True Discipleship
  By William MacDonald

    The Saviour is not looking for men and women who will give their spare evenings to Him – or their weekends – or their years of retirement. Rather He seeks those who will give Him first place in their lives. "He looks today, as He has ever looked, not for crowds drifting aimlessly in His track, but for individual men and women whose undying allegiance will spring from their having recognized that He wants those who are prepared to follow the path of self-renunciation which He trod before them." (H. A. Evan Hopkins)

    Nothing less than unconditional surrender could ever be a fitting response to His sacrifice at Calvary. Love so amazing, so divine, could never be satisfied with less than our souls, our lives, our all.

    The Lord Jesus made stringent demands on those who would be His disciples – demands that are all but overlooked in this day of luxury-living. Too often we look upon Christianity as an escape from hell and a guarantee of heaven. Beyond that, we feel that we have every right to enjoy the best that this life has to offer. We know that there are those strong verses on discipleship in the Bible, but we have difficulty reconciling them with our ideas of what Christianity should be.

    We can accept the fact that soldiers give their lives for patriotic reasons. But that "blood, sweat and tears" should characterize the life of a follower of Christ somehow seems remote and hard to grasp.

    And yet the words of the Lord Jesus are clear enough. There is scarcely any room for misunderstanding if we accept them at their face value. Here are the terms of discipleship as laid down by the Saviour of the world:

    1. A Supreme Love for Jesus Christ. "If any man come to Me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). This does not mean that we should ever have animosity or ill-will in our hearts toward our relatives, but it does mean that our love to Christ should be so great that all other loves are hatred by comparison. Actually, the most difficult clause in this passage is the expression, "yea, and his own life also." Self-love is one of the stubbornest hindrances to discipleship. Not until we are willing to lay down our very lives for Him are we in the place where He wants us.

    2. A Denial of Self. "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself…" (Matt. 16:24). Denial of self is not the same as self-denial. The latter means forgoing certain foods, pleasures, or possessions. But denial of self means such complete submission to the lordship of Christ that self has no rights or authority at all. It means that self abdicates the throne. It is expressed in the words of Henry Martyn: "Lord, let me have no will of my own, or consider my true happiness as depending in the smallest degree on anything that can befall me outwardly, but as consisting altogether in conformity to Thy will."

"My glorious Victor, Prince Divine,
Clasp these surrendered hands in Thine;
At length my will is all Thine own,
Glad vassal of a Saviour’s Throne."

– H. G. C. Moule

    3. A Deliberate Choosing of the Cross. "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross…" (Matt.16:24). The cross is not some physical infirmity or mental anguish; these things are common to all men. The cross is a pathway that is deliberately chosen. It is "a path which so far as this world goes is one of dishonor and reproach" – C. A. Coates. The cross symbolizes the shame, persecution and abuse which the world heaped upon the Son of God, and which the world will heap on all who choose to stand against the tide. Any believer can avoid the cross simply by being conformed to the world and its ways.

    4. A Life Spent in Following Christ. "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24). To understand what this means, one need simply ask himself, "What characterized the life of the Lord Jesus?" It was a life of obedience to the will of God. It was a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. It was a life of unselfish service for others. It was a life of patience and longsuffering in the face of the gravest wrongs. It was a life of zeal, of expenditure, of self-control, of meekness, of kindness, of faithfulness and devotion (Gal. 5:22-23). In order to be His disciples, we must walk as He walked. We must exhibit the fruit of Christ-likeness (John 15:8).

    5. A Fervent Love for All Who Belong to Christ. "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35). This is the love that esteems others better than oneself. It is the love that covers a multitude of sins. It is the love that suffers long and is kind. It vaunts not itself and is not puffed up. It does not behave itself unseemly; seeks not its own, is not easily provoked; thinks no evil. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Without this love, discipleship would be a cold, legalistic asceticism.

    6. An Unswerving Continuance in His Word. "If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed" (John 8:31). For real discipleship there must be continuance. It is easy enough to start well, to burst forth in a blaze of glory. But the test of reality is endurance to the end. Any man who looks back after putting his hand to the plow is not fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62). Spasmodic obedience to the Scriptures will not do. Christ wants those who will follow Him in constant, unquestioning obedience.

    "Keep me from turning back. The handles of my plow with tears are wet, The shears with rust are spoiled, and yet, and yet, My God! My God! Keep me from turning back."

    7. A Forsaking of All to Follow Him. "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:33). This is perhaps the most unpopular of all Christ’s terms of discipleship, and may well prove to be the most unpopular verse in the Bible. Clever theologians can give you a thousand reasons why it does not mean what it says, but simple disciples drink it down eagerly, assuming that the Lord Jesus knew what He was saying.

    What is meant by forsaking all? It means an abandonment of all one’s material possessions that are not absolutely essential and that could be used in the spread of the Gospel.

