What a disciple of Jesus looks like


Scripture : Luke 9:18-27

Speaker : John JohnstoneVideo

Becoming a Christian and living as a Christian involves a radical reorientation of our whole lives. Before we were Christians, we lived for ourselves and our own desires, pleasing ourselves. What a huge change when God sets us free from the slavery of living for self. ‘So we make it our goal to please him…’ (2 Corinthians 5:9) This is indeed a radical shift in our hearts. It’s a Copernican revolution. Before the 16th century we thought that the earth was at the centre of the universe, with everything revolving around it – a geocentric universe; then Nicolaus Copernicus discovered that actually the sun is the centre of the solar system, not the earth. This is a bit like what happens when we become Christians. We realise that Jesus, and not us, is the centre of all things.

We make it our goal to please Jesus out of love. In his book, Making Sense of Life, Michael Ots says: ‘The story of the Bible is of a God who gave up everything out of love for us. When we start to understand that, we begin to realise that it might be worth giving up everything for him. In doing so, we don’t really lose anything, but rather gain everything.’

What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in 2021? Surely this question is of huge importance! The answer is summarised for us in Luke 9:23: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’ In other words, Christians are people who every day, resist living to please our own wants and desires, and instead live to please Jesus, knowing full well that this path will be tough and involve suffering.

If we’re honest, perhaps some of us want to protest and say, ‘I don’t want to spend my whole life repressing the things that I want to do. I only get one life. Surely, I should be able to do what I want!’ Many people think true freedom means indulging our own desires and ambitions and doing as we please. They think about Christianity and the thought of living a life of self-sacrifice, duty, being focused on others and focused on God and they reject it. It sounds like a waste of a life!

‘If our goal in life is to seek happiness then we will find, like a mirage, that it will evade us. However, if we make it our aim to know Jesus, and to give up our selfish life to follow him and serve others, then we may just find something deeper than temporal happiness- we may discover true and lasting joy.’ (Michael Ots)

The irony of life is that because this is God’s world and we’ve been made to have a relationship with him, if you try and go your own way, and indulge your own self, not only will you never find lasting happiness, but you are enslaved by your own passions and lusts. Just ask the prodigal son; he thought the way of self-indulgence would bring freedom and happiness but it brought misery and enslavement. ‘At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.’ (Titus 3:3)

Jesus tells us to ‘deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him’. Is he sentencing us to a life of misery or a life of freedom and deep joy? How did he live? Did he live a life of self-denial? Of course, he did. Did he know suffering and take up his cross? Undoubtedly. Was he free and did he know joy? Yes. He lived the most beautiful and fulfilled life ever. He is our pattern. ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ (John 10:10)

Last week, we were looking at how the disciples had had wrong expectations about what kind of Messiah Jesus would be. They thought mainly in terms of a political Messiah and the glory he would bring back to Israel. It must have been shocking for them to hear Jesus set them straight. ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’ (verse 22)

The pattern for Jesus and his role as Messiah was suffering first, and then glory afterwards. Jesus must suffer and die to pay for the sins of his people. Only once he had provided purification for sin could he be raised to Heaven in glory, and sit down at the right hand of the Majesty. (Hebrews 1:3)

What Jesus’ disciples back then and what we today need to understand is that this pattern applies to us as well. The Christian life is far from easy. It involves self-denial and suffering. Most of the blessings will be in the future, but will go on eternally. We must walk in Jesus’ footsteps. ‘But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.’ (1 Peter 2 vs 20-21)

For the rest of our time this morning, let’s see what is involved in following a suffering Messiah, to follow in his footsteps. Remember that Jesus’ words here (verse 23) are just as much for us as for the disciples: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple…’ This is what Jesus expects of all his followers.

1. Jesus’ disciples deny themselves

What does this mean? It means that just as Peter denied Jesus in a negative way by saying he had nothing to do with Jesus, so we, in a positive way, say that we have nothing to do with our old sinful selves. We want nothing to do with self-righteousness. We no longer think we are good people who can earn God’s favour. We want nothing to do with self-sufficiency, thinking we have the resources to live a good life and don’t need God. We deny these things. We abandon them. We deny self-fulfilment, when it contradicts the ways of Christ.

This is something which we must do when we become Christians. We turn from our sins and from self-rule, and we say to Jesus: ‘Lord I want you to be on the throne of my heart. I want you to reign there and not me’. But as well as this being something taking place at conversion, it is also a life-long, daily task. All of us here must ‘keep on’ saying no to sinful self. We hand the reins over to Jesus.

