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Being the Church: Called to be a Disciple.

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Being the Church series

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Being the Church: Called to be a Disciple!

Linking the Learning: The Journey so far...
Being the Church:Called to be Together
Being the Church:Called to be Witnesses
Being the Church: Called to be in the Spirit
Background - So what exactly is a Disciple?
“Disciple. Someone who follows another person or another way of life and who submits himself to the discipline (teaching) of that leader or way.”(Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible).
“All 261 references to “disciple” in the NT are found in the Gospels and Acts...The emphasis clearly lies in the Gospels, inasmuch as only 10 percent of the references occur in Acts...In Acts, the word “disciple” refers to the “Christians” (from 6:1) nearly without exception.”  (The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary).
The concept of the disciples was well known in Israel - John the Baptist had discples as did the Pharisees - (Mk 2:8; Lk 5:33; Mt 9:14). It was also used of students of the law in Isaiah 8:16. Clearly there is a connection between the person/perspons who lead a particular group and those who align themselves to it as followers and learners.
This is further exemplified by the fact that the idea of a disciple is closely linked with the word akolouthein “to follow after”. Of the 90 occurrences, 79 are found in the Gospels, the rest in Acts (4), Revelation (6), and 1 Corinthians (1). The link that we have noticed earlier with Christians in Acts 6:1 being referred to as disciples and Christian believers being called “followers of the Way” in Acts, perfectly captures this idea of Christians being followers and learners of Jesus.
People became disciples when called by Jesus to “follow” him (Mark 1:17; 2:14). When Jesus calls, some follow Him and some don’t! (see Mark 10:21;Luke 9:57-61;Mark 1:16-20).
When the book of Acts opens with reference in Acts 1:1 to Luke’s “former treatise...of all that Jesus began both to do and teach.” - the book of Luke, it implies that the book of Acts is a continuation of that. So in Luke we see how Jesus, discipled a large body of people (Luke 6:13-17;Luke 10:1) and in particular the twelve, and in the book of Acts we see the 12 (minus Judas whose place was taken by Matthias, Acts 1:26), discipling others. They became the foundation teachers of the newly emerging Christian church. Their authority in the church, given by Christ (Mt 16:19) and in Matthew 28:19–20 our Lord says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them … teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (NASB). Hence, the term “disciple” is also used in the Book of Acts to describe believers, those who confess Christ (Acts 6:1, 2, 7; 9:36; 11:26). Though they have not been directly called by Christ himself, such disciples are called by Christ’s Spirit through the message delivered by the first disciples;  involves bringing people to Christ and leading them to maturity.
And although we have already noted that the word “disciple” does not feature much outside the Gospels and Acts, it would be a mistake to think that the idea of discipleship is either absent or less dominant in the remainder of the New Testament. Rather it is filled out and enriched, the emphasis falling not on following Jesus but on being united to him, though the idea of following Jesus is by no means absent (1 Pt 2:21–23).
As Christ called both for self-denial (Mk 8:34) and for following his example (Jn 12:26), so Paul wrote of the need for those who are in Christ to “put to death” their old nature and to yield themselves to God in consecrated obedience (Rom 8:13). As Christ spoke of the need for his disciples to be separate from the world, to be light and salt (Mt 5:13, 14), so Paul spoke of Christians as lights in a dark world (Eph 5:8), as awake and sober (1 Thes 5:6). As Christ taught his disciples to pray (Lk 11:2), so Paul and the other disciples insisted on the need for prayer (1 Thes 5:17). As Christ laid down the pattern of righteous obedience through the true understanding of the Law of God (Mt 5), so Paul frames the rule of Christian obedience in terms of the Law (Rom 13:9).
So while the Gospels refer to “disciples,” the apostles refer to those who are “saints” (1 Cor 1:2), “the called” (Eph 4:4), “in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17), “pilgrims” (1 Pt 2:11 kjv ), and “servants” (1 Pt 2:16). This variety of expression is evidence of the richness of the idea of discipleship in the full NT conception
Still today, over 2 thousand years later, we are carrying on the work Jesus began in what is referred to as an “apostolic succession” - “The things which you heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). In athletic terms we are not so much solo marathon runners we are relay runners, passing on the baton to the the next generation of Christians who we seek to teach about Jesus.
To sum up: “Disciples” is the term consistently used in the four Gospels to mark the relationship existing between Christ and His followers. Jesus used it Himself in speaking of them, and they in speaking of each other. Neither did it pass out of use in the new days of Pentecostal power. It runs right through the Acts of the Apostles... The term disciple marks an individual relationship, and though it has largely fallen out of use, it is of the utmost value still in marking that relationship, existing between Christ and each single soul, and suggesting our consequent position in all the varied circumstances of everyday living.” (G. Campbell Morgan; Discipleship).
Question 1 - Why might a description like “followers of the Way” be a helpful way of thinking of ourselves?
So, if we are in Christ, we are all disciples of Christ. What does this mean for us?
