I read an article by Stephen Ingram last week that challenged youth ministries to look at whether they were equipping their students to be disciples or simply trying to convert them to Christianity. Good question, right? While he quoted Luke 14:25-33, I was curious about the Bible's distinction between being a believer and being a disciple, so I did a little more research. I ended up taking a handful of Scriptures with me to Sunday school this morning and we spent some time looking at them and talking about what it actually means to be a disciple versus someone who believes in God.
If I could share five things I hope my girls remember about being a disciple of Jesus, it would be these:
1) Belief is in your head. Discipleship is in your hands and feet. Believing in God is great, but it's what you do with that belief that counts. Being a disciple requires you to move, to act, to follow wherever Christ leads. (Matthew 7:21)
2) Discipleship begins with a choice. In some denominations, that choice is made when a person professes their faith and chooses to be baptized. In others, the choice is made at the time of confirmation. For people like me (who never truly had a choice about baptism as an infant or confirmation as a teenager), the choice might be made later in life. But no matter when the choice is made, becoming a disciple means making a conscious decision at a specific point in time to follow Jesus no matter the cost. (Matthew 28:19-20)
3) Discipleship will cost you something. It's impossible to follow Jesus and continue living your old life at the same time. Maybe He'll ask you to re-prioritize your time or relationships, or perhaps say goodbye to habits, pride, or possessions. Regardless of what the cost is for you, it will require you to turn from your old ways and embrace a new life. (Matthew 4:18-22, Luke 14:26-27)
4) Discipleship produces fruit. While it's possible to believe in God and keep your former lifestyle, people will start to notice a change when you decide to really, truly follow Him. The fruits of the Spirit will flourish, love will guide your actions, and God will be glorified. (Matthew 7:15-23, John 13:35)
5) Discipleship isn't easy, but it's worth it. Leaving your comfort zone is scary. Sacrificing your plans and sense of identity can be painful. It's often hard and isolating and uncomfortable, but if you're willing to let go of the life you have, you'll find a life greater than any you could have imagined. (Mark 8:34-35, John 8:31-32)
Although the requirements to be a disciple are fairly simple and straightforward (follow Christ and obey His commands), living them out and doing it well is something very few of us master. The important thing is to keep trying. Make the choice every single day to follow Him. Live in a state of humility and repentance. Place loving God and loving others above all else. If you do that, you'll find that as you grow in your relationship with Him, you'll also grow as a disciple. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.