To help us be and make Disciples
Romans 12:1-3, 9-21
We have seen that the Spirit Without Measure is given to create the Body of Christ: He gives extravagant experiential gifts, keeps us Jesus shaped to help us share Christ with others, and He makes us Holy flowing Channels of His transforming presence and grace. Today I want to persuade and show you how He helps us be Disciples of Jesus and to make Disciples of others. But first let’s be clear: to be a Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus, to do ones best to follow the Master and do the things he did. Initially in the Book of Acts we see a description in 9:2 which describes followers as those ‘who belonged to the way’ (suggesting following, journey and movement).In 11:26 Luke records that ‘the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch’: contemporary historians suggest however that this was more a term of abuse rather than an accolade. So Disciple (follower, disciplined learner) is the key title. Being a disciple is not an optional extra for the enthusiastic ones, its living the life of Christ as best we can, walking as He did (1 John 2:6) and keeping in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25). This is probably the most crucial issue for the Church & Christians in our time: the weakness and fragility of the Body of Christ is due in no small measure to the fact we have not exercised our role as disciples of Jesus and made disciples of others: if we could re-establish the centrality of discipleship in our congregations nothing short of revival would result.
So Okay you are persuaded, but how Pastor David can I get from A to B on this: answer you can’t! You need the Spirit Without Measure! Perhaps you are like Paul in Romans 7: there he discusses honestly his struggle with sin. In essence he says that he sets out with good intent to do the right things, the things that would honour Christ, but his flesh pulls him back and he fails:
sound familiar?? Lets listen to what he says: “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me for this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:22-25). Paul rightly knew that it was only Jesus that could rescue him, and then he goes on in Romans 8 to tell us how Jesus helps us to follow him, by sending the Spirit without Measure.
And so to our reading in Romans 12: now this is probably one of the most clear descriptions of what being a disciple means and the transformation that comes through travelling that journey. The picture is of an Altar, but it’s no longer got animal sacrifices on it. It is first and foremost a picture of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary’s tree for you and me: there He paid the price for my sin and rebellion, and there He died the death I deserved. Paul is calling upon you and me to truly go through the whole process of salvation: dying to self, burying our old life, rising to a new life of being with and following Jesus. And I know of no better way of expressing that then going through the waters of believer’s baptism. And it’s all because of the amazing magnitude of God’s mercy towards us. So here’s the deal: you and I gladly and freely get onto this spiritual Altar (the Altar represents the place of encounter with God) and offer our lives as Living Sacrifices (you’re be glad to know that no physical death is required). Paul say this is our spiritual act of worship, which says to me that worship is far far more than what we do together at 10.30 on Sundays: it’s a 24/7 experience of following the Master, serving His purposes, living a sacrificial life and doing what He asks of us. At best then Sunday becomes just an overflow of that dynamic life; a sharing about what the Lord is doing, and an experiential refilling of the Spirit Without Measure.
Such a sacrificial life Paul says is Holy & Pleasing to God, which fits well with the Holy Channels we are called to be. But how many times have I climbed onto the altar only to crawl off again? Many times: and each time it was because I relied not on the Spirit but my flesh (when will I learn!).
Paul then goes on to talk about the process or journey this requires, and at each junction there are choices to make: Do not conform any longer to this world, but be (being: Greek continuous tense) transformed by the renewing of your mind. Wow, what a challenge, but what an exciting adventure. Going against the flow of the world (e.g. broad and narrow way) was the subject of my first Christian t-shirt (long since gone): it depicted loads of fish swimming in one direction, and just a few fish like shapes (with crosses on) swimming the other! Would that it was that easy! We need the Spirit Without Measure to make this choice: in the best meaning of the description, as Christians we are called to be non-conformists! Notice however where the key transformation takes place: not on the heart but in the mind. Our minds are literally renewed and we are step by step given the mind of Christ. Then, Paul says, we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will. I wish I had a £1 for all the times in 30 years Christians have asked me how to find out what God’s will is for their life! Here’s the answer: the Spirit Without Measure will give you the wisdom to test and approve what God’s will is for you and for others. What a gracious gift and how needed is it today in our midst! Finally Paul encourages no spiritual arrogance: he acknowledges that all of us are what we are only by grace alone. We must have a correct view of ourselves, and not compare ourselves with others: the measure of faith God has given us is a perfect fit with our calling to serve His purposes. The rest of our reading and indeed all of Romans 12 is a celebration of the gifts He gives us and the Kingdom values and lifestyle to which he calls us. It’s a huge unending journey of
transformation in which we hopefully become more and more Jesus shaped. Here Character is as essential as Charisma: indeed Charisma without Character equals Catastrophe!!
So it is impossible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple; to be a camp follower without being a soldier of the King; to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one’s weight. Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, “So and so tells me that he was one of your students.” The teacher answered devastatingly, “He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students….”. There is a world of difference between attending Church and being a disciple. It is one of the supreme handicaps of the Church that in the Church there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples.
The Greek word for disciple – mathetes – literally means ‘learner’: a learner by use and practice. One can only be a mathetes in the company of a didaskalos (Greek word), a master or a teacher. Of course for Christians that’s Jesus, but its also crucially the Spirit Without Measure too: if Jesus was the best teacher in the flesh, the Holy Spirit is the best teacher in the Spirit: and as Jesus himself says: “But when He the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is to come.” (John 16:13). It like a driving instructor teaching (apprenticing) someone to drive a car. In other words, teaching not by a book but through side –by-side instruction. Jesus was the master craftsman with a group of apprentices. It is therefore not surprising that the verb to disciple (manthano) occurs only 25 times in the NT – just six times in the gospel – the noun disciple (mathetes) occurs 264 times exclusively in the Gospels and Acts.
So the Spirit Without Measure is given to help us to be Disciples and followers of Jesus but is that where it stops?? There are rare occasions in the Christian Life where the lights come on and
the penny drops on something that had been a blind spot up to that point. For me Making Disciples was one such moment, and thank God I haven’t looked back since. It happened when a speaker/preacher posed the question to me a Pastor: what do you want to be written on your tombstone? Well, apart from immediately thinking that I wanted to be buried at sea, or indeed cremated, I could not think of an answer. Not something one thinks of very much, don’t you agree. But he pressed the point: do you want it to read: Gone to another meeting, or He discipled ten men for Christ? In a kind of eureka moment I realised that I had astutely sidestepped the Great Commission to make Disciples reassuring myself that some of it must happen by osmosis. I had failed to realise that the Call to make disciples is clearly an intentional one. From that moment the thrush of my ministry changed, and from that moment I experienced more of the Spirit Without Measure to make Disciples too.
Hey and just like the Extravagant Experiential Gifts, just like aiming to be more Jesus shaped, just like sharing Jesus with a world that needs a saviour, and just like the Holy Channels we are meant to be, the call to be and make disciples is outward looking, community transforming, and focused on the World God loves and that Christ died for!
I am part of “The Fellowship of the Unashamed”. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colourless dreams, cheap giving and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits or popularity. I now live by faith, walk by
patience, lift by prayer, and labour in His power. My pace is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my Guide unfailing, my mission clear.
I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, diluted or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I must go on until Heaven returns, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes. And when he comes to get His own, He will have no problem recognizing me – for my banner will be clear.
May 29th 2011.