1. As Disciples we are fundamentally Learners.
The word itself (μαθητἡς) signifies a taught or trained one. A learner. Thus Jesus is often addressed as “teacher” or “Rabbi” (e.g., Matt 25:25; 8:19). Jesus is the Teacher “sent from God”(Joh. 3:1-5). He fully expresses and articulates the Word of God to us which are the words of eternal life(Joh 1:18;3:16). The words He speaks are “spirit and life” (Joh 6:63).
So Jesus disciples are those who gather around this Teacher and are trained by Him.  Sitting at His feet, they learn from the unfolding of His lessons the will and ways of God for them such as those found in Matthew 5-7 which points to some timeless truths about what it means to be disciples of Christ
Question 2. If disciples are fundamentally learners, how committed are we to learning more about Jesus and the Kingdom of God?
(i). Character is supreme (Matt 5:1-12). It is not having or doing that counts but “being”. This is what makes a person supremely happy and “blessed”.
(ii). Influence is inevitable (Matt 5:13-16). We act as an antispetic agent; preventing the spread of corruption and bring the light of God into the darkness of this world.
(iii). Motive is the key to Morality (Matt 5:17-48).
(iv). Selflessness must replace Selfishness (Matt 6-7:5).
(v). Persistent Prayer is the vehicle of change (Matt 7:7-17) - “Ask.” “Seek.” “Knock.” For daily help remember the acrostic here. Take the initial letters A, S, K, and reflect that the words for which they stand reveal the secret combination that admits us into the treasure house of love, where there is stored for us all that we need for the realization of the ideal.”(Campbell Morgan).
(vi), Discernment between true and false teaching is crucial to survival and fruitfulness (Matt 7:15-23). - The truth of every message is to be tested by the life of the Teacher, and if failure is found there, we are to know him for “false” no matter how cleverly the sheep’s clothing conceals the devouring wolf.”(Campbell Morgan).
Question 3. How do the principles outlined in Matthew 5-7 challenge our thinking as disciples of Christ?
The first disciples could be taught by Christ only little by little, not only because of the need to remove their misconceptions (Mt 16:21), but also because the full significance of what Jesus said and did could not be most fully appreciated until after the events of his death and resurrection (Mt 28:9).
It is not surprising therefore that the period of “discipling” covered the time before and after Christ’s death and resurrection, and also after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit taught the disciples about matters which they could not “bear” while Jesus remained on earth (Jn 16:12). 
The true and perpetual condition of discipleship is learning from Jesus - clearly declared by the Lord Himself “to those Jews which believed on Him.” “If ye abide in My word, then are ye truly My disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31).
2. Our Discipleship is relational
In 1 Cor 4:14-15, Paul puts it in relational terms of father-son because for Paul, the Gospel brings us into relationship with God the Father through the redemptive work of the Son by the power of the Holy Spririt.
It is a relationship brought about by our repentance of sin and faith in the death of Christ on the cross and His resurrection rom the dead. The conditions therefore for discipleship are repentance and faith and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, as crucial for undestanding (see Matthew 16:18-20).
So as disciples it is essential that right relationships with the Teacher must be maintained. Just as the first disciples were called to be with Jesus, in loving fellowship and prayer, being taught by Him, this is still the way to maintain our relationship with the Risen Christ today. (see Mark 3:14).
Question 4. What struggles do you encounter each day as you seek to maintain your relationship with Jesus?
3. Our Discipleship is Imitative.
As disciples we are also called to be teachers who model Christ - 1 Cor 4:16-17;1 Cor 11:1
This in practice means that we learn the discipline of self-denial (Mt 16:24, 25). We endure trials (Lk 22:28) because we conform our minds and wills to his teaching (Phil 2:5). This is part of our taking up of the cross (Mt 16:24, 25). It is costly - Luke 14:27-33;Heb 12:1-3;Mark 8:34) but it is part of surrendering your will to His will! It is a Master-Servant relationship and you are always on duty! Eph 4:1;Mark 10:41-45).
The school of Christ, in which we have enrolled is not a grammar school, it is a techincal college, in which we practically learn and manifest the life of Christ in the world. “The truth taught must become incarnate in the disciples...No lesson is considered learned in the school of Jesus, which is only committed to memory.”(Campbell Morgan)
Question 5. “Your the only Jesus, that some will ever see” is a well known, if not entirely accurate theological expression. How does this challenge you as you live your life each day?
A closing challenge:
“The longer you look at Jesus, the more you will want to serve him in his world. That is, of course, if it’s the real Jesus you’re looking at. Plenty of people in the church and outside it have made up a ‘Jesus’ for themselves, and have found that this invented character makes few real demands on them. He makes them feel happy from time to time, but doesn’t challenge them, doesn’t suggest they get up and do something about the plight of the world. Which is, of course, what the real Jesus had an uncomfortable habit of doing...the ball is now in your court; the true Jesus is summoning you to follow him, to a life of discipleship. I suspect that we have yet to feel the full impact of the challenge the gospels present.” (N.T Wright: Following Jesus. Biblical Reflections on Discipleship).
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