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Faith Bible Church, NY
October 29, 1995
How to make Disciples, Part 5
To Goal of Discipleship
This morning I would like to impart to you a vision of what every Christian should and can be through discipleship. The tragedy in modern American evangelical Christianity is that the true gospel message has been lost in the effort to get as many people “saved” as possible. Tragically, many of these people are given partial truths that make them think they are saved from hell and going to heaven, but the sad reality is that they are not. They may have walked an aisle, raised their hands, touched their TV, or even prayed a prayer, but they do not believe in the Jesus Christ of the Scripture. They have not been reconciled with God because they have yet to repent of their sins, and we saw last week repentance is central in the gospel message.
They want heaven because they do not want hell. They want heaven but they do not want Jesus Christ interfering in their current life. The plain fact is that you cannot have eternal life without Christ. 1 John 5:11 And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.
There are other people that do genuinely know the Lord Jesus Christ, but there is something missing from their lives and their daily walk with Christ that has robbed them of all their joy. They have salvation but they have been robbed of its joy.
They are illustrated by the story of a man in England who got on a train and started up a conversation with the other passengers in his compartment. He said that he could guess the occupation of all the others by just looking at him. He looked at the first fellow dressed in finely tailored clothes and said, “you’re a banker.” “Quite right,” the man replied somewhat surprised. He examined the next fellow and noticed his soft, skillful hands and the look of wisdom in his eye and said, “I believe you are a medical doctor.” They man replied quite amazed, “Why, yes I am.” The man then carefully inspected the last man in the compartment. He was a rather small man who was quite wizened and pale and appeared a bit grouchy. He finally said, “You are a minister,” to which the man quickly replied, “I am not, I’ve just been sick lately!”
As one writer described it, Christians live in a bittersweet world. There is a certain bitterness to life in the sense that it is distressing and harsh because we see clearly the reality of sin and its effects in our own lives and in the lives of those whom we love. Non-Christians may see the evil around them but they cannot see it as clearly as a Christian because they have no point of reference to compare it with as does the Christian who compares it with the Holiness of God. The non-Christian may recognize that they do wrong things but the Christian is more acutely aware of it because his ever increasing aversion to sin, especially in his own life.
At the same time there is a certain sweetness because we know what Jesus has done for us and the kind of life He has in store for us. We rejoice in forgiveness we have from the Father and the fellowship we have with Him now and what we will have throughout eternity. There is joy in having the burden of sin lifted and there being therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). There is a joy in the prospect of living in eternity where there will be no sin, no pain, and no suffering (Rev. 21). There is a joy in knowing that your life matters, and it counts for something much beyond you. The Christian can have a peace and joy in any circumstance because he is no longer bound to the troubles of this world. He lives, as the hymn writer put it, on a higher plane. Jesus said that in this world we would have tribulation, but since He has overcome the world we can have peace and be encouraged (John 16:33).
What then accounts for grouchy, sour faced Christians? There are several reasons. As I have already said, some of these people are not true Christians so they do not really have a basis of joy to overcome the troubles and trials of this world. There is nothing more miserable than a non-Christian trying to live the Christian life except a Christian trying to live as a non-Christian. The two kinds of life are incompatible and leave the individual just miserable.
A fellow name Jeff Levy, whom I knew when I was co-leading a college/career Bible study was like that. He had made a profession of faith and was quite regular at the Bible study, but over the course of time he seemed just more and more miserable and restless. In the course of conversations with him I found that he was still trying to keep a foot in the world, or as it turned out to be, he was trying to put a foot into Christianity. He went to U.C. Berkely to work on his law degree and there he left Christianity altogether. He turned his back on Christianity and denied the truths about Jesus Christ he had once claimed to believe. He resisted all efforts to persuade him to come back to Christ, and one of the main reasons was that he was now happy and content and had never been that way while trying to live as a Christian.
The same is true when a Christian tries to live in the world. There is an very interesting story concerning Robert Robinson, the author of the hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” It turns out that later in his life he had wandered into sinful practices and he became a deeply troubled man. In an effort to relieve his mind, he decided to travel. In the course of his journey he became acquainted with a young woman who in the course of their conversation asked him about a hymn she had been reading. It was none other than the one Robinson had written many years earlier. Efforts to evade the question proved fruitless and suddenly breaking down in tears he said, “I am the man who rote that hymn many years ago. I’d give anything to experience the joy I knew then.” Though the woman was greatly surprised, she assured him that the “streams of mercy” he had written about then were still flowing. Mr. Robinson turned his “wandering heart” back to the Lord and was restored to full fellowship.
The Christian cannot live joyfully in the world any more than the non-Christian can try to live joyfully as a Christian. You cannot try to keep a foot in both worlds, to do so only leads to misery, so if you are trying to do that it is time to stop that and start living for Christ alone.
