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Second Quarter 2015 (April–June)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF LUKE
Week 4: April 18–24
COMMENTARY ON THE CALL TO DISCIPLESHIP
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This week’s lesson addresses what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. While in general the words of the lesson are not overtly wrong, nevertheless they reflect a lack of understanding of what qualifies a person to be a disciple.
In order to address discipleship from a biblical perspective according to New Testament teaching, I will start with Matthew 28:16-20 where Jesus gives his final instructions to the eleven disciples:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20).
It is the job of every Christ-follower to make disciples. In fact, every believer is to be a disciple and to teach other new believers how to be disciples. The prerequisite for being a disciple, however, is being born again. The lesson talk about the necessity of recognizing one’s sinfulness and thus having one’s relationship to Jesus changed by that recognition. It gives the example of Peter falling to his knees and crying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8).
The lesson does not discuss the necessity of believing in Jesus as the Sin Bearer; it just emphasizes that it is necessary to see one’s own sin in contrast to the God’s holiness. The Teachers Comments even state, on page 53, “The relationship of Peter to Jesus changed: from an acknowledgment of Jesus as a master—someone known in then area as a great teacher—to a joyful discover that Jesus is the Lord, the Messiah. How one experiences such a transition is the secret of discipleship.”
The problem here is that the lesson never acknowledges the necessity of accepting the reality that Jesus died for one’s sin, that one must repent and believe that Jesus is not just holy and the Messiah, but that one must submit to the Lord Jesus and receive Him as Savior.
This persistent lack of attention to the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus for humanity betrays Adventism’s discomfort with the “messiness” of the cross. Adventism wants a grace-filled God who is forgiving to the point of discarding justice. They do not like the biblical claim that God is just, and the just consequence of human sin—inherited from Adam so that we are born spiritually dead—is eternal death.
Adventism does not talk about human depravity. Rather, they focus on decision-making that acknowledges sin and chooses to become humble and obedient. What is needed, however, is not that bad humans become good but that dead humans—inherently dead because we are born “in Adam”—be made alive. We must be transferred out of the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Beloved Son (Col 1:13). This transfer is one we simply cannot make. Only God can transfer us, and the transfer occurs when we believe in the One whom He sent (Jn. 6:29).
It is this transfer from death to life on the basis of believing in the Sacrifice for our sin that puts us in the position of being disciples. When we have been born again, our mandate is to learn to live in trust of Jesus. We immerse ourselves in His Word, and the Holy Spirit who seals us when we believe with the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph. 1:13-14) imprints the truth in Scripture onto our hearts and into our minds, showing us how to surrender moment by moment in trust and obedience.
This surrender is NOT possible for anyone who is not born again.
Take up your cross
The lesson says this on page 49, “So, when the call to discipleship demands that I deny myself, I must be able to say I do not know me; self is dead. In its stead, Christ must live (Gal. 2:20). Second, to take up the cross daily is a call to experience self-crucifixion on a continual basis. Third, to follow demands that the focus and direction of life is Christ and Him alone.”
But HOW does one accomplish the above? From an Adventist perspective, these three steps are calls to self-denial. But how does one actually practice self-denial? Is it a commitment to asceticism? To continual guilt and self-purging and fear? To compulsive determinations to change?
These decisions and promises never work. We are powerless to continue them.
These comments about taking up one’s cross are coming from a human perspective, from a place of continually trying to figure out how to please God.
The cross we bear is NOT continual self-crucifixion. No! Jesus was crucified for us, once for all. If we trust Him, His crucifixion is already accounted to us. His death for our sin already is credited to our account in God’s eyes. Not only that, but Jesus’ own personal righteousness is already accredited to us.
Philippians 3:8-11 says,
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
When we have repented and believed in Jesus as our Sin Bearer and Substitute, we are made alive and sealed by the Holy Spirit. It is only to those who are born again that command to take up our cross daily is made. And here’s the reality which Adventism never understands nor teaches:
Our cross which we bear is not our bad back, our suffering, or self-denial. It is our relationship with Jesus.
Taking up our cross is an act only a born-again believer can do, and we bear our relationship with the risen Christ into a dark and hostile world. We will suffer for the gospel, Jesus promised that we would. We will be misunderstood and maligned. He said in John 15:18-25:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
The cross we bear as believers is our intimate relationship with the living Christ. This relationship is one of new birth and identity, and it is also one of adoption as a child of God (Rom. 8:14-17). This relationship automatically makes us able to be disciples, equipped by the indwelling Holy Spirit to bear Jesus’ life and truth into the world. We will be misunderstood. We can expect that, just as Jesus was misunderstood, falsely accused, and persecuted for righteousness sake, we will be also.
We can avoid persecution if we preserve our safety and adopt tolerant, accepting attitudes that assume all sincere people are safe to save. Jesus, however, told us that no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).
This message of Jesus, the only Savior who has become sin for us and died in our place, enduring the wrath of God against sin and being the propitiation of our sin to God, this is the message we bear as disciples. We do not bear the “health message” and a lifestyle agenda into the world, attracting people with physical strength and beauty. No! Our message is the Lord Jesus, crucified, buried, and risen again!
We bear the cross of our relationship with Him—and only those who have surrendered themselves to Him can bear this cross and be His disciples.
The call to discipleship is a call to trust Jesus. We cannot please God nor seek Him on our own. We are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3), and all our best efforts are utterly useless. Unless we bow the knee to the Lord Jesus who is our Substitute and who turned the wrath of God away from those who believe, we will just make ourselves crazy by trying to “get it right”.
Only Jesus got it right, and we only “get it right” when we trust Him, believing in His sacrifice and surrendering our desires and dreams to Him. He then brings us the work He created in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10). When we are His, He keeps His promises and gives us all we need, even our work for Him.
Lay down your compulsive efforts to please God and behold the Son, the beaten, bloody sacrifice lifted on a cross in shame—a willing Sacrifice that He did to fulfill His own righteous demands.
In Jesus is life, and when you receive that life, you will also receive your discipleship.