Four Marks of a Disciple
W. H. Boyd, Bridlington
(1) Obedience to His Word, John 8. 31 ; Matt. 7. 24.
(2) Love to the brethren, John 13. 35.
(3) Fruitbearing, John 15. 8.
(4) Crossbearing, Matt. 16. 24; 10. 38.
It is right to acknowledge that the Lord Jesus should determine what is required of those whom He has purchased with His precious blood. He gave Himself for us. (1) He was obedient to His Father and to what was foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures. His life and work were a fulfilment of these Scriptures, Luke 24. 25-27. All that was written of Him was fulfilled, and He will yet fulfil what is still future. (2) He proved His love: "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you", John 15. 9. (3) He was fruitful, having acquired many sons, Heb. 2. 10, 13, and well pleasing to God, Matt. 3.17. (4) He bore His cross, John 19. 17-18, despising the shame, Heb. 12. 2.
He is our example, and He has the authority and right to direct His disciples. It must grieve Him deeply when we neglect to follow His commands. The term "disciple" is associated with the word "discipline", and today there is a marked lack of discipline both in the world and in the things of God. We have been called unto liberty—but that does not mean that we can do as we like; liberty is not licence. We are not our own ; we have been bought with a price. How else can we please Him, but by taking heed to His Word?, John 14. 21. '
(1) Obedience to His Word will mark the disciple. The Lord's ways are never pleasing to the flesh—they that are in the flesh cannot please God, Rom. 8. 8. The flesh will show itself (a) when it prefers human wisdom to the wisdom of God, 1 Cor. 1. 21, and (b) when it ignores what pleases God and seeks to please itself. It will excuse non-compliance with His Word on the grounds that these parts of the Word are non-essential. But no scriptural injunction can be regarded as non-essential. In the garden of Eden, the tempter sought to cast doubt on the command of God to Adam, and to persuade the woman to disregard what God had stated to be essential for her blessing and His glory. When we neglect to do His commands, it is tantamount to saying that we know better than God Himself, what is best. It is certainly a denial of the Lordship of Christ; "why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say ?", Luke 6. 46. We may not always have full appreciation of the significance of what He requires of us, but is it not of greater joy to Him when we trust where we cannot see or understand ?
When the children of Israel murmured against Moses at Kadesh because there was no water. Num. 20. 1-13, he was told by God to "speak" to the rock, when an adequate supply of water would flow from it. At Rephidim he had been told to "smite" the rock to cause the water to flow, Exod. 17.6; was it essential that he should now "speak" to the rock? Alas, he failed to obey, and struck the rock twice. Num. 20. 11. It mattered to God, and so Moses forfeited the opportunity of taking Israel into the promised land, v. 12. Dare we presume to decide what should be acceptable or not acceptable to God? The Lord has His reasons for all that He requires of His people, and if we truly love Him, we will honour Him by our obedience, not questioning His wisdom. We shall always forfeit blessing when we fail to follow His commands. This involves a knowledge of the Scriptures and their teaching.
(2) Love of the Brethren will
also mark the true disciple. The early Christians were so marked that they earned the comment by others, "how these Christians love each other". They were a closely knit community rejoicing in the freshness of a new era brought in by the finished work of Christ. They enjoyed a deep sense of unity created by the Spirit of God. They were of one heart and one soul, Acts 4. 32, reflecting a realization that they needed each other in a common purpose to honour and glorify the Lord who had saved them. The love that they had for each other was not a sentimental emotion. His commandment in John 13. 34 is that "ye love one another; as I have loved you". His love was unselfish, sacrificial, self-effacing, and unchanging. The virtues, values and victories of that love are clearly set forth in 1 Corinthians 13. The fruit of the Spirit is "love . . .", Gal. 5. 22. The Lord Jesus has set the standard, which can only be achieved by the working of the Spirit of God in the yielded life. When His love fills the heart, there is no room for bitterness or jealousy. Love ever seeks the good of others. It puts the best construction on another's conduct. None of us can judge the motives of another's heart but He knows, and what is done for Him and in His Name will not lose its reward.
(3) Fruitbearing. The fruitful life glorifies the Father. Fruit is an evidence of life, and fruit that is pleasing to Him is born of the activity of the Holy Spirit working ungrieved in the heart of the disciple, Gal. 5 22. It is the realization of union with Christ, John 15.4-5. Only as we abide in Him and He in us can acceptable fruit be found. In the natural realm the fruit declares the character of the tree, "by their fruits ye shall know them", Matt. 7. 20. The Scriptures make it quite clear what glorifies the Father; indeed, what our lives produce either glorifies Him or grieves Him, it either delights or dishonours Him, cf. Isa. 1. 2-4. 16-19. The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness and truth, Eph. 5. 9. Without love, it is clear that what God desires cannot be produced ; in fact, without it those qualities, so desirable, as seen in Galatians 5. 22-23 cannot blossom. Joy expresses the exultation of love; peace its restfulness; long-suffering its enduring grace; gentleness its activity: goodness its ministry in society ; faith its triumph in testings ; meekness its submission in discipline; temperance its balance in spiritual virtues. With such fruit God is well pleased, for it derives from His own outworking in the surrendered heart.
(4) Crossbearing. Christ never promised His followers ease and freedom from suffering. Indeed, He warned of the hardships and dangers. He did not say, "Follow me, and I will make you popular; you will have wealth, ease, comfort and honour in abundance; I will make you a great man". In the divine order of things, burdens are to be borne which precede rest and glory. Suffering is to come before reigning, 2 Tim. 2. 1 2. "Let him deny himself, and take up his cross." The self-life must go—then there follows the voluntary offering of oneself. The cross speaks of sacrifice, reproach and death.
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease
While others fought to win the prize.
And sailed thro' bloodlike seas?
The state of the child of God in this world is a militant one. It is a warfare described by words such as "fight, wrestle, contend, strive". The servant is not greater that his Lord—He was ever conscious of the cost in connection with His mission, but for the joy set before Him He endured.
"Taking" is linked with "following", Matt. 16. 24b; to follow close to Him is to be under the shadow of His wings, Psa. 63. 7-8. Being alive to Christ means death to self. Paul followed his Lord even to the cross. Gal. 2. 20; Phil. 3. 10. Are we truly His disciples? Are we characterized by obedience, love, fruitfulness and identification with Him in a world which rejects and disowns Him?