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Children and Disciples

Is there a difference between being born into the family of God and becoming a disciple (student) of Jesus? Or are these just two different ways of describing what it means to come into the family and kingdom of God? The way we answer this question will determine how we interpret the New Testament, and may also determine how confident we are that God really loves and accepts us as his own.

In my last post I mentioned that it seems to me that we are inclined to ride a pendulum that is moving away from what we see as the “sins of our fathers.”

For example, I think this is happening today in an emerging generation that wants to take Jesus seriously. Many young followers of Jesus believe that, in the past, the church has given way too much attention to getting people to pray “the sinners prayer” (i.e. making a decision to receive Christ as Savior”)– and too little attention to what it means to become a disciple of Christ. They prefer to emphasize that entering into the kingdom of Christ means bringing every area of our lives under the ruling influence of Jesus as King and Lord.

The concern and criticism seems valid to me. “Discipleship” and “Kingdom living” were not emphasized by a generation that gave more attention to the letters of Paul than to the Gospel Accounts of Jesus.

But here’s a problem. In the reaction against an over-emphasis, the pendulum is now moving in the other direction– with the consequence of confusing two distinct yet overlapping ideas.

The Scriptures are clear that being a disciple of Jesus is not easy. According to the Teacher, himself, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it (Luke 14:26-28).

Who among us can say with confidence that we have done this, and will continue to do so until the day we die? As much as we might want to follow Christ in this way, it is too high of a requirement to leave any of us with any real assurance.

This is why it is so important to remember that the Scriptures also tell us about one of the criminals who was crucified along side of Jesus. Recognizing his own guilt, this man merely turned to Jesus and said, “”Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

Then there is the sinner in the temple who prayed, “Lord be merciful to me the sinner.” And Jesus said this man went home “justified” (i.e. declared righteous in God’s eyes) (Luke 18:13-14).

Many other texts also add that “without merit”, and by only “by faith” in God’s provision for our salvation we are “born into the family of God” (Romans 4:5; Eph 2:8-9; John 3:16; 5:24; 1John 5:13).

The solution is to put both together. We are born into the kingdom and family of God by acknowledging our sin, and putting simple faith in Christ. In that relationship we are then called on to grow up and to mature in the One who tells us, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

Salvation is full of implications for us. As we grow in our understanding of the kingdom and family of God we see implications for “reconciliation” and “Christ-like” attitudes in every area of life. We have every reason to want join our Lord in caring for all that is in his heart (including active efforts to reach those who have not yet believed in him, racial reconciliation, taking poverty and the environment seriously, and being good for something in our jobs and neighborhoods).

There is no end to opportunities to grow in our disciple relationship to Christ– but only after we realize that we come into relationship with him, not by meeting the requirements of discipleship, but by simple, childlike faith in him.

I know that there are passages of Scripture that make it sound like becoming a disciple of Jesus is just another way of becoming a child of God. But that can be explained by the different way of using words like “saved”, and “soul” etc.

We can’t afford to miss that coming into God’s family is a simple act of trust that needs to be followed by whatever time we are given to grow up into the likeness of the One who saved us.

Because such discipleship and spiritual maturity does not come naturally,  we need to take seriously all of the factors that can keep us from ever growing up.

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8 Responses to “Children and Disciples”

  1. poohpity says:

    Iron sharpening iron. I had to ask for forgiveness this morning because of complaining about things that are going on in my church. I am suffering from a lot of the factors that keep one from growing up. I have to admit that this journey as a disciple of Christ is so hard in my own strength. Like I said when, in my own strength, following Jesus is hard it seems to be even harder to allow Him to do the work needed. He is able to change His church and me as part of it’s body, I have to let go of control and watch Him work. When I get in the way, I want my way not His and obviously I can make a horrible mess of things. He made everything and saw that it was very good and He alone is our HEAD. I pray that just in this day I allow Him to be in charge because I can no longer do it my strength is gone and that is the best place to be for me today. Thanks Mart for the sharpening.