    The man who forsakes all does not become a shiftless loafer; he works hard to provide for the current necessities of his family and himself. But since the passion of his life is to advance the cause of Christ, he invests everything above current needs in the work of the Lord and leaves the future with God. In seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, he believes that he will never lack food and clothing. He cannot conscientiously hold on to surplus funds when souls are perishing for want of the Gospel. He wants to obey the Lord’s injunction against laying up treasure on earth. In forsaking all, he offers what he cannot keep anyway, and what he has ceased to love.

    These then are the seven terms of Christian discipleship. They are clear and unequivocal. The writer realizes that in the act of setting them forth, he has condemned himself as an unprofitable servant. But shall the truth of God be forever suppressed because of the failure of God’s people? Is it not true that the message is always greater than the messenger? Is it not proper that God be true and every man a liar? Should we not say with an old worthy, "Thy will be done though in my own undoing."

    Confessing our past failure, let us courageously face up to the claims of Christ upon us and seek henceforth to be true disciples of our glorious Lord.

"My Master, lead me to Thy door;
Pierce this now willing ear once more;
Thy bonds are freedom; let me stay
With Thee to toil, endure, obey."

– H. G. C. Moule

Counting the Cost

    The Lord Jesus never tried to coax men into a glib profession of faith. Neither did He seek to attract a large following by preaching a popular message. In fact, whenever people began to swarm after Him, He would turn to them and sift them by setting forth the sternest terms of discipleship.

    On one of these occasions, our Lord warned those who would follow Him that they should first count the cost. He said: "For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace? (Luke 14:28-32).

    He likened the Christian life to a building operation and a war.

    It is sheer folly to start building a tower, He said, unless you are sure you have enough funds to complete it. Otherwise, the unfinished structure will stand as a monument to your lack of foresight.

    How true! It is one thing to make a decision for Christ in the warm emotion of a mass evangelistic rally. But it is quite another thing to deny one’s self, and take up the cross daily, and follow Christ. Although it costs nothing to become a Christian, it costs plenty to be a consistent believer walking in a path of sacrifice, separation and suffering for Christ’s sake. It is one thing to begin the Christian race well, but it is quite another thing to slug it out, day after day, through fair weather and foul, through prosperity and adversity, through joy and through grief.

    A critical world is watching. By some strange instinct, it realizes that the Christian life deserves everything or nothing. When it sees an out-and-out Christian, it may sneer, and scoff and ridicule – yet inwardly, it has deep respect for the man who recklessly abandons himself to Christ. But when it sees a half-hearted Christian, it has nothing but contempt. It begins to mock him, saying, "This man began to build, and was not able to finish. He made a big commotion when he was converted, but now he is very much like the rest of us. He started out at high speed, but now he is spinning his wheels." And so the Saviour said, "You had better count the cost!"

    His second illustration concerned a king who was about to declare war on another. Would it not be sensible for him first to figure whether his 10,000 soldiers would be able to defeat the enemy’s army amounting to twice that amount? How absurd it would be if he should declare war first, then reconsider when the armies were marching toward each other. The only thing left would be to hoist the white flag, and to send out a surrender team, abjectly crawling in the dust, and meekly asking for terms of surrender.

    It is no exaggeration to liken the Christian life to war. There are the fierce enemies – the world, the flesh and the devil. There are discouragements, bloodshed, and suffering. There are the long, weary hours of vigil, and the yearning for the light of day. There are tears and toil and testings. And there is daily death.

    Anyone who sets out to follow Christ should remember Gethsemane, Gabbatha and Golgotha, and then count the cost. It is either an absolute commitment to Christ, or a sniveling surrender with all that that means of disgrace and degradation.

    With these two illustrations, the Lord Jesus warned His hearers against any impulsive decisions to be His disciples. He could promise them persecution, tribulation and distress. They should first count the cost!

    And what is the cost? The next verse answers the question: "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:33). The cost is "everything" – all a man has and is. It meant this for the Saviour; it cannot mean less for those who will follow Him. If He who was rich beyond all description voluntarily became poor, shall His disciples win the crown by some less costly means?

    Then the Lord Jesus concluded His discourse with this summation: "Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned?" (Luke 14:34).

    In Bible times, it seems that people did not have pure salt, such as we have on our tables today. Their salt had various impurities, such as sand, etc. It was somehow possible for the salt to lose its saltiness; the residue was insipid and worthless. It could not be used either as soil or fertilizer. At times it was used to make a footpath. Thus it was "good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men" (Matt. 5:13).

    The application of the illustration is clear. There is one main purpose of the Christian’s existence – to glorify God by a life that is utterly poured out for Him. The Christian may lose his savour by laying up treasures on earth, by catering to his own comfort and pleasure, by trying to make a name for himself in the world, by prostituting his life and talents on the unworthy world.

    If the believer misses the central goal of his existence, then he has missed everything. He is neither utilitarian nor ornamental. His fate is, like the savourless salt, to be trampled under foot of men – by their derision, and contempt and scorn.

    The final words are these: "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matt. 11:15). Often when our Lord had uttered some hard saying, He added these words. It is as if He knew that all men would not receive them. He knew that some would try to explain them away, to dull the sharp edge of His cutting demands.

