I Don't Believe In Extreme Discipleship
I don't believe in extreme discipleship! Why do I say that? Because I don't believe extreme discipleship is found in the Bible. To make my point let me start by asking a question. What is a believer called to do? Answer that question right now in your head, or write it down. Really! Take some time, stop reading this, and answer the question.
What did you come up with? No doubt there are many different ideas out there to determine what a believer is called to do. Tell others about Jesus? Join a church? Be a good person? Stay out of trouble? Follow a certain list of rules maybe? Worship God in everything we do? Pray? Read your bible? There really is no telling how many different answers we could come up with if we asked 100 different Christians.
We could discuss this for a long period of time. However, the quickest way to get the basic idea of what every believer should do is look at the words of Jesus in Mark 12:28-31...
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (ESV)
Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is and his response gives us the basis for what the life of a follower of his should look like. Love God with everything you are and love others above yourself. That is the basis for what we call "discipleship". A disciple is one who learns under another. Discipleship is the road we walk to become more like the one we are learning from. So our discipleship consists of God changing us more into the image of Jesus as we grow to love God more and as we learn to love others as Jesus did by putting them ahead of us. All this sounds like good stuff. Why would I not believe in extreme discipleship? Here's why...
Look again at Mark 12. Jesus tells us to "...love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." He never gives us levels to how far we should take this. He never tells us that the ones who are more committed to Jesus will, in fact, love God more. He says we are all to love God with everything we are. He then goes on to tell us to "...love your neighbor as yourself." Again, no levels here! He doesn't say some will follow God in a greater way so they will show love by putting their neighbors first. He tells us all to love our neighbors by putting them ahead of ourselves.
There are no levels of discipleship here. So when we start introducing the idea of "extreme discipleship" then we are communicating to others that some will follow Jesus only so much while the "real" followers will do the bigger things. Go overseas for the Lord? That is only for "extreme disciples". Move my family to another town or state and plant a church? I am not that "extreme". Have I made my point yet? There are no levels of discipleship. Only faithful or unfaithful disciples.
What we do find in scripture is different levels of maturity. Look at the words of Peter in chapter two of his first letter:
2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (ESV)
He is likening new believers to babies who need milk to grow. Now check out what the writer of Hebrews has to say in chapter 5:
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (ESV)
The milk is mentioned for newborns again, but now he is bringing in solid food for mature believers. There is no mention of levels of discipleship. You are either all in or all out. What we do see is levels of maturity. What the life of the believer is to look like is one that is constantly moving towards Jesus, learning his word, growing in love for him, growing in love for others. We grow to have greater understanding of the Bible. We grow to handle situations around us in a more Christ-like manner. We grow to care less of this world and more of the future to come with Jesus. In John Calvin's book Institutes, he said this about the Christian life: "In whatever trouble comes to us, we should always set our eyes on God's purpose to train us to think little of this present life and inspire us to think more about the future life".
Maturity varies from believer to believer but discipleship does not. So, let's go back and ask that question from the beginning one more time. What is a believer called to do? The answer: Love God with everything you are and everything you have and love others more than yourself! As you walk day-to-day as a disciple let those two thoughts invade everything you do. When a situation arises and you want to know how you should respond, ask yourself two questions: How can I love God through this? and How can I love others more than myself in this? Now let's go be disciples and continue to mature as God's children.