We’ve been talking about what Jesus meant in Matthew 7, verse 21, when he says that the only ones who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven are those who do the will of the father in heaven.
What is his will?
Jump ahead to Matthew 16:24-28. Jesus says it clear as day: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”
That’s a disciple: Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow him.
Do you see how different that is than street corner evangelism?
Do you see how different that is than showing up for church services and maybe greeting people on a Sunday morning?
We’re talking about something different than what has typically been taught as discipleship. Even if you have been in church all your life for 80+ years, I am saying that it is very possible that you have been taught an incorrect description of what a disciple is. I am saying that you might think you are a disciple, but you actually are not.
I’m saying that you might not have crossed the Matthew 7 line, and yet you think you have, just like those people in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 7:21-23 who said “Lord, Lord.” I do not want you to be deceived into thinking that you are a disciple when you actually are not.
So it is extremely important that we look at the Christian church has approached disciplemaking. When we say that we want to become disciplemakers, does that mean we haven’t been a disciplemakers in the past? Yes, I think it is very possible.
We have had a lot of hopes. In particular, we have based a lot of our hopes on an educational model. We have not used the disciple-making approach of Jesus. We have used teachers, classrooms, lectures, studies, workbooks…all educational model activities. These are not bad or sinful activities. They actually have good intentions. But notice what the educational model does. It focuses on the communication of knowledge, on people gaining knowledge.
But that’s not what Jesus did when he made disciples out of those followers.
Here’s another point of confusion. Jesus made disciples and he asked his disciples to make more disciples. He said “Make disciples.” Jesus did not say “I want you to make believers.”
What he said is that he wants us to disciple people in such a way that they, too, deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. We do not want make believers. We want make disciples. When people get connected to a church, we do not want them to just be Sunday morning worshipers and fellowshippers, we want them to be people of whom it can be said, “They are denying themselves, taking up their cross and following him.”
Therefore, if you say “Well, I believe in Jesus,” you should not be assured that you are a disciple. If you say “Well, I believe in Jesus,” and you look at your life and you see that your relationship with Jesus is focused on attending Sunday morning worship services and other church fellowship gatherings, you should not be assured that you are actually a disciple.
Jesus taught that discipleship was a life of learning from him. To be his apprentice. To learn from him how to live. Gradually he molded his disciples into the men and women who could take over the mission of God’s Kingdom for him.
His central teaching was that to be his disciple, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him, and then help others do the same.
So what is taking up your cross? How do we do that in our world?
First, let me ask “What is NOT taking up your cross?” We hear the phrase “That’s my cross to bear”. Is that what Jesus is talking about? Not necessarily.
“Well, I have to take care of my elderly parents. It’s my cross to bear.” Usually we say that as a “poor me”.
Or “My boss is a jerk. It’s my cross to bear.”
All kinds of stuff can be our cross to bear. But that’s not what Jesus meant.
Instead a disciple carries his cross daily and follows Jesus. Jesus meant that his way, his life, becomes our focus. We learn to do what he did. Even if it is difficult. Even if it is putting your life at risk for Jesus and the advancement of his Kingdom. Even if it means you don’t get to experience the pleasures of this world, though you see your friends and neighbors and co-workers doing.
Jesus described it perfectly when he said that taking up your cross starts with denying yourself.
Taking up your cross is a figurative picture of giving up everything to follow Jesus. It is saying to Jesus, “I give you permission to do what you want with me. I give you permission to have control of every area of my life.” Then we actually change whatever areas of your lives he wants to change.
But how do you do that? Check back in to the next post and we’ll try to answer that question.