Becoming a True Follower of Jesus by Margaret Chan
I am grateful to have Margaret Chan on Kindling today. She leads a program for some women in Asia to equip them to be partners with their husbands, who are attending East Asia School of Theology in Singapore. I love her commitment to the gospel, to equipping women, and to using the good mind and creativity God has given her. This post flows out of her teaching on a holistic view of the Great Commission, of being a true follower of Jesus.
My understanding of ministry—of what it means to be a true follower of Jesus--flows out of the Great Commission passage in Matthew 28:18-20:
Basis of ministry
“All authority …has been given to me. Therefore go…”
Our ministry is based on the authority of Jesus. The reason we do ministry needs to be in response to Jesus’ authority in our lives, not in response to outside pressure or to fill our need for significance.
Jesus’ authority also backs up our ministry when we do it in response to His authority. We therefore do not need to fear opposition or a lack of resources.
Crux of becoming a true follower
“Go & make disciples…”
Ministry requires us to make the effort to move from status quo and to go where we find people wanting to learn to be like Jesus.
How do we make disciples?
By “baptizing…& teaching….”
The word “baptize” in Greek has the meaning of being immersed into the thing it’s being baptized into. It’s not strictly a spiritual word.
Cucumbers are baptized into the pickle solution to make them into pickled cucumbers.
In the OT, the Israelites were baptized into Moses in the cloud & the sea (1 Corinthians 10:1, 2). In other words, the Israelites were immersed into the same experience as Moses.
So “baptizing them into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is not about water baptism, which is symbolic. It is about helping people who want to learn to be like Jesus to be immersed into the characteristics and relationships with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It is about relating deeply with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit such that their characteristics get imbibed into our very being. The fruit of the Spirit becomes increasingly evident in our lives: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22, 23)
Yet, seldom do we use this as criteria for measuring fruitfulness in ministry. Instead we measure numbers. Numbers are easier to measure; and BIG numbers impress.But genuine discipleship involves growth in the Fruit of the Spirit. This takes time and real life engagement. What’s important to God’s heart becomes what’s important to our hearts.This kind of discipleship goes way beyond learning and passing on Christian doctrines and being involved in Christian activities.
It requires time and due process to identify the Old Self in us so that we can put that aside intentionally. Otherwise the Old Self will continue to interfere with our moving forward to embrace our New Identity. Our New Identity as a beloved child in God’s family--as a true follower--must be fully embraced so God can enable and empower us to live out our New Self in Christ. (Ephesians 4:22-24)
“Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
The instruction given here is not ambiguous. It is not about transferring concepts. It is teaching obedience to all of Jesus’ commands. It is teaching obedience to the 2 Great Commandments given in Matthew 22: 37-39:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law & the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
This New Testament passage is a quote from an Old Testament passage: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts."
Impress them upon your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
God made it very clear what He wants us to have upon our hearts. Doing things for Him is not first on His list. Loving Him is. Discipleship begins with loving God!
How are we to love Him?
It’s not just a theological concept or an exercise done solely by an act of our will. We are to love Him with all our heart, soul and strength--with our minds, emotions and physical energy. This also takes time – time alone with God. “Be still & know that I Am God.” (Psalm 46: 10)Who are we to disciple with regards to what’s on God’s heart? Our first disciples need to be our children.
What’s the mode of discipleship? Not merely cognitive teaching and learning, but a way-of-life modeling. Imparting spiritual truths & way of life in those teachable moments.
Discipleship begins at home!
Our love for God must influence our actions (hands) and our thoughts (foreheads). God’s commandments must guard all our coming-in and going-out (doorframes). Others must see God’s influence in our lives in the marketplace (city gates).
Discipleship integrates God’s influence into every area of our lives.
What else is upon God’s heart? Isaiah reveals to us what a true follower looks like:
“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6,7)
It’s convenient for us to relegate the actions God has spelled out as true fasting as acts to be performed by those called to humanitarian work. However we need to rethink and renew our perspectives and actions in order for us to be true to what’s upon God’s heart.
We have no excuse for not living out the last clause. The fact that God included it indicates He has found His people negligent in the act.
Our own flesh and blood
It’s easy to identify those who literally abandon their own flesh and blood. I’d like to suggest some less obvious ways we may be guilty of turning away from our own flesh and blood:
*In these days of rampant self-gratification, some parents are not willing to work out differences in their marriages. They divorce, abandoning their own children to grow up in single parent homes.
*In chasing after a profitable career and comfortable lifestyle, some parents have little or no time for their children. Domestic helpers become the primary caregivers.
*When children don’t do well in school, parents show disapproval by withdrawing love and acceptance from them. Children are born to be loved. Yet parents are carelessly teaching them that love needs to be earned. No wonder the world is full of grownup children desperately looking for love in the wrong places.
*Equally harmful are acts of emotional negligence an disregard for children’s personhood and uniqueness in favor of the burdensome yoke of parents’ expectations for children. The only yoke they need to bear is to be yoked to Jesus; and His yoke is easy and burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
*When children are so unfortunate as to be diagnosed with certain dysfunctional conditions, they may feel abandoned and depressed when parents don’t make efforts to understand their condition and come alongside to support and love them unconditionally.
*When young adult children make wrong choices in life, parents are slow to ask themselves if they might have contributed to their children’s choices. They show make the adult children feel they are the sole problem. The opportunity to learn and grow through mistakes is lost.
*What about aged parents in need or aged siblings with no family of their own to care for them? I consider them our flesh and blood in need of our care as well.Let’s not be guilty of abandoning our own flesh and blood. Let’s not be like the priest and Levite who walked on by because they had other duties and ministries to perform (Luke 10:30-32). Let’s offer up the kind of fasting that is acceptable to the Lord, that is on His heart.
Discipleship is doing what’s upon God’s heart--love one another!
As we become true followers of Jesus, we will live out the mark of a disciple: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34, 35)
How are we to love? (Also see this.)
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries & all knowledge, and if I have the faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor & surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.“It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-8)
Are we determining true followers by these qualities? It’s time we get back to what’s upon God’s heart on discipleship.
Discipleship begins with loving God.
Discipleship begins at home.
Discipleship integrates God’s influence into every area of our lives.
Discipleship is doing what’s on God’s heart.Discipleship is marked by love for one another.
True discipleship will lead to true followers of Jesus.
Margaret has served with her husband Chong Hiok with Cru Singapore since 1975. She has a MABS from the International School of Theology (Philippines), is a coach in the Leadership Evaluation and Formation (LEAF) program and currently coordinates the Partners in Ministry certificate program at the East Asia School of Theology (EAST). She has two grown sons.