’re going out of our way to disregard spiritual boundaries, or if some activity actually has a hold on us or we’re addicted to it and refuse to stop, that becomes a problem and a detriment to our spiritual lives.
Man is born in sin, and sin—doing wrong things—is part and parcel of human nature. Everyone sins; everyone does things that are wrong, even Christians, even disciples. The beauty of it is that we have forgiveness through Jesus. When we do those wrong things, when we sin, our sin can be blotted out by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. That’s a wonderful thing. But that forgiveness does not mean that we shouldn’t make the effort not to sin. It doesn’t give us license to do whatever we want, whenever we want to, whether it’s good for us or not. That doesn’t mean that we can deliberately, knowingly, and willfully make wrong choices.9
As a religion, a faith, we have rights, responsibilities, and rules. That’s part of our responsibility as disciples.
The Lord does want us to have fun. He does want us to enjoy ourselves and to have times of relaxation, but that’s not our calling, that’s not what we have committed ourselves to. We’re disciples. We’re Christians who take our commitments to God seriously. We’ve committed to reaching the world with His message, to living His Word, to being a living example of Christian discipleship, to loving Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, body, and strength. That’s what being a disciple is all about.
Like thousands and thousands of other Christians the world over, I’m committed to discipleship. That’s what I do, that’s what I am, that’s what I live for, that’s what I’ll die for. If tomorrow the Lord sends me to a place where there are no videos, no Internet, no music, no pleasures of this life, then I’ll still serve Him, because I love Him and because that’s what I’m committed to.
Discipleship requires a high standard in spirit and behavior. As a disciple, sometimes you have to carry on when everything and everyone seems to be against you, when you feel so down you don’t see how you can last one more minute.
Discipleship is not an easy lifestyle. It’s extremely rewarding, but at times extremely difficult. Even in Jesus’ day, when the going got tough and the message got strong, “many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him.”10 When Jesus asked the 12 if they’d go too, Peter answered succinctly, with a powerful message as to why we are disciples, why we serve God every day: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”11
That’s what we believe, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He has called us to serve Him as disciples at whatever price He asks. That’s the commitment, that’s the job, that’s the profession. And we’re proud to do it because Jesus, who is our King, Savior, best friend, and husband, has asked it of us.
Originally published April 2002. Adapted and republished August 2013.
Read by Simon Peterson.
1 Luke 14:26,33; Matthew 16:24–25; John 8:31, 13:35.
2 James 1:22.
3 1 John 2:15; 2 Corinthians 6:17; James 4:4.
4 Matthew 9:29.
5 Hebrews 4:15.
6 John 17:14–18.
7 John 15:19.
8 1 Peter 3:11.
9 Romans 14:13–22.
10 John 6:66.
11 John 6:68–69.