The best of Israel could only be manifest after the worst of Israel had been cast off.
The book of Exodus details the terrible but necessary event of an entire generation (that had come out of Egypt) dying off in order to inaugurate a Divine promise of lasting freedom. So it is with anyone who would be a disciple of Jesus Christ, for such has become a new creation, having put off the old man with his old deeds and having put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him (2 Cor. 5:17; Colossians 3:10). Fortunately, under the New Covenant we do not have to die physically before a putting on of this “new man,” for the Holy Spirit empowers us at Salvation and through baptism into Christ’s death as our old self is crucified with Him that we should no longer be slaves of sin (Romans 6:3-6).
What then is discipleship? Certainly it is not attaching a bit of tepid Bible study or lukewarm prayer-time to an over-burdened daily agenda. Truly it is not partaking of a six week or one year class that, while full of knowledge and inspiration, serves to merely define the term. Discipleship, at its core, is living with Jesus, as the Twelve did. Day and night, week after week, month after month, year after year… even after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven.
How is this possible? Examine the example Jesus Himself set. Before His Ascension into heaven, Jesus said to His disciples, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high… You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me…” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8)
The disciples obeyed His command and on the day of Pentecost they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). Despite His own perfect life, Jesus did not begin His public ministry until after His baptism when “He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him” (Matt. 3:16). This parallel conveys the true mark of a disciple as being commissioned, empowered, and continually led by the Holy Spirit.
In the decades before His baptism and receiving the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus caused minimal disturbance. So it was with the disciples, for during the few years preceding Pentecost it was Jesus who gained the majority of attention as He taught and lived His Truth. But after Pentecost, the disciples were soon “turning the world upside down” as the Spirit transformed their ministry and accomplished His work through them! (Acts 17:6)
Highly notable is the personal transformation in Peter. Prior to Pentecost he rebuked Jesus, he denied Jesus three times, he cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, and he fell asleep in Gethsemane, failing to watch and pray during Jesus’ severest hour of need. After Pentecost, Peter’s brashness and insecurities all but disappear and his latent strengths are honed into a zealousness and love for his Lord and Savior to the point that even his words carried the thunder of Divine authority and conviction. At his first sermon in Jerusalem the religious leaders “were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?'” (Acts 2:37) So should be the response to every disciple’s preaching and witness!
Today there is much confusion, intolerance, and infighting within the Church concerning the ministry and operation of the Holy Spirit. This serves only to cancel the spirit of love that Jesus said proves genuine discipleship (Acts 14:23), for we should no longer be children tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, but rather, speaking the truth in love, may we grow up into Christ (Ephesians 4:14-15).
And that truth is this: the Holy Spirit is not an emotional experience, He is not an arcane influence, and He is not a force or aura to be worn or manipulated. He is in fact a Person, the third Person of the Triune Godhead, equal in power and majesty with the Father and the Son (Hebrews 9:14). As disciples, we are called to cooperate with Him as He works to draw the unsaved and uncertain into a restored relationship with the Lord God.
False teaching within the Church has also impressed upon the weak-minded that the Holy Spirit and the bestowing of His spiritual gifts are reserved for the super-spiritual Christians among us. Luke 11:13 corrects this thinking and illuminates the splendid truth of God’s graciousness through Jesus’ own words, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” Clearly, there is no second-class citizenry with regard to real discipleship (Acts 10:34-35).
The apostle Paul states in Galatians 5:24-25 that those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires, and therefore, if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit- an admonition proving the need for the Spirit’s constant activity in our lives lest we become filled with the spirit of our own will, the spirit of emotionalism, or even the spirit of antichrist which pervades the earth.
During a visit to Ephesus Paul discovered an apparently lifeless church, despite its grasp of basic knowledge and understanding of Jesus’ identity and what He accomplished. Paul asked if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed the Gospel, and they answered that they had not even heard of the Holy Spirit! Immediately, Paul instructed them, laid hands on them, and the Ephesian church experienced its own Pentecost (Acts 19:1-7), eventually becoming the most prominent church community in Asia Minor!
Is your life characterized more by weakness, futility, and failure than by an active and successful ministry of power and cooperation with the Holy Spirit? If so, consider that God is not an Author of confusion but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33), and that His Holy Spirit will teach you all things (John 14:26). Also, though the cost of discipleship is high in that our crosses are not easy to bear (Matt. 10:38), the eternal reward gloriously prevails as attested by Jesus’ own words in John 15:7-11: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you… These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.”
Jon Birch is cofounder of Recover Church (recoverchurch.com),a discipleship-driven movement purposing to recover and promote the early church model as recorded in the book of Acts where Christ, close relationships, and discipleship-apologeticswere the pillars of Christianity.