Discipleship in the Bible

There’s a hymn called “I have decided to follow Jesus” which largely owes its notoriety to Billy Graham, as it became a popular song during his famous crusades. 

From the song, it says: “I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus”

Before giving the refrain “no turning back, no turning back.” 

Second verse: “The world behind me, the cross before me; the world behind me, the cross before me; the world behind me, the cross before me; no turning back, no turning back.” 

The final verse of the song asks “will you decide now to follow Jesus? Will you decide now to follow Jesus? Will you decide now to follow Jesus? No turning back, no turning back.” 

No turning back. 

When you truly understand the gospel of grace, there is no turning back. 

In the gospels, from the outset of his ministry, we see Jesus calling on people “follow me.” 

At the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, we see Jesus calling his first disciples. 

Mark 1:16-17: Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”

Discipleship is not a call to continue in your old life. 

It’s not Jesus saying, “Hey, you’re really great, you should just keep doing what you’re doing” 

It’s Jesus saying “follow me.” 

We see the response of Simon and Andrew in verse 18: And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

No turning back, no turning back. 

The gospel changes lives. 

When a person gets married, their life is supposed to be different and look different. You have someone else to think about. It should impact how you spend your time. 

What a person has a baby, their life is supposed to change. It’s no longer just about you. You have another life that you’re responsible for. You have another person who is totally and completely dependent on you. 

Now, some people don’t do that. Some people aren’t supportive. But we see that that’s wrong. We see that that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. In following Jesus, it’s meant to result in a life that is changed. 

If there’s no desire to know him, to live for him, then does a person really understand what Jesus has done? 

We’re ok with saying that Jesus is a savior. But with discipleship, it gets at the question: is he your Lord? 

In Luke 9, we see Jesus interact with three people who explain why they can’t follow Jesus on his terms.

First person 

Luke 9:57-58: As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

That’s a pretty abrupt response. In Jesus saying that he has nowhere to lay his head, the point is that Christians who are truly living out the Christian life will always be out of place in this fallen world. 

Jesus is also not hiding from the challenges of following him. Jesus will talk of persecution, suffering, families being divided over him. Jesus is the realist person who has ever lived. He doesn’t shy away from telling the truth. 

The world hates the gospel message. So what’s easy for Christians to do is to share a watered down message instead of preaching Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23). 

But the gospel is offensive. 

In a relativistic world where we act as though people can be right in whatever they want to believe or however they want to act, Christianity comes into direct conflict with that. 

Jesus is the truth. God is the Lord of truth. And truth is what corresponds to God’s reality, not whatever we want it to be. 

The gospel calls us to discipleship and not just doing whatever we want to do and saying a few nice things about God along the way. 

That’s offensive to the world. That’s demanding to the world. That’s not for the faint of heart. 

In Matthew 10:34-37, Jesus says: 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

The point of that passage is not that Jesus wants to harm relationships, but that in following him faithfully, in standing up for Jesus, there will be those who dislike that. 

The gospel is offensive. It’s divisive. 

2 Corinthians 2:15-17: 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.

The reason why the gospel is offensive is because it confronts people with their sin. It tells people you can’t be good enough, you can’t save yourself and if you want salvation, the only way is for you to trust in what Jesus has done. 

2 timothy 3:12 says: Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Now, in America, it rarely comes to that latter extreme. Because Christian values and teachings have influenced our society and laws. But in much of the world, this is a daily threat and an ever-present risk of following Jesus. 

Suffering for Christ. 

But even here in America, there can still be a temptation to want to play it safe, not rock the boat, not stir the pot, not be vocal about faith, keep it to ourselves. 

We’re virtually never under any threat of extreme persecution, but shouldn’t that therefore be a reason for us to have even greater evangelistic zeal?

Because it’s safe? 

What’s the worst thing that can happen to us in America for sharing our faith? People in other parts of the world die for their faith. 