How do you live for Christ? Well, that is the reason many other Christians seem miserable, they simply never learned what the goals of the Christian life are and how to live according to them. That is what I hope to impart to you in the next couple of weeks: a vision for what your life can be like and how to get there. All of this is part of making disciples and living for Christ is simply being taught to obey everything whatsoever Jesus has commanded.
Living for Jesus is not easy. It takes discipline, and you have to apply yourself to learn the lessons, but like anything else worth having it, living daily for Christ, is far more valuable than the effort at learning how to do it.
One of the reasons living for Christ is hard is because every lesson includes a dditional instruction about the necessity of us being humble and trusting God. Every lesson is a strike against the pride of humanity and promotion of the glory of God. The problem with that is we naturally want some of that glory for ourselves. We want to think of ourselves as valuable in and of ourselves and not just because of our relationship with God. The truth can be hard to swallow. But like bitter tasting medication, once we do swallow it the healing takes place and life become so much better because circumstances and what other people think of us no longer control us or our outlook on life.
What would you guess would be the mental and emotional state of a man who had a job that required him to travel, but the countries he had to travel in were dangerous. The methods of travel were unreliable and not always safe. In addition, there were bandits and such about that made things even more risky. In some countries even the officials could not be trusted. You might think this person would either be a little fool-hearty or paranoid. What do you think this person’s relationship with God might be life?
What if I were to add that this person had already suffered transportation breakdowns that had almost cost him his life on several occasions, that he had already been falsely imprisoned on several occasions, that he had already been beaten up by mobs on several occasions and on at least one occasion was battered so severely that he had been left for dead, yet he felt that his job was so important that he continued to go back again and again into the same situations. You might think this person to be nuts and a prospect for the psych. ward. What do you think his relationship with God would be like? Do you think he might resent God for not protecting him better?
What if I were to tell you that this man found reason to rejoice in all these circumstances? That may seem far fetched to some of you. Others of you may believe it is plausible that there are people like that around. What if I were now to tell you that this person wrote and said that every Christian could and should be like him in their attitude. Could you see yourself that way?
The person I am speaking of is the Apostle Paul. Turn to 2 Corinthians 11:23 where Paul gives a brief synopsis of some of the things he has suffered for the cause of Christ. While you are turning there I will point out that Paul is giving a brief defense of his apostleship in this passage. He is not bragging or boasting. He is saying what he is saying reluctantly in order to put to shame some that were boasting and making themselves out to be something they were not.
23 Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine [lashes.] 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.26 [I have been] on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from [my] countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 [I have been] in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 Apart from [such] external things, there is the daily pressure upon me [of] concern for all the churches.
You can gather from this that living for Christ is not always pleasant. Sure, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, but it is His plan and not yours. God’s definition of a wonderful life takes into account pain and hardship and the hatred that this sinful world shows for that those that live for Him. God’s wonderful plan for your life may include suffering for His name. Paul certainly did, yet we do not find Paul complaining about anything which he suffered for the cause of Christ. I dare say that no one here has ever suffered anything that begins to resemble what Paul went through, yet we are more apt to complain about life’s circumstances and what we have to suffer than Paul. We are more apt to try to blame God for things that go wrong and cause us hardship or heartache. Too many Christians understand the sovereignty of God only enough to want to blame him for the troubles of their lives and not enough to praise Him in the midst of those same troubles. Why? Because they have yet to be made into a disciple who “obeys/observes whatsoever Jesus commanded.”
Paul did not get to where He was at spiritually in a day, and neither will you. He had to work at it, but every day he understood more about God and His ways. He understood more about himself and his weakness. He applied these in his everyday life and he became more and more like Christ in his life and his outlook. That should be the goal of every Christian – to become more and more like Christ in life and outlook.
Turn over to the book of Philippians and lets mark out some of the things that can and should be in the life of every Christian. Things that became a part of Paul’s life and perspective and that should become part of our lives and perspective.
First, I want to stress that Paul learned these things. He was not supernaturally zapped with practical holiness and a godly viewpoint. He, like every Christian was supernaturally given the Holy Spirit, but from that point on, Paul had to work in conjunction with the Holy Spirit. He had to learn to submit to Him and follow.
Look at 4:11, notice what Paul says here about his perspective on life and how he arrived there. 1 Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Paul learned to be content. You can learn to be content. The word content in this passage does not mean complacent or apathetic, but literally to be “self satisfied” with the circumstances, and as Paul describes, he learned to be content in all the extremes of circumstances from poverty to abundance and from being filled to going hungry. Paul was self satisfied that he would do fine regardless of whatever situation he found himself in. He had learned a secret, and I am sure he learned it the same way you and I learn these things, the hard way of having Biblical truths forced upon him in personal experience until he learned to apply that truth in daily existence. The secret is what he states in verse 13: I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. I can live in peace and serenity regardless of the situation, I can be self satisfied regardless of the circumstances, I can live in a Christ like manner and put into practice the commands He has given me regardless of what is happening around me or to me.
