Real life discipleship is what true discipleship is all about. It’s the bottom line reality that we must all aim for if we are to experience the life that Jesus has for us (John 10:10). Discipleship is the core mission of the church (Matthew 28:19-20). Everything else is secondary, or at least generate from that only; they are not the primary cause for which the church must exist. If the church doesn’t focus on discipleship, everything else it does is meaningless. A church that is full of activity but no real life discipleship is simply wasting its time, talents and treasure.
But what is discipleship? It all depends on our definition of a disciple. For me, a disciple is simply a person who follows Jesus together with other disciples in order to learn how to live and love like Jesus. Based on this definition, there is really no dichotomy between evangelism and discipleship. Both are part of the whole process. In other words, to make disciples I must first do evangelism. A person must first be born again before he or she can start to follow Jesus. Once he or she has started to follow Jesus, then he or she must join with others who are also following Jesus. The goal is to learn how to live and love like Jesus. This is the essence of discipleship. This happens in the context of real life, not in seminars or discipleship classes. I must learn to live and love like Jesus everyday. The training that I might receive must simply equip me for this task. Otherwise, they are a waste of time.
To live like Jesus is to prioritize the kingdom of God. It is to live a life of devotion to God. It is to pursue holiness and righteousness by grace through faith. How I use my time, talents and treasure is a reflection of my priorities. Jesus focused His life and used His time, talents and treasure to fulfill His Father’s agenda. Everything else was secondary. I must learn to do the same.
To love like Jesus is to prioritize the lost. This is difficult and counter-cultural. But this is what discipleship really means. In Luke 9 we find this story.
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
The cost of discipleship is learning how to love the lost more than I love myself and even my own family. It also means that it must be greater than my love for my own church family. Now it does not mean that I will neglect my family. I must love my family because Jesus loved his family (John 19:26-27). Jesus also loved His disciples (John 13:1). I must learn to love fellow disciples or the church as well. But in terms of priority, I must learn to love the lost first, because that’s how Jesus loved. He loved the lost and gave His life for them. His family and friends abandoned Him but He pressed on, seeking and saving the lost, and eventually giving His life as a ransom for many.
How are we doing in this area? For many today, being a Christian simply means becoming a better person, enjoying life and being with friends and family in church. Loving the lost is simply not part of the main agenda. But to be a real disciple is to learn how to live and love like Jesus together with others. To love like Jesus is to love the lost first and foremost. Real discipleship is nothing more and nothing less.