The mark of a true disciple of Jesus Christ is obedience. We can say we know Him, but He only says He knows us if we follow Him obediently.
The disciplines we learn about in The Secret to Discipleship are a means that are worthy of pursuit in and of themselves. The natural end is our actively living out our faith in Christ. Through Bible study, prayer, and fellowshipping with other disciples, we connect to Christ. In turn, we begin to understand what pleases Him, and we seek to do it.
Christ’s Marching Orders
When we follow the commands of Christ, we are showing that we belong to Him. We are proving a willingness to surrender our own needs, desires, and wants to obey Christ’s commands.
And yes, they are commands. Jesus does not state the things we are to do as suggestions.
Jesus tells us to give up rights to ourselves, to bear our cross every day, and to follow Him (Luke 9:23). It is one thing to say that is what we are doing. Jesus expects us to actually do it. He expects us to take up His marching orders.
Think about a company of soldiers. They have gone through the training, given up time, freedom, self-interests, and more to serve in the military. Then, when it is time to get into action, the Commander starts to give the company commands and the company…refuses.
Some decide they would rather do something else with their time. Others say that they have other priorities, like a career, or family. Another group doesn’t pay attention to what the Commander taught them.
Do we really think that company of soldiers going to be effective? Is it likely they succeed? Will they be rewarded for their actions?
No. In fact, the commander would probably scream at the top of his lungs at them, telling them they weren’t fit to be in the military.
Ok, but that’s not what Jesus would do, right? God is love, after all. God would give us a break.
True Discipleship and Discipleship Denied
He might not yell at us, but Jesus does not soft-pedal the expectations for true disciples of Jesus Christ. There are many quotes from Jesus that indicates obedience is the line of demarcation between those who truly follow Him and those who do not – even those who may be deceiving themselves. Here is one example:
“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)
Don’t just glide past that last part. If there is a part of us that immediately reacts “surely, not I, Lord?” then we should go back and read that passage very carefully. As we can see, obedience is serious business for God, with serious consequences for the disobedient. This is a truth we cannot afford to ignore or assume it doesn’t apply in our situation.
We are not talking about an isolated verse. Here are several other examples of the importance of obedience in the life of a true disciple of Jesus Christ: Matthew 8:18-22; Matthew 10:38; John 8:31-32; John 12:26; John 15:14.
And these are only the direct quotes from Jesus. Many more examples can be found throughout the New Testament.
One of the most detailed examples of someone who desired to follow Jesus but could not bring themselves to obey Him is the story of the Rich Man (Luke 18:18-24).
The rich man was a religious leader who claimed to have obeyed the Mosaic Law from his youth. He was asking Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.
Jesus said He only had one more thing to do; to sell all He had and give it away to the poor, and then follow Jesus. The rich man couldn’t do it. In fact, hearing that saddened him because he was rich.
It is interesting that Jesus didn’t challenge the man’s assertion that he had kept the law from His youth. This would be an incredible claim indeed. Jesus did not bother arguing His piety. Instead, Jesus focused on what made him self-sufficient. Jesus expects us to give up all rights to ourselves when we follow Him.
Jesus told the man what he had to do, and the man refused to be obedient.
So let’s ask the question: is this man a true disciple of Jesus Christ, or not? The man did not stand up and say “this is not the Christ”. He didn’t deny Jesus. It appears he desired to follow Jesus. He simply couldn’t bring himself to obey Jesus.
If, after thinking about it, the man said to himself, “well, I love Jesus Christ. I will listen to what He has to say, and devote my time and energy to being a good person. Maybe I’ll even donate a lot of money to my favorite charity. Surely I will have eternal life then.” Would he be a true disciple of Jesus Christ then?
The answer is important, because this is the faith journey of many in the church today. Deciding for ourselves what we’re prepared to do and figuring since that aligns with Jesus’ teachings, we must be following Him.
Obedience is the mark of a true disciple of Jesus Christ. Obedience implies submitting to a will not our own.
When we abide with Christ we learn to hear His voice. Being hearers of His word does us no good unless we also do what He says. (James 1:22-24).
Working for Salvation?
Upon hearing that, someone may be saying “Now wait a minute – I thought the gift of salvation was a free gift that we could accept? Are you telling me I have to work for salvation?”
The answer is that there is nothing you can do to earn your salvation. Salvation, however, is the promised inheritance, not a rubber stamp the moment we pray for Christ to redeem us. Rather than say “I am saved”, it might be more accurate to say “I am being saved.” This is a lifelong journey of discipleship we are on with Jesus. We are expected to carry it through in obedience to the end of our lives.
Hebrews 10:22-39 provides an excellent reference to see that the Bible teaches this. We will only highlight certain portions in text here, but please follow the link to verify for yourselves that we are not pulling anything out of context.
Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. (Hebrews 10:23)
The hope in this verse is salvation. If we were simply handed salvation by asking for it, there would be no need for the author of Hebrews to tell us to “hold tightly without wavering”. If all we had to do was pray a prayer to settle the matter, this instruction makes zero sense.
This verse also affirms that our salvation is indeed secure in Christ because God accepted Christ’s “once-and-for-all” sacrifice for our sins. Our salvation is not works based because God is not adding up all our good deeds to make sure we acquire enough points to level up into Heaven. What He is counting on is our submission and obedience.
Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins. There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire that will consume his enemies. (Hebrews 10:26-27).
