Characteristics of Discipleship Part 1 of 2
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.
Title: Characteristics of Discipleship
Text: “Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples’” (John 8:31)
Bible Reading: John 8:30-59
Children have a funny way of looking at things. I read a cute little story which points out that fact. It seems Little Jeremy was on a walk with his grandfather when a stranger smiled at him and asked, “How old are you?” Jeremy replied, “Three.” The man then asked, “When will you be four?” Jeremy answered, “When I’m through being three.” Well, children are cute and they can also be funny, but praise God, they can be saved and grow up following Jesus. But, what does it really mean to follow Jesus? Somehow, in the early part of the twenty-first century people have lost sight of what it really means to follow Jesus; that is to say, to be a disciple of His. Discipleship, in today’s world, is being linked to the external routine of religion, rather than having to do with a saving experience with Jesus Christ. During Jesus’ life and ministry on earth, many people tried to follow Him. When He spoke, many put their faith in Him. Some were infatuated with His miracles and teachings. Others were just curious. But, Jesus didn’t want people to follow Him for any other reason than they were generally committed to Him. In order to tell the true followers from the false, Jesus gave His disciples some of the characteristics of true followers. So, our message today is about those characteristics of a true follower of Jesus Christ. There are four of them, and the first one is found in verses 31-33:
31 Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples,
32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, ‘You will be made free’?”
The First Characteristic of a True Disciple is Persistence.
One of the best definitions of perseverance or persistence that I’ve ever heard, was given by the great preacher, Charles Spurgeon. He said, “It was perseverance that got the snails to the ark.” Jesus realized that some people made an impulsive decision to follow Him. He knew they followed mainly to see His miracles or just to be part of the crowd. He also knew that many would decide not to follow Him. After Jesus taught the crowds that He was the bread of life, “many of His disciples drew back and no longer went about with Him” (John 6:66). There’s a reason they drew back and deserted the Lord Jesus. The crowd that followed Him was very large, but they began to discover that His teachings were difficult to put into practice. That’s the reason-It was too hard! In fact, following Him pointed to the possibility of sharing in His suffering and violent death. Slowly, His disciples began to fall away. Perhaps those who left Jesus could foresee or anticipate the “tragedy” that would take place at the hands of the Roman government. Others, perhaps, lost interest or hope in Jesus. Their action prompted Jesus to ask the 12 apostles if they, too, would “go away.” Jesus was not surprised by the many that turned away from Him. He knew of their discontentment, because He could read their hearts, and see they lacked commitment.
Jesus pointed out that perseverance would be the sign of a true disciple. He said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.” Folks, discipleship is not the excitement of one moment. It is a patient determination to continue in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. The famous pianist and composer Ignacy Jan Paderewski started playing the piano at the age of three. He developed slowly, but he was determined to become a master of the piano. He practiced six hours almost every day of his life. And he finally reached his goal through discipline and determination.
To a crowd of potential followers, Jesus gave this sure sign of a disciple. He said, “A disciple is a person who continuously follows Him.” The genuine evidence of discipleship is in the sustained effort made by the individual. When they believed on Him, as their Savior, they gave up themselves to be his disciples.
Back then, as well as now, there are many who said they were Christ’s disciples who are not his disciples, except in show and name only. Those who are willing to be Christ’s disciples ought to be told that it would be better for them to never come to Him, unless they come with a dedication to be faithful and to stay with Him. They shouldn’t think there is ever going to be the possibility for them to revoke their membership in God’s family. We send our children to school, only for a few years; but only those who belong to Jesus are willing to be bound to Him for life.
Jesus wants to have our dwelling in His Word, and to make it the center of our rest, and a place of safety. We should constantly conform ourselves to His Word. It’s faith alone that saves, but the faith that saves is not alone. It will produce something. After a person believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, he will want to “continue in His Word.” The proof of faith is continuing in the faith.We have been told that His truth shall make you free. The truth is that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. He is the Truth. So, the first characteristic of a true disciple is persistence, and:
The second is, “A True Disciple has Freedom.”
First, we come to Him as our Savior. Then when we go on with Him, we know by experience that we are free. We are free from the penalty of sin-we don’t need to lie awake at night and worry about going to hell. He doesn’t even ask us to live the Christian life. He asks us to trust Him, and let Him live His life through us. When we yield to Him, we are free.
The Jews, who were His audience on this occasion, put blind trust in religious tradition and ceremonies. All of their hope was on their ancestry and obedience to the Law of Moses. Throughout the years, they had been in bondage to Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, Syria, and, at present, they were in bondage to Rome. Regardless of their history of political slavery, they felt free spiritually because they were a holy nation, an elect race chosen by God. But, Jesus disagreed with them, and as a result, He angered them. He told them they were slaves of sin, not sons of God, and that only through Him could they find true spiritual freedom. That’s what He told them in verses 34-38:
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin.
35 The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever.
36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
37 I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me, because my word finds no place in you.
38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
Do you want to be free, then get to know God’s Son, because the Son makes you free, so trust Him and follow Him? His truth makes you free, so study it, believe it, and obey it. Satan imposes slavery that seems like freedom; but Jesus gives you a yoke that sets you free.
Jesus taught about a freedom that led to bondage. Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin.” All of us are going to be a slave to something or someone. We are either going to have Jesus as our Master or some sin will be our master. Jesus taught a group of potential disciples about how sin leads to bondage. Going through life with an attitude of self-will, and self-trust, and self-assertion leads to a harmful bondage. No one who follows Jesus can be a master to himself.
But Jesus didn’t stop with teaching about the freedom that leads to bondage; He also spoke of a bondage that leads to freedom. A true disciple is one who has renounced his or her way to follow the way of Christ. You see, bondage to the Lord leads to authentic freedom. Jesus said, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” The true disciple of Jesus lives to please only one person-Jesus Christ. A disciple of Jesus is not a slave to sin, but is a slave to the Master. Our second point was, “A true disciple has freedom,” and the third is:
A True Disciple has Christlike Behavior.
Listen as I read verses 39-44:
39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did,
40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God; this is not what Abraham did.
41 You do what your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.”
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.
43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.
44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
The old adage says, “Like father like son.”