This can be tough in a culture which encourages us that life is all about ‘me’- what I want and what makes me comfortable. Our culture says if it feels good and makes you happy then do it. Focus on your own happiness. What else is life for? You only get one life. Jesus comes and says the opposite: life has an eternal dimension, and following me means seeking first my Kingdom, and not your own kingdom. Again, the irony of this is we’re promised that if we do so, all these other things shall be given to us as well. We are never the losers when we hand the reins of our lives to Jesus.

2. Discipleship involves carrying a cross

What does this mean? In Jesus’ day, and it still should be today, carrying your cross was a shocking image of being a disciple. Prisoners would be forced to carry their cross, and this was a mark of great shame, and a time of significant suffering.

‘What the convict does under duress, the disciple of Christ does willingly. He voluntarily and decisively accepts the pain, shame and persecution that is going to be his… because of his loyalty to Christ and his cause.’ (William Hendriksen)

Isn’t it striking how honest Jesus is with us? Far from promising an easy time, Jesus says that following him will be really hard. It’s hard being totally different at school or at work or in your family. It is hard not fitting in. You might be laughed at or missed out for being a Christian. But you must embrace this, and take up your cross. The same thing happened to Jesus, only far worse.

For those in countries with severe persecution, taking up your cross might mean being rejected by your family, beaten, imprisoned or even martyrdom. ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.’ (Luke 6 v22)

The Christian life is a fight. We are at war with Satan, and he never gives us a day off. Jesus does not sugar-coat the Christian life. Rather, he openly says that being his disciple will mean a certain level of suffering, pain and rejection is coming our way.

3. Discipleship means following Jesus

The Christian life means that we don’t follow our friends or our culture or follow the crowd. We follow Jesus Christ. We love what he loves and hate what he hates. We copy him and imitate him. His priorities are our priorities.

We don’t just follow Jesus when times are good. Many professing Christians at university or college get involved in Christians unions, and I think that’s so important. However, many fall away from the faith when they leave university. Why is that? Well, at uni they have the support of many Christian friends, and the buzz of lots of social events. The churches are often large and have many people your own age. But will you follow Jesus when you move to a place which has a small church, and there are few Christians, and life is not going well, and no one seems to take much notice of you?

Will we follow Jesus when we lose a child, or our marriage is on the rocks, or we are made redundant or diagnosed with cancer, or our partner cheats on us? We must take up our cross daily, and follow Jesus daily. And because we follow one who was despised and rejected, don’t be surprised when you are despised and rejected. Is there anyone better to follow? No, there is not. And paradoxically, trying to go your own way will only mean you will lose your life: ‘For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.’ (Luke 6:22)

4. Discipleship is worth it

You might live for yourself and have a certain amount of happiness going your own way. You might work hard all your life, amass a lot of money, and enjoy a retirement of holidays, cars, fine dining and relaxation, or some of these things. That’s what the ‘rich fool’ does in Luke chapter 12. I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.’ (Luke 12:20-21)

Jesus uses the logic of eternal realities in this passage too. ‘What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?’ (verse 25) Imagine you run your life your way and amass a huge amount of money, several homes, an amazing pension, lovely cars, and all the while God is at the edges of your life. Will it be worth it? Life is short but eternity is long. One day each one of us must stand before God and give an account of our lives. I can guarantee that on that day, you will not regret having lived a life with Jesus and not self at the centre. And the persecution you have received will seem inconsequential compared with the reward which shall be yours. On the other hand, there will be those who bitterly regret their folly of living for self, but it will be too late for them.

What would this church look like if people indulged themselves, never got involved in anything particularly sacrificial, came more for what they could get than could give, and did their own thing? What would this church look like if you came in order to be a blessing to others, to magnify God, even when it cost you time and money and effort? Now that’s a great cross-shaped community.

What would your family look like if its individuals considered the needs of others first, were seeking God’s Kingdom first, and tried to follow in the footsteps of Jesus? What would your workplace look like if you took a significant interest in others, and stood up for Jesus in spite of any mocking? ‘… whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’ (Luke 14:27)

‘The only way to discover true happiness is to stop making that your goal, and instead to make something, or rather someone else your goal.’ (Michael Ots)

‘… everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Luke 14:11)