"Nothing here is new except in the sense that it is a discovery which my own heart has made of spiritual realities most delightful and wonderful to me. Others before me have gone much farther into these holy mysteries than I have done, but if my fire is not large it is yet real, and there may be those who can light their candle at its flame." (A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God)

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Higher Cost of Non-Discipleship

Linked to the group of conspirators whose attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler failed, at the age of only thirty-nine Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged in April 1945, only days before the liberation of Germany by Allied forces.

Like millions of other believers, I found his book, The Cost of Discipleship, overwhelming and compelling.  I fully agree with his premise: “Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”

But I propose there is something more costly than discipleship to Jesus:  the higher cost of non-discipleship.

Pastors preach and seminary professors teach a lot about discipleship.  Hundreds of books about discipleship have been written.  Most significantly, Jesus talked a lot about discipleship.  Even so, a lot of confusion remains about what a disciple of Jesus actually is.

When I was running for political office, I frequently had folks encourage me with, “We’re behind you, Curtis!”  As grateful as I was for their reassurance, I often wanted to ask, “How far behind me?”  Being a disciple of Jesus is more than simply “following Jesus.”  He too might ask the question, “How far behind me are you following?”

I am so grateful to Dallas Willard for this spot-on definition of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus:
A disciple is an apprentice of Jesus who is learning from Him how to live their life as He would live it if He were they.[1]
But do people – even Christians – want to be a disciple of Jesus?  Or does it scare them?  Consider these (often misunderstood) requirements of discipleship:
·      One must lose his life.  (Most people spend their entire lives trying not to do that!)
·      One must take up his cross. (We’ve heard that is very painful.)
·      One must hate his father and mother.  (Hate?  Really?)
These are all frightening ideas.  It is no wonder many church members – maybe even most church members – are afraid of discipleship.
When I was a teenager, I had a keen fear of the will of God (as I write about in Why Fear Death?). I was convinced that if I fully submitted to God’s will for my life that he would make me marry some hideous looking woman, move to some deserted village in a remote area of Africa and live in a grass hut all of my days.  It seems a lot of people share a fear of the will of God…believing somehow that “God is just out to make us miserable.”  So all-out discipleship scares a lot of people.
But non-discipleship is a lot scarier, a lot harder and much more costly than discipleship.
“Discipleship is too hard,” many say.  But that’s not what Jesus says about it.  He says, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[2]  How can He say that?  Because when we become His disciples, He gets into the yoke with us.  It’s been my experience that when I cooperate fully with Him, He does the “heavy lifting.”  It’s almost like there’s no burden for me to carry. It’s light because He carries the far greater part.  Otherwise, I’m in that yoke of daily living, carrying the heavy burdens of life’s unending issues all by myself.  That is a heavy load.  Non-discipleship is a lot heavier and a lot harder than discipleship.

Jesus' feeding of the five thousand men (plus women and children; Matthew 14) is a perfect example of what being in the yoke with Jesus is like.  Possibly ten thousand or more people had come to listen to Jesus, and they were hungry.  Jesus instructed His disciples to feed this huge crowd, but they could muster only five loaves of bread and two fish.  (I know that feeling.)  Jesus did the hard part!  He turned their meager resources into enough food for all ten thousand people!  All the disciples had to do was distribute the food - and collect the leftovers!  There would have been a lot of very hungry people left on the hillside had the disciples been non-disciples and not "in the yoke" with Jesus.
I’ve been something of a workaholic for most of my life.  There was one period of my life in which I worked 16 hours or more per day, often six days a week.  Looking back now, I can see that when I was working the hardest and the longest, I was usually working mostly by myself – without Jesus in the yoke with me.  And accomplishing much less.  As Dallas Willard also correctly observes,
To depart from righteousness [discipleship] is to choose a life of crushing burdens, failures, and disappointments, a life caught in the toils of endless problems that are never resolved.[3]
In contrast,
Our walk with Christ, well learned, is a burden only as wings are to a bird or the engines are to an airplane.  The mature children of light are like their Master.  They know God and his Word, they think straight, and they live in the truth, because every essential dimension of their being has been transformed to serve God: heart, soul, mind, and strength.[4
But what about the cost of discipleship?  Some might say, “Look at what I have to give up (or what I may have to give up) to follow Jesus!  I’ve got all this really neat stuff, and all these super cool friends and we know how to have a good time!  You’ve heard the saying, ‘He who dies with the most toys wins!’”
Jesus told two profound stories about the issue of the cost of discipleship.  The first one is about a man who sold everything he owned to buy something he found.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.[5]

Before there were banks, folks would often hide their valuables in a field when threatened with the loss of property or life.  Jesus tells the story of a man who serendipitously discovers an abandoned treasure in a field, a treasure of such enormous value that it’s easily worth much more than everything he already owns.  Who of us wouldn’t do what he did?  He sold everything he had and bought the field – with the treasure!  That’s what the “cost” of living as a disciple of Jesus is like!

Jesus’ second story is about a sharp businessman:

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

This pearl merchant was savvy enough to recognize a pearl that was worth more than all the other pearls he had, indeed, worth much more than everything he owned.  He did the smart thing; he sold it all to buy the pearl of much greater value.

Unfortunately, when we think about the cost of discipleship, we often look at only one side of the ledger: the cost.  But we don’t count the “revenue.”  The irrefutable fact is, compared to non-discipleship, discipleship costs nothing!  In fact, it is a phenomenal net gain!