That my friends is the goal of this aspect of discipleship. Practical application of the truths of scripture into daily life so that we present a model of Christ to the world. I can do all things: live for and model Christ in all circumstances. Through Him, the Holy Spirit, who strengthens me.
How did Paul do this? Consider first of all that Paul is writing this book from a Roman prison. He had not been put in prison for a just cause, but there he was. How did he respond? 1:12-18 tell us that Paul rejoiced because through many of his Roman guard had become Christians (13) and others had become more bold in preaching Christ (14). Paul rejoiced that Christ was proclaimed regardless of his own personal circumstances.
Paul was not sure if he would come out of that prison alive (1:20), but his response in verse 21 is; “for to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” He goes on to say that he was between the two about which was better, to live and continue to serve Christ and them or to depart and be w ith Jesus.
How did Paul encourage those he was writing too with some persecution that was now coming against them? 29 For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me. That word, “granted,” or “given” in the KJV is the greek word “grace.” Paul tells them that they have received “grace” to suffer for Jesus sake. What a concept! Suffering for Christ is part of His grace to us! I know, so you say, “then spare me the grace, I am doing fine without the suffering.” But that is precisely the point. You are not doing as well as you think without the suffering for Jesus. Paul understood what he has personally gained in his suffering for Christ so he sees it as a good thing, not bad.
Look at 2:17. Here Paul says, 17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18 And you too, [I urge you,] rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me. Paul rejoiced to be used of God in the lives of the Philippians even if meant personal sacrifice. Paul’s life was not easy, but it counted for eternity, so he encouraged them to follow suit. What about your life? Does it count for eternity?
Paul’s desire was for the Philippians, and by extension us, to have the same sort of life that he had, a life with meaning, purpose and joy in all circumstances. Paul found joy not only in salvation (ch. 3), but also in living in holiness (ch. 4), living in submission and service to Christ (ch 2) and even in suffering for Jesus’ sake (1).
What was the source of all this? The Lord. That is why he repeats that theme throughout the book. In 3:1 he tells them, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” In 4:4 he tells them, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” But you cannot have that joy without a vital relationship with the Lord and that grows through the process of discipleship, learning to observe and obey whatsoever Jesus has commanded (Mt. 28:20).
Paul’s attitude toward life is what could and should be in every Christian’s life. But let me issue you a warning here. There is a process to becoming like Paul, there is a process to becoming mature in Christ. Experience has to drive home the truths of God’s word so that its principles and precepts are not left stuck up here in the head in an intellectualism, but are driven deep into the heart where we live them out on a daily basis.
There is one thing I like less than grumpy Christians. It is smiley faced ones. There are times I get grumpy, but it is through those times I learn more about how much I lack, how much I need the Lord, and how far I still have to grow. And when I am grumpy I usually find I get help pretty fast through either an encouraging word, a mild rebuke or both. My wife and kids don’t like me grumpy and neither does God, so he uses them and you to help me mature so that I won’t be a pessimistic, sullen, oversensitive, grouch. God does not want you to be one of those either.
However, a Christian whose life is a mess but tries to hide it behind a smiley face not only leave themselves in a very lonely world, but they cut off the very resources God has provided to help them grow. There will be no rewards in heaven for “best Christian impersonator.” You are only fooling yourself. Everyone else already knows you are not perfect even with all your effort to project that image. God was not finished with Paul. In 3:14 he said he was still pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. God is not through with maturing me. He is not through in maturing you.
No one wins when you hide the things you struggle with behind a plastic smile. God has designed the church as a body in which each member is given specific gifts and abilities in order to help out they other members of the body. We are all in this together. Are you doing your part? Are you allowing others to do theirs in helping you to the goal of becoming conformed to the image of Jesus Christ and of becoming a mature Christian as evidenced in the life of Paul by his ability to rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances.
Next week we will start looking at the process by which we mature into true disciples of Christ.
Luke 9:23-25, The mature disciple is willing to deny self, take up a cross daily, and follow Him.
Luke 14:25-35, The mature disciple puts Jesus Christ before self, family, friends and possessions.
John 8:31, the mature disciple is committed to the teachings of Jesus.
Matthew 9:36-38, the mature disciples is committed to world evangelism.
John 13:34,35, the mature disciple loves others in the same way that Jesus loves them.
John 15-7-17, the mature disciple abides in Christ, is obedient to Him, bears fruit, glorifies God, has joy and loves the brethren.
None of these things are burdensome to the true Christian. Each becomes an increasing source of joy as the things of this world diminish in their importance and the things of God increases. Conversion is the not the end goal, but the beginning of a whole new and better life. As one song writer put it, “God loves you just the way you are today, but much too much to let you stay that way.”
Jesus has called us to make disciples and teach them to obey whatsoever I have commanded. It is an exciting life as each of us learns to better obey the Lord. It is an exciting endeavor to be part of the Lord’s plan in helping others to do the same.
Next week we will examine more closely the marks of spiritual maturity and the steps by which we become better disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
THE STEPS TO MATURITY
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