THE MARK OF A TRUE DISCIPLE
by Frank King
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"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you," Jesus said (Matt. 28:19-20a). We commonly refer to this commandment as the Great Commission. It tells us that a main reason for the church's existence is to make disciples.
The people found in a local church on Sunday mornings can be divided into three general groups: churchgoers, believers, and disciples. I refer to churchgoers as those who attend church regularly just because that's what many people do on Sundays. The believers are those who genuinely have accepted Christ but have little passion to practice their faith. The disciples of the Lord are genuine believers who do conscientiously practice His teachings.
The will of God, of course, is for all men and women everywhere to be made disciples. The question is, what is the evidence of a genuine disciple? In other words, how can we tell if someone is the Lord's disciple without the person needing to wear a big advertisement on his chest?
On earth Jesus modeled the process of discipleship. He chose twelve men and poured His life into them to equip them to do the work of the ministry. He knew the harvest was plenteous but the laborers were few. And what was at stake but the souls of all of humanity?
Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment. It was that they should love one another as He had loved them (John 13:34). This love commandment was not new in the sense that they had never been instructed to walk in love before. Rather, it was love on a higher order than anything thing they had been commanded before. Christ was calling them to emulate His love. They knew what this love looked like because Jesus had modeled it before them.
"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another," Jesus said (v. 35). Anyone can go about announcing to the world that he is the Lord's disciple. But these days talk is cheap. The world should be able to tell that we are His followers by the love that we show toward each other. So the true mark of discipleship is that we walk in the love of our Teacher.
It is my observation that we Christians have a long ways to go in measuring up to Jesus' commandment above. He died on the cross for our sins. We ought to lay down our lives daily for each other. How can we win the world to Christ when we can't even love each other?
Having spent many years as a pastor, what continues to amaze me is how a person can accept Christ and become born again, attend church for decades, serve in ministry in the church, and yet have no love for the brethren. In fact, the Bible says this combination is not possible: "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death" (1 John 3:14). This is a powerful verse. It tells us that one of the results of the born again experience is that we love the people of God. Accordingly, the new commandment Jesus gave to His disciples was not that they love each other. That was a given because they had been born again. But the new commandment was that their love for each other be modeled after the love He had shown them.
A main reason a pastor has big time difficulty getting church members to commit to ministry is that church members by and large have little desire to serve each other. There are members within the local church who have the abilities to properly serve in ministries in the church but will not do so because they "don't feel like putting up with the people in the church." Imagine what fix we would be in if Christ took that same position and chose not to come and die for us?
Love is the most powerful force in the church. Just watch the person in church who loves the brethren. He or she is the person the hurt will gravitate to. Yeah, she is the person the cast down will come to with no fear of rejection. Through her the love of Christ can flow and nurse the wounded to healing. This is how Christ operated on earth, and it is how the world will know that we are His followers.
The world does not care how spiritual we are if we don't have love. God inspired the apostle Paul to address this matter in his epistle to the Corinthians. In chapter 12 of that letter he taught on various spiritual gifts, nine to be exact. But then he says, "If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Cor. 13:2, NIV)!
You might think that this is not possible; that is, for someone to operate so mightily in spiritual gifts and still not have love. But if it were not possible Paul would not have made such a statement. C'mon; I know you have met someone in church that appears to be a spiritual giant but whose spirit is a turn off. On the other hand, it's possible for a person to not operate in any of the spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, while walking in such love that the Lord uses such person mightily.
Our knowledge does not impress the lost. I saw a church's sign outside that said, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." One mistake we sometimes make is that when we meet someone who is an unbeliever we try shoving the entire Bible down the person's throat in one conversation. But the person won't be won or impressed just because we can't finish one sentence without inserting a scriptural quote.
Jesus told His disciples that when they walk in love, "all men" would know they were His disciples. You see love is a universal language. That's what makes the message of the gospel so appealing. "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8, KJV). This message of love equally appeals to people of all languages.
The world does not understand Christian doctrine, and there is no need for it to. And with all of our clichés and lingo, Christianity is almost a different language understood only by those on the inside. But the world does understand and respond to genuine love.
It is vital that Christians love one another. We should be a model for the world to follow. There is still racial tension in America. There seems to be no cure for this social ill. But this should be only a minor problem--if any--among Christians from different races. Infidelity is rampant in America. We should find a different situation, however, among Christian couples. Wouldn't it be great if politicians and world leaders flocked to the local church to try and figure out how is it that love abounds among the people of God when it does not in the world?
I know; that's not how it is. But that's what's so mystifying about the whole thing. Through spiritual rebirth Christ has put within us a capacity to love that the world does not have, but in the end it has made so little difference.
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Very good and timely article, Frank. Thanks for sharing.