This is speaking of those who made the decision to follow Christ as His disciple and then later fall back into a life of disobedience and sin – whether willfully or through neglect. Those who leave the path of a true disciple of Jesus Christ are the same as the ones who never began the journey to start with.
The salvation Jesus Christ purchased on the cross is available to everyone who asks, but only covers those who are choosing to follow Him in obedience. Otherwise, sincerity of religious belief alone would be enough for salvation and could even open the door for the lie that there are many paths to God.
So you see, the argument is not you cannot lose your salvation. It is that your free will is never violated – even after repenting of your sins and agreeing to follow Jesus Christ as a disciple, you can choose to walk away.
I used to think the verse above meant that there was no hope for someone who had come to know Christ and then fell back into the pattern of this world. Thankfully, I later discovered biblical evidence that salvation is available even for the disciple who falls away. Please see Find Your Way Back to Christ for an in-depth look at the hope for the faith wanderer.
So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. (Hebrews 10:35-36)
This is our past, present, and future all in one passage.
- We can’t throw away something without having first claimed it
- We are to continue a life in surrender and obedience
- THEN we will receive our promised inheritance of salvation
The only reason it makes sense to encourage the reader not to throw away their trust in the Lord is that the reader currently has this trust, along with the ability to set it aside through free will. Living in obedience requires patience and endurance.
The bottom line is, we don’t work for our salvation, but we must take an active part in our faith by walking in obedience to Christ’s teachings. This is the proof that we love Him. Jesus Himself says plainly that if we don’t obey Him we don’t love Him (John 14:23-24). Jesus is the one linking obedience and love.
God Does Not Leave Us Empty Handed
It should bring comfort to consider this truth: God wants you to do well. He is on your side. He has no interest in being a hands-off God, leaning back distantly on His throne and waiting to see how we will mess this up.
Consider these facts:
God has shared His word with us through the Bible. This includes the very words of Jesus Christ. We have the means to understand what obeying Him looks like. As we grow in obedience to Him, becoming doers of His words, we are promised rewards, both in this life and in the life to come.
Disciples have been given the Holy Spirit to indwell us and teach us in all truth. Having a direct connection with God encourages us to be submissive and obedient to Christ. He even helps us to pray to God the Father in the name of Christ His Son. As we grow in obedience to Him, we are promised that our prayers will be more effective and powerful.
We have access to a community of fellow disciples who can encourage us, hold us accountable, teach us what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, and offer us the love of Jesus. As we grow in obedience to Him, we are promised maturity in the faith so we can bless others as they have blessed us.
God is truly infinitely far above us. At the same time, He has made it possible to be intimate with Him so that we can more easily be obedient to Him.
The Starting Line of Obedience
Jesus tells us we are blessed when we go about practicing His word, not just hearing it (Luke 11:28). He says that if we do what He says we are His family (Luke 8:21), and like a wise man (Matthew 7:24-27).
The Bible is a big book. Even the Gospels could take a long time to fully read and understand. One might be wondering, “How can we start obeying Christ now? Is there something we can do which will help us follow Him in obedience while we learn more?”
Actually, yes. Jesus gave us the heart of obedience in just a few verses.
“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
Love is indeed a verb in the kingdom of God. If you go through the commands of Christ for His disciples in the four Gospels, you will find that in some way, they reflect this law of love. This chart shows how the commands of Jesus in the Gospels align with these two commandments.
This is not to imply these are the only teachings of Jesus we should study and learn how to apply to our lives. It is meant to help illustrate many of the practical directions true disciples of Jesus Christ have been given to follow. It also speaks to the variety of the human experience. At their essence, each of these individual commands are ways to obey the greatest command, and the one equally as important.
It is comforting to see that there is great harmony in the words of Jesus. These two commands are the basis for everything God wants us to do. When we are unsure what obeying Christ looks like, we can base our actions on one of these two commandments.
There is a word for this in the Bible. When we strive to live as Christ calls us to live, we are seeking to live in holiness.
God’s call on us to live in holiness is God’s call to live in love towards everyone based on His commands. Sinful acts harm more than just the person committing the sin; it also harms others and is therefore unloving. Sin creates disharmony in the world. We are to be a light in the world (Matthew 5:14-16).
So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16).
The scripture Peter is quoting is from the Old Testament. Again, there is harmony. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. His message does not change.
If we are striving to obey these two commands, we are following Jesus Christ in obedience. Now, just because Jesus’ teachings can be associated with two commands doesn’t mean it is easy to do. As much as we try, we may not always obey these commands perfectly. Let’s be blunt; there will be times we are going to fail, and sometimes in spectacular fashion.
At times we may think back on what we might have done differently in a certain situation. That’s fine to a point, but also remember that none of us are perfect. Our reflection should not turn into self-condemnation. We need to be careful not to dwell on the past to the extent that it is harming us more than helping us.
If we fail by failing to do something, God is there to pick us up and teach us, if we do not give up in doing good (Galatians 6:9). If we fail by committing a sin, God is there to pick us up and forgive us, if we repent (1 John 1:9). In either case, failure does not have to be permanent in the life of a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
When following Jesus Christ, our failure rate is not important. What is important is the commitment to keep moving forward in obedience. The words of Paul are an encouragement to all disciples as we go forward in this life abiding with and following Christ:
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3:12-14)