In the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 16-20), Jesus said to go into the world and make – not converts – disciples. For His followers, being with Jesus meant a life of discipleship. Discipleship comes from the word discipline, which means to train or to exercise for a specific purpose, or to gain a specific skill. Spiritual disciplines or exercises, terms often associated only with Catholicism, are intended for every Christian, regardless of church or denomination affiliation.
Luke 10:38-42 provides a telescopic view of discipleship training, Jesus gently scolding Martha about being too distracted with serving, saying that Mary had “chosen the better part” by sitting at His feet, worshiping, learning and being transformed.
Nothing wrong with service, but discipleship is about being transformed. Many Christians want to stay within the bounds of service because that is a comfortable place. But may I say, service alone cannot transform anyone. Jesus had more in mind for you and me, at our conversion. He wants us to become His disciples.
Sadly, too many believers want to remain converts—they want to know their souls are going to heaven without the risk of becoming transformed. They have no interest in a life of discipleship. Yet the very first disciples (or “Disciplined Ones”) were so called because they were willing to be discipled by Jesus, meaning taught, corrected, and subsequently changed by association with Him. The earliest believers were called Nazarenes, or “Followers of the Way,” a reference to the fact that Jesus was a Nazarene and He called Himself The Way. Later, by Acts 11, believers were being called Christians, or “Little Christs,” because their behavior had begun to reflect Jesus’s own actions during His lifetime.
Notice ‘Christian’ was not a title they bestowed upon themselves; it is how they were perceived by the community in Antioch. I can imagine men and women who saw Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem a couple years back, during one of the feasts, looking at these Followers of the Way and saying, “These guys remind me of Jesus! They’re like Little Christs!”
This is God’s desire, that after conversion, we become disciples of Jesus, submitting our lives and our wills to Him. We become followers in the truest sense, taking in Jesus’ teachings and mimicking Jesus’ actions until – by the power of the Holy Spirit – they become ingrained in our very nature. Until at last we are seen by others as little Christs.
This transformation comes with a cost, that is, letting Christ enter our hearts and giving Him free reign over all He finds there. It is like the story told by French poet Paul Claudel, of a lodger who “has moved in, one who does not hesitate to rearrange the chairs according to his taste, to drive nails into the walls and, if necessary, even to saw up the furniture when he is cold and needs a fire.”
Granted, this doesn’t sound very pleasant. Perhaps that’s the reason Jesus encouraged potential followers to “count the cost” (Luke 14) before beginning the Christian journey. What are the benefits of this disciplined life, opening oneself up to God’s scrutiny? I love W. Sangster’s description of Christians who take seriously the call to holiness (from Herald of Holiness: A Critical Analysis of the Doctrines of Sanctification and Perfection):
These Christians “…shine. They don’t try to shine: they just shine. It is an event to meet them. When they come into a room, it is like the light being turned on. They seem to have some secret of inner happiness, of poise, of patience, and an inexhaustible capacity for love. …they take hold of you and, in some unselfconscious way, they leave an impression of utter goodness. Without knowing it, they put an ache in you to have this quality of life as well.”