The Path of DiscipleshipMatthew 9:9-13; Mark 1:16-20; John 21:17-22Theme: Following Christ.This week’s lessons teach us the cost of being a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
LessonIn the course of this study each of the following elements will be considered in much greater detail. But it is worth stressing at this beginning point how much is involved in just the two simple words “follow me.”
The first element in following Christ is obedience. Obedience is an unpopular concept today, which we betray by our frequent use of a phrase like “blind obedience” meaning mindless adherence to authority. We think of it as enemy soldiers blindly carrying out the inhuman orders of an evil commander. So when we come to a phrase like “follow me,” we naturally think of it as an invitation and conform our evangelism to that pattern. We invite people to follow Jesus, promising that he will receive them and make them happy if they do come. Well, there may be an element of invitation in Christ’s call to sinners, but it can hardly escape any thoughtful student that the words “follow me” are in the imperative voice and are therefore essentially a command – which is why those commanded to follow Jesus did in fact immediately leave their nets, boats, counting tables, or whatever else was occupying them before this and followed Jesus. On the lips of Jesus the command “follow me” was no more resistible than the command to Lazarus to “come out” (John 11:43). It is the equivalent of what theologians have termed God’s “effectual call.”
This is only another way of saying that without obedience there is no real Christianity. It is not that people cannot “follow” Jesus in some lesser sense and then perhaps fall away when the demands of genuine discipleship become clear to them. Many persons in the Gospels seem to have done this. The rich young ruler is an example. But that is not the same thing as a sheep of Christ’s flock hearing his call and responding to his voice as he recognizes this One to be his Lord and Master. Those who are genuinely Christ’s sheep obey his call from the beginning and thus enter upon a life in which obedience is a chief characteristic.
When Jesus called Matthew, he called one who was a recognized “sinner” and therefore emphasized repentance, the second element in following Christ: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). But the need for repentance is no less evident in the stories of the calling of the other disciples. For example, in both Matthew and Mark the account of the calling of the first disciples is immediately preceded by a record of Christ’s first preaching, focusing on the words “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 4:17; cf. Mark 1:14). In Luke’s account the equivalent story is embedded in Jesus’ first miraculous intervention in the disciples’ fishing, as a result of which they caught so many fish the net was breaking. That story records Peter’s profound experience of Christ’s holiness and of his own sin which led him to cry out: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). The point is that it is impossible to follow Christ without repentance.
How could it be otherwise? Jesus is the holy, sinless Son of God. He has never taken one step in any sinful direction. He has never led the way into a single sinful thought. So anyone who is following him (and not merely an imaginary Jesus) must by definition have turned his back upon sin and set his face toward righteousness. Christians do sin. When they do, they must confess it and turn from it, being restored to fellowship again. But anyone who thinks he can follow Christ without renouncing sin is at best dreadfully confused. And anyone who claims to be following Christ while actually continuing in unrighteousness is deluded. Such a one is no Christian.
What is meant by the term “effectual calling”?
Why are obedience and repentance crucial aspects of discipleship?
ReflectionRepentance means to turn around. When we repent of sin, it means we stop doing one thing and start doing the opposite. Is there an area in your life where repentance is necessary? If so, repent today! Spread your sin out before God and take concrete steps toward moving away from its allure.