    But He knew also that there would be open hearts, young and old, who would bow to His claims as being worthy of Himself.

    So He left the door open! "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." Those who hear are the ones who count the cost and still say:

"I have decided to follow Jesus,
Tho’ no one joins me, still I will follow,
The world behind me, the Cross before me,
No turning back, no turning back."

The Shadow of Martyrdom

    When a man is truly committed to Jesus Christ, it seems to be a matter of no importance to him whether he lives or dies. All that matters is that the Lord be glorified.

    In the book, The Triumph of John And Betty Stam, a note is repeated throughout – "that…Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death" (Phil. 1:20).

    The same undertone is found in the writings of Jim Elliott, martyred missionary to the Aucas. While still a student at Wheaton College, he wrote in his diary, "I am ready to die for the Aucas."

    At another time he wrote, "Father, take my life, yea, my blood if Thou wilt, and consume it with Thine enveloping fire. I would not save it for it is not mine to save. Have it, Lord, have it all. Pour out my life as an oblation for the world. Blood is only of value as it flows before Thine altar."

    It seems that many of God’s heroes reached this same place in their dealings with God. They realized that "except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24). They were willing to be that corn of wheat.

    This attitude is exactly what the Saviour taught His disciples, "Whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it" (Luke 9:24).

    The more we think of it, the more reasonable it seems.

    First of all, our lives do not belong to us anyway. They belong to the One who valued us with the cost of His precious blood. Can we selfishly cling to that which is Another’s? C. T. Studd answered the question for himself: "I had known about Jesus dying for me, but I never understood that if He died for me, then I did not belong to myself. Redemption means buying back, so that if I belong to Him, either I had to be a thief and keep what was not mine, or else I had to give up everything to God. When I came to see that Jesus Christ had died for me, it did not seem hard to give up all for Him."

    Secondly, we are all going to die anyway if the Lord does not come in the meantime. Would it be a greater tragedy to die in the service of the King or as a mere accident statistic? Was Jim Elliott not right when he said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

    Thirdly, it is unanswerable logic that if the Lord Jesus died for us, the least we could do would be to die for Him. If the servant is not above his master, what right do we have to go to heaven more comfortably than the Lord Jesus did? It was this consideration that prompted Studd to say, "If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him."

    Finally, it is criminal to hug our lives when through their reckless abandonment eternal blessing might flow to our fellow men. People die to rescue loved ones from blazing buildings. Still others die in battle to save their country from enemy powers. What are the lives of people worth to us? Can we say with F. W. H. Myers:

"Only like souls I see the folk there under,
Bound who should conquer,
Slaves who should be kings,
Sharing their one hope with an empty wonder,
Sadly contented with a show of things.

"Then with a rush the intolerable craving
Shivers throughout me like a trumpet call –
Oh, to save these! To perish for their saving,
Die for their life, be offered for them all."

    Not all are required to lay down their lives as martyrs. The stake, the spear, the guillotine are reserved for a select few, relatively speaking. But each of us can have the martyr spirit, the martyr zeal, the martyr devotion. Each of us can live as those who have already abandoned their lives to Christ.

The Rewards of True Discipleship

    A life that is abandoned to the Lord Jesus has its own deep reward. There is a joy and pleasure in following Christ that is life in its truest sense.

    The Saviour repeatedly said, "He that loseth his life for My sake shall find it." In fact, this saying of His is found in the four Gospels more frequently than almost anything else He said (see Matthew 10:39; 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33; John 12:25). Why is it repeated so often? Is it not because it sets forth one of the most fundamental principles of the Christian life, namely, that life hugged for self is life lost, but life poured out for Him is life found, saved, enjoyed, and kept for eternity?

    To be a half-hearted Christian can only insure a miserable existence. To be out-and-out for Him is the surest way of enjoying His best.

    To be a true disciple is to be a bondslave of Jesus Christ and to find that His service is perfect freedom. There is liberty in the step of all who can say, "I love my Master; I will not go out free."

    The disciple is not bogged down by petty affairs or passing things. He is concerned with eternal matters, and, like Hudson Taylor, enjoys the luxury of few things to care for. He may be unknown, and yet he is well known. Though constantly dying, yet he persistently lives. He is chastened but not killed. Even in sorrow, he is rejoicing. Although poor himself, he makes many rich. He himself has nothing, yet he possesses all things (2 Cor. 6:9-10).

    And if it can be said that the life of true discipleship is the most spiritually satisfying life in this world, it can be said with equal certainty that it will be the most rewarded in the age to come. "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works" (Matt. 16:27).

    Therefore, the truly blessed man in time and in eternity is the one who can say with Borden of Yale, "Lord Jesus, I take hands off, as far as my life is concerned. I put Thee on the throne in my heart. Change, cleanse, use me as Thou shalt choose."

    Taken from True Discipleship by William MacDonald. Published by ECS Ministries, P.O. Box 1028, Dubuque, IA, 52004-1024. Copyright 1962. Used by permission. Books and courses can be obtained from ECS Ministries at