Have you ever pondered the question: What is a true disciple of Jesus? How does one become a disciple? Or, what special qualities would a disciple possess? In attempting to answer these questions, there is no better place to start than the Gospel of Luke. Contained within the Gospel are many examples to help us discover just the answers that we are in search of. Within this short investigation into Luke's view of discipleship, we will review a few key scriptures, examine their possible meanings, and attempt to find a personal relevance within them. Although this short exercise is limited in comprehensiveness due to its brevity, it can give us a small glimpse into what Luke had in mind regarding the discipleship of Jesus Christ.
Hating One's Life and Family
"Great crowds were traveling with him (Jesus), and he turned and addressed them, 'If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."(14:25-26) Jesus turns to this crowd and speaks to them in the strongest possible terms: Unless a person hates even his close family members, even his own life, he can't be a disciple. Jesus states something in a striking, unforgettable way, a way that challenges us and forces us to think. I think that's what he's doing here. What does Jesus mean by telling us that we must hate our closest family members? He is contrasting our allegiance to Jesus in the strongest possible way. No earthly tie, however close, must take precedence over our allegiance to and obedience of Jesus. He is Number One -- by far! No person even comes close. Now this is no excuse to treat family members shabbily or with disrespect. But it does mean that following Jesus is the first priority--even if it is painful, difficult, and misunderstood. Our parent's wishes don't come first; Jesus' direction does. Our spouse's and children's desires don't come first; Jesus' direction does.
Taking Up Your Cross Daily
Then he said to all: "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it ." (9:23-24) The key to understanding this passage is to discern the meaning of "take up his cross." Unfortunately, our understanding of this phrase is clouded by the way the phrase is used in the English language. Most people equate "my cross" with loads, burdens, and misfortunes. This is an extremely common way of understanding "bearing one's cross," but it is not really what Jesus meant. "Taking Up The Cross" actually means to make a specific choice even though one knows that by making that choice it will be a heavy burden. A better definition of Bearing The Cross is carrying a burden. The cross is an affliction that tries one's virtue, steadfastness, or patience. To take up your cross daily would mean to willingly accept the death of our own self-driven life, die to own our desires daily, and be open and willing to endure whatever physical, emotional, or societal persecution that ensues, and follow Jesus. To be a disciple requires full commitment and anything less will not suffice.
Giving Up Everything
In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple. (14:33) The distinctive property of disciples is the abandonment with which they put aside all competing securities in order that they might refashion their lives and identity according to the norms of the kingdom of God. We see this attitude personified in some famous disciples:
-Peter, James, and John leave their nets (5:11).
-Levi leaves his lucrative tax collecting business (5:27-28).
-Zacchaeus gives half his fortune to the poor (19:8)
-The Rich Official is unwilling to renounce his wealth and follow, and goes sadly away (18:22)
The Visibility of Light
No one who lights a lamp hides it away or places it [under a bushel basket], but on a lamp stand so that those who enter might see the light. The lamp of the body is your eye. When your eye is sound, then your whole body is filled with light, but when it is bad, then your body is in darkness.(11:33-34) The Christian life involves the whole body and all human action. The way people conduct themselves determines the persons they will become. Filled with faith, these people, by their brightness will lead others from darkness into the light of faith.
Temptations To Sin
He said to his disciples, "Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. Be on your guard! If a brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, [I am sorry], you should forgive him."(17:1-4) Luke injects a note of reality stating that as long as there are Christians, there will be scandals. As great a sin as it is to lead one into temptation, it is far greater to do so to a "little one." Where there is sin, there must be forgiveness, and Luke gracefully connects the two. This is another example of mercy and tenderness that are so much a part of Luke's Gospel. This mercy and tenderness, however, are not to be regarded as permission for further injury. Those who sin are to be rebuked, and if sinners repent, they are to be forgiven. The Gospel sees rebuke and forgiveness as a means of achieving both personal salvation and social justice. On the other hand, lest repentance and forgiveness be exercised on a quid pro quo basis, the saying continues with the proviso that because sins or even the same sin will occur numerous times, it must be forgiven each time the sinner repents. We are to imitate divine forgiveness in its limitlessness.
The Salt of Christianity
Salt is good, but if salt itself loses its taste, with what can its flavor be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor the manure pile; it is thrown out...(14:34-35) Salt was considered an essential of life, It was used for both flavoring and preservation. In Jesus' day salt was obtained from evaporation from the Dead Sea, but it was far from pure. It was often mixed with greater or lesser concentrations of other salts. It is possible for all the Sodium Chloride to be leached out of a mixture of salts so all that is left is stale and useless. It is impossible for salt to lose its tang, but it is possible for what appears to be salt to have all its true salt washed out of it. Then, even though the appearance remains, the essence is lost. You may have heard the question, "if you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" If we have so conformed our ways and words to the world around us that they can't see Christ in us--that they are surprised to find out that we are Christians--then maybe we aren't very salty at all.
After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." (3:21-22) Luke regularly presents Jesus at prayer at important points in his ministry; here at his baptism; at the choice of the twelve (6:12); before Peter's confession (9:18); at the transfiguration (9:28); when he teaches his disciples to pray (11:1); at the Last Supper (22:32); on the Mount of Olives (22:42); on the cross (23:46).
So what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? In this short investigation we were only able to skim the surface in regard to Luke's perspective of this complex question. However, we did identify seven key elements as follows:
1. Hating one's life; nothing in life should have precedence over our allegiance and obedience to Jesus.
2. Taking up our cross daily; willingness to accept the death of our own self-driven life and accepting and enduring any difficulty that transpires due to our choice to follow Christ and to live a truly Christian life.
3. Giving up everything; worldly possessions have no spiritual value and can often present as obstacles in the way of a disciple.
4. The visibility of light; by living what we believe, we are able to reflect the light of Christ to others, providing an example of God's truth, love, and purity.
5. Temptation to sin; although we strive toward spiritual perfection, we are not perfect by any means, we will be tempted and at times will fail, giving in to the temptation. We are to continue to show repentance, fight against ongoing temptation, ask for and give forgiveness with limitlessness.
6. The Salt of Christianity; we are to stay the course born from our baptism. We are to keep Christ centered in our actions, and continually repress the sinful worldly ways.
7. Prayer; prayer should be the foundation of all important life decisions. We should seek and listen to God's guidance throughout each day, and especially before making any important decisions.
If only these seven elements of Lucan Discipleship could be followed, we surely would be on a path toward following a Christian way of life. God revealed to us, through his son Jesus Christ, an example of what it is to be fully human, as well as presenting a road map to help assist us toward entrance into an eternity with the God almighty; an eternity of Happiness, Peace, and Love beyond our comprehension.