Distinctive Discipleship

Disciples of Jesus Christ have gone through a transformation in order to become a child of God, disciple, and servant of the Lord. The transformation is one that goes from being ones who lived “according to the flesh [and] set their minds on the things of the flesh” to ones who “live according to the Spirit” and set their minds on “the things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5). When one comes to Christ in humble obedience, he must, of necessity, “put off the old man with his deeds, and…put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Col. 3:9, 10). This is the very meaning of repentance, which demands not only a change of mind, but a change in one’s way of life.

The disciple’s life will also be changed in that his focus will now no longer be on self, but on his fellow man; where one once lived for the purpose of “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Eph. 2:3), those who are now disciples “live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:15), and a disciple now looks “out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). The focus now is not on self, but on God and others.

While it is certainly true that discipleship demands a changed life [moral versus immoral], it also demands this change of focus where we now are also concerned for the needs of our fellow man. This concern is best seen in the life Jesus lived when He walked this Earth about 2000 years ago, and He can certainly teach us some important lessons about who we should be concerned with, and what we can do to follow in His steps as He demonstrated a life of love for God and for His fellow man. Consider His life and words — the ones to whom He went, how He viewed them, and what He did for them and with them — and then let us do our best to imitate Him.

The Peacemakers. In His most familiar discourse, what we call The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). This may sound like a strange statement to consider in the context of this article, but when we think about the type of individuals society exalts and praises, this statement stands in stark contrast. Nations quite often erect monuments and statues to honor war heroes, but far fewer are set up to honor the true peacemakers of this world. Jesus exalted those whose lives are defined by the peace they bring, not by the number of victories over their enemies or the lands they have conquered.

In an increasingly hostile world, where nations, regions, cities, neighborhoods, and even households seem to be more contentious with those around them, let us as disciples of Jesus Christ heed those words and distinguish ourselves by being peacemakers, and let us recognize and honor those who strive for peacefulness. What a world this would be if we sought peace, instead of trying to stoke the fires of discontent and anger. We could all use a lot more peacefulness!

The Untouchables and the Outcasts. Immediately following His discourse on the mountain, great multitudes followed Him and, it was then that a leper came to Him and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean” (Matt. 8:2). It is here where most people would take a step or ten backwards to put some distance between themselves and this contagious disease, but we find “Jesus put out His hand and touched him” and said, “I am willing; be cleansed” (Matt. 8:3). We might argue here that Jesus could do that because He had powers we do not have, but the fact Jesus touched Him goes more to the compassion of Jesus than His Deity or supernatural powers.

Consider another example of the associations of Jesus, where we find “many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples” (Matt. 9:10), for which Jesus was criticized by the religious leaders. It was as if they were saying to His disciples, “Look at the kind of people with whom your Master is sitting and eating!” The religious leaders would not have done that, but Jesus did. Some of those religious leaders thought so little of such ones that Jesus told of the prayer of one Pharisee, where he thanked God he was not like one of them (Luke 18:11)!

We who are His disciples should follow the example of Jesus, though, and not shy away from ‘touching’ those whom others would stand at a distance, and we should be drawing near and sitting and eating with those whom the majority of society would rather ignore. I would almost guarantee you will get some disapproving looks and stares, and maybe even some hostility, but when we do this, we are following an example that is distinctively better and certainly more loving and compassionate than what most people would show.

Those Who Are Excluded. Once, when Jesus traveled from Judea to Galilee, He had to go through Samaria, and while in Sychar, He stopped at a well to rest (John 4:3-6). While there, “A woman of Samaria came to draw water” and Jesus asked her for a drink (John 4:7). This must have been surprising to the woman, because she replied, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (John 4:9); John adds, for a bit of explanation, “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” That much was true, for the Jews considered the Samaritans an unclean, mongrel race, polluted with the blood of past invaders such as the Assyrians and Babylonians. Yet, Jesus was not like most Jews.

It is a sad fact of life that man has always found reason to show prejudices against other groups of people, and for whatever reason they deem valid. It may be the color of one’s skin, the average height of a certain group, the language spoken or even the accent, the facial features, the type of clothing worn, or a hundred other things, but many of these ‘reasons’ for division are factors over which the individual has no control [for example, where on this planet you were born].

Disciples of Jesus must not follow the ways of the world, and show no favoritism towards or against anyone. Jesus died for all and, especially for those in Christ, no distinctions should be made (cf. Gal. 3:28).

Rulers We Despise. Finally, consider that Jesus was once met by a centurion, who asked Jesus to heal his servant (Matt. 8:5-13). Most Jews, again, would not have given the man the time of day [so to speak] because they despised Roman rule, and the centurion was a constant reminder of their submission to rulers they did not want. But Jesus gave him His time, and He healed the man’s servant — not what was necessarily the popular thing to do.

Politics is an increasingly hostile topic, and it seems we have often been caught up in the hate-filled rhetoric to the point we feel comfortable insulting our political leaders, as if we have a God-given right to do so. While we might have a Constitutional right, God calls us to better standard. While it may be easy to join in with the vitriol directed at our politicians and to insult and disparage them every chance we get, let us distinguish ourselves by honoring the office of those in authority (1 Pet. 2:13-17), and especially toward those whom we dislike. Steven Harper