“But,” someone complains, “Jesus said I have to lose my life to follow Him.”  That’s right.  He did say that.[6]  But which life do you “lose?”  We give up, or lose the ruined life.  Paul describes that life in Colossians 3: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” and “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”  That’s the life we “lose.”  But Jesus replaces it with a new life: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”[7]  Seriously, why would anyone not want to lose his or her old, ruined life if it meant they got that new one?

“But didn’t Jesus also say that ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’”  Yes, indeed He did.  If I’m going to be a disciple of Jesus, it’s important for me to clearly and fully understand that Jesus didn’t die on the cross just so I wouldn’t have to.  He died on the cross so I could join Him there.  And indeed I have joined Him there.  Gloriously so!

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:2-3, ESV, emphasis added).

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20, ESV).

Because, when I was born with the new life of Jesus, at that moment God placed me into Him (my “life is hidden with Christ”), including His death on the cross.  I have already died on the cross with Jesus.  It’s done!  The cross I carry is an effortless carry because “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  It’s all done by and in His power! The thing that's left for me to do is in Romans 6:11: "So you also must reckon [consider] yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." D. Martin Lloyd-Jones explained that concept this way:
We are told to realize, and to hold before ourselves and in our consciousness constantly, something that is already true of our position or status.  It is not an exhortation to us to do anything with regard to sin, but to realize what has already been done for us with respect to our relationship to sin.  It is an exhortation to us to remember what is already true of us; it urges us to realize what has already happened to us as Christians, those of us who are joined to the Lord Jesus Christ.[8]
For some of us, here’s the real bottom line problem: “If I whole-heartedly follow Jesus, I will lose control.”  Yes, you will.  That’s true.  But know this:  Keeping control is a whole lot harder!

Non-discipleship costs incomparably more than discipleship. Discipleship is cooperating with God…participating with Jesus in His life on earth now.  It is the most incredible, exciting life imaginable.  Being a disciple of Jesus is the greatest opportunity you will ever have in your life! 

[1] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p. 284-291.
[2] Matthew 11:30
[3] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 2.
[4] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 228.
[5] Matthew 13:44
[6] Matthew 16:25
[7] Galatians 5:22-23
[8] D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Romans: The New Man, p. 120.

Monday, June 5, 2017


"The answer was so simple..."

As the Holy Spirit continued His work of transformation in my heart and life, I sensed His leadership to renew a “spiritual discipline” in my life (actually into my daily routine), a practice that had been an extraordinary blessing in years past: memorization of the Word.  Honestly, I have noticed that I don’t remember the names of people quite as quickly and easily as I used to (not in any way attributable to my age, I’m certain), so I was a little concerned about my ability to return to memorization.

Well, He was there to help me (as He always is).

I first refreshed my mind with the awesome promises of Psalm 1 and Joshua 9.  I had memorized these passages years ago in the King James Version:

Psalm 1:1-3
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Joshua 1:8
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

These are awesome promises, especially for anyone who commits himself or herself to being an apprentice of Jesus.  And, of course, there’s Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

How does one even get past the unfathomable and immeasurable premise of verse 1? The Lord is my shepherd!  I shall not want!  I will have everything I ever need!  Ever!  Everything!

Psalm 23 and the “Lord’s Prayer” (better titled “The Disciple’s Prayer” in Matthew 6:9-13) are how I start my heart and head every day.

Colossians 3:1-17 so perfectly describes being an apprentice of Jesus, it became my first “new” memory project:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.  In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

There is so much in these verses I feel like I could write a book just about the fantastic realities exposed in them.  But for now, I’ll briefly note just two particular parts which, paired with verses I memorized from Romans 8, produced some dramatic changes in my life.

First, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”  Note the words I’ve italicized.  As I thought about those words, I realized they pretty much sum up just about everything that’s on TV these days.  There are some exceptions on TV, but constantly putting sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness in front of my mind would unquestionably make them harder to “put to death.”

Second, “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”  The words I’ve italicized in this verse reminded me so much of what politics is like these days, I wanted to put that away too.  Let me be clear, there are some wonderful, Godly men and women who follow Jesus in politics for whom I am enormously thankful and who are desperately needed, but “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk” pretty much describe the political culture.

Romans 8:1-17 was the next passage to be “hidden” in my heart, and the Holy Spirit magnificently paired it with Colossians 3.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

There’s another book here (and many have been written on this awesome passage).  I’ll mention just this verse: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”

I wanted to understand what the phrase “set their minds on” means.  It’s the same phrase as in Colossians 3: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”  The answer was so simple (and the Holy Spirit is an awesome teacher)!  I “set my mind” on whatever I put in front of my mind.  If I put TV in front of my mind, then I’m setting my mind “on the things of the flesh.”  The result: I will live according to the flesh.  But when I put the Word of God (and those who teach it faithfully) before my mind, then I’m setting my mind on the things of the Spirit and I’m living according to the Spirit – just like Jesus lived!
(Please see my footnote.[1])

I am aware that – by the amazing grace (power) of God – I am being changed – transformed.  As the Holy Spirit teaches me the Word and empowers me to hide it in my heart, my mind is being renewed with the result that Jesus is being formed in me.  I cannot imagine anything more fulfilling or exciting!

[1] The Holy Spirit is also doing the work of removing my appetite for TV.  This is only what the Holy Spirit is doing in me.  I am not suggesting that only “unspiritual” people watch TV.  That’s where the Pharisees and legalists live, and not where grace works.