We’re often just worried that someone might not like us. 

Part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus is to share his gospel message in a fallen world. 

Second person 

Luke 9:59-60:59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 

Just like with his disciples at the beginning of his ministry, again Jesus says “follow me.” Unlike the disciples, this man does not leave what he’s doing and follow Jesus. 

Instead, he gives him an excuse. “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Now, that seems reasonable enough doesn’t it. 

“Hey, I’m on my way to a funeral right now, but how about I’ll meet up with you later. Ok?” 

Jesus says “leave the dead to bury their own.” 

Most scholars believe that the man’s father was still alive and that he was saying that he wanted to wait until his father’s natural life ended and then he would follow Jesus. 

He was putting it off. Like in the passage we studied a couple weeks ago when the Israelites had been freed from slavery for the purpose of rebuilding the temple. Twenty years had gone by and they had yet to begin the project. 

Jesus tells the man “go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” 

There’s a sense of urgency. 

Jesus talks of taking up your cross in the Matthew, 10:38-39: 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 

When you stop living for the world and for yourself and instead start living for Jesus, that is where life is truly found. 

This is a message that too many churches shy away from. 

Jesus isn’t asking you to just be nice. He’s not asking you to just go to church.

Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 

No turning back, no turning back. True discipleship involves both a death to self, and a willingness to give up all for the sake of Christ. True discipleship is costly. 

Third person

Luke 9:61-62: 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” 

A third man says I will follow. So far so good. 

But. 

I will follow you Lord, but. 

But. 

No turning back, no turning back. 

Jesus wants our total devotion. This third encounter echoes an interaction in the book of 1 Kings 19 when the prophet Elijah called Elisha. Elisha similarly wanted to say goodbyes.

1 Kings 19:20: he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.”

In that instance, Elisha was permitted to say goodbye. 

The difference that Luke is driving home in his gospel is the sense of urgency. 

Jesus desires a singular focus on him, his mission, and his kingdom. 

In Matthew 12:46-50, the apostle records an event in Jesus’ ministry: 46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” 

In that, we see the value of discipleship. Dying to self and living for Jesus. It is the promise of hearing the Lord say “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). 

While the world is sinful, we have one who has overcome. 

Jesus says “follow me.” 

Are you? 

It’s a serious question. 

Again, it’s not simply a matter of coming here every Sunday. That’s great if you do. But are you following Jesus every other day? 

The Christian life is not a call to a life of ease. It’s a call to follow. But it’s because of the one whom we are called to follow that it makes the Christian life worth it. 

Jesus says “follow me.”

Will you? Will you take up your cross and follow Jesus? Will you put his kingdom first, even above your own desires and happiness? That’s where true life is found. 

No turning back, no turning back. 

In the 1880s, a group of American missionaries were ministering to various tribes in a remote region of India. 

Many of the surrounding groups were hostile to the gospel and foreign missionaries. Successes in preaching the gospel were few and far between, but the missionaries did convert one man and his family to Christianity. 

The man who had come to faith was persecuted for his faith and soon taken into custody by the leaders of his village. 

He was ordered to renounce his faith or face execution. 

In those most dire of circumstances, with his life on the line, he said “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” 

The tribal leaders took his sons and killed them. They asked if he would renounce his faith. The man said “though none go with me, still I will follow.” 

The man was given one last opportunity to renounce his faith, but his last words were his reply  “the cross before me, the world behind me, no turning back, no turning back.” 

Seeing the tremendous faith of this man, others in the village were inspired and a revival broke out. 

Years later, an Indian missionary took this man’s last words and set them to music in the song we sing today “I have decided to follow Jesus.” 

The song that was made famous at Billy Graham’s rallies is not merely about walking up to a stage and making a profession of faith. It’s about a disciple who decided to follow Jesus even though it cost him everything. 

Deciding to follow Jesus is not simply a one time decision. It’s a way of life.

No turning back, no turning back.

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