  2. desert rose says:

    I followed most of your blog, but am confused why we should hate our mother and father etc. to come into the kingdom of God. We are to love one another. Just what does that mean?

  3. Mart De Haan says:

    desert rose, commentators consistently say that this is an idiomatic way of saying “love less” (i.e. love family less than God). Another way of saying this is that to live under God’s rule and influence we need to avoid making idols of anything (even family members for whom we have such right and natural affection).

  4. poohpity says:

    I find there are times when I allow my family or the church body to dictate who I am. I struggle for their praise and acceptance rather than the pure acceptance of Christ. As a society we look to other human beings to determine our success, worth, and belonging. To deny them and look to Christ is what God has wanted from the beginning of creation for us to put Him first in our lives and then we can love others with the pure love of God. If anything stands in the way of God first then it has taken His place. I guess we look at things so temporal we miss the big picture. Every page of the bible speaks of putting God first and the results of not doing that.

  5. daisymarygoldr says:

    Q- Is there a difference between being born into the family of God and becoming a disciple (student) of Jesus?
    A- There is no difference…it is a process that initiates with ‘new birth’ and continues as a ‘new living’.

    You are right, “The solution is to put both together…”

    First, we use our God-given free will to choose life and are born-again into God’s kingdom. The birth experience differs for each one of us- to some it is by words i.e. saying the sinner’s prayers while to others it may be a more action-based “leaving our nets to follow Him”. Post new birth, we then decide to live for Him by being disciples and following the teacher- the ‘truth’ who is Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Being His disciple does not mean that we renounce our ‘families’ but it means that our love for Him should exceed our love for or loyalty to everything and every one else in this world…at least that’s what I understand about Luke 14. Simply put- Whom should we choose if we had to choose between the two? It is a tough decision and could be very puzzling but not for someone who has tested and tasted the goodness and supreme love of the Father (John 15:13).
    BTW, Jesus loved and honored His earthly father & mother and siblings but always prioritized the task of attending to and completing His Heavenly Father’s business and purpose.

    The apostles and the 1st century AD Christians set a perfect example of choosing to love Him more than their own lives and the same is required of each one of us today- not by compulsion but of a willing desire to love Him more than anything else. “Wherever our treasure is, there the desires of our heart will also be.”(Mat 6:21)!

  6. drkennyg says:

    “Loving all other things less than God” – that’s a simple explanation of the matter that I too have been needing to hear and understand. We are justified by faith in Christ alone and our salvation is through Christ alone (…I am the Way, the Truth and the Light …) – our good works are an expression of our gratitude for this but do not count for anything else.

  7. Ted M. Gossard says:

    Yes, Mart, I agree. I think part of the solution to this is seen in the letters (“epistles”) in that when we receive Christ by faith we are then placed into, or are “in Christ.” That has huge implications for us, as we begin to live out what postionally is true of us “in Jesus.” That the old life is gone and a new life in Jesus has begun. In the work of progressive sanctification, or God making us holy.

    But for me “in Christ” is huge in understanding how these two things come together. And yet commands are still needed for us, as we see in Paul’s letters and elsewhere. So that we must live out what we are, in Jesus. And what we are embraces or includes every word Jesus told his disciples about what is required in following him.

    Just like I’ve heard it said, The New Testament just doesn’t know of any unbaptized believer (from Dr. Carl Hoch, in my past), so the New Testament doesn’t know of any believer whose life is not taken up in Jesus- so that anything less than following him completely is not a part of God’s agenda for this new life in God’s good work of progressive sanctification in us.

    Good to think through, Mart.

  8. followerinkc says:

    Good point on the fact that it needs to be both.

    I think the real issue is not that it is one or other, but that discipling, living like Jesus, doing Jesus things has been neglected in many churches. That is the point of contention with some ’emerging’ folks. A large church recently did some research and found exactly that. After teaching others how to do church, they’ve had an oops moment and realized they are not making disciples. Even in my old church, I asked an elder for someone to mentor me and he said he couldn’t think of anyone.

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