Have you been out to a restaurant recently? How was that experience? If you are like most, it might not have been exactly what you were hoping. Here is how it typically goes: You arrive and have to wait for a table for longer than expected. Then once you sit down the TV is dialed to some show you don’t really want to be distracted by (or have to shout over). Your server may or may not be all that nice or attentive or give much service at all. And everything is more expensive than you wish it were. But all those things may be acceptable as long as you get what you wanted to eat when you walked through the door. On the other hand, a restaurant may have the perfect ambiance, diligently attentive servers (shout out to all the great service workers out there!), reasonable prices, and everything else but if you don’t get what you wanted, then you will always leave utterly disappointed.
To an infinitely more significant extent, this is all true for the Lord’s perspective toward us. Some reject this idea and conceive of God as some careless grandfather who has no particular expectations for mankind. The Bible says differently. God is talked about as a judge filled with wrath against sin who will not tolerate rebellious disobedience (See: The Entire Bible). He has a will for our response to Him that we must get right or else we may find ourselves to be an utter and eternal disappointment to the One who created us in His image and has worked throughout history to restore our relationship with Him. So what does He want?
Some might say that God wants you to simply be a good person, or be a good neighbor / citizen, or follow the Ten Commandments, or go to church, or give money to church, or simply pursue your ideas for personal happiness. With all these disparate and competing answers, we need clarity. But people’s opinions are not God’s revelation so we need to turn to the Bible to find the answer(s) we are looking for. There are a variety of passages in Scripture where God has addressed this question. We see particular individuals like Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:26-31), Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), Moses (Exodus 3), Elijah (1 Kings 17-19), and Jeremiah among others to whom God set certain expectations in specific situations. And while these stories may give us some information regarding what God wants from us, we can also see that these particular instructions have limited application for us. We may then turn to passages like Deuteronomy 10:12-13, Micah 6:8, Matthew 22:34-40, and Romans 12:1-2 to see more general instructions that have relevance for all times and peoples. But still the laundry list of items in these (and similar) passages can be overwhelming as we try to boil down what God wants from us.
As with all questions, the best place to find a clear answer to what the Lord wants is to go straight to the source—the Lord Himself in the flesh. One of the simplest, most direct, and most fundamental expressions of what He wants from us is found at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew. There we read:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV, emphasis added)
Here in some of the Lord’s last words on Earth (and the very last recorded by His Apostle, Matthew) we are told what He wants—disciples. All the instructions we could find anywhere else in Scripture are summed up in this statement. But what is a disciple? What does it take to be a disciple? What is the benefit of being a disciple?
Given how significant this issue truly is, we will briefly discuss the first and last question for now and talk about the second later.
To put it simply, a disciple is a learner. But not a learner like we may typically think. At least in the contemporary Western world, being a learner means you go to a location, resource, or person and receive education only to then return to living your day-to-day life which your learning activities may only minimally impact. Discipleship is much more than this. Perhaps a word in common vernacular that more accurately hits on the idea is that of an apprentice. An apprentice gives his life over to the total influence of a mentor who teaches them how to think and behave. Their entire schedule of daily activity is dictated by the teacher-mentor. They follow (in ancient times, literally walking in the footsteps of) the manner of life of their teacher. They do not simply receive information, they undergo a transformation. A disciple is a learner who follows after their Master-Teacher and continues learning in these efforts to follow.
We see this in a variety of stories in the Gospels. In Matthew 4:18-22 Jesus calls a group of fishermen to give up their careers in order to follow Him and to become something different than what they were. In Matthew 8:18-22 and 16:24-26 we read Jesus’ statements, in the strongest of terms, that discipleship requires complete and total allegiance to Him and sacrifice of all others. This complete and utter devotion to learning from Christ our Leader and Teacher (or “Rabbi” as His contemporaries would have said) produces a phenomenal result—that we would become like Him (Matthew 10:24-25; Luke 6:40). It has always been God’s will from the beginning that He would have people who were like Him, children who would carry His image in the world (Genesis 1:26-27; Romans 8:29). And now this dream can come true if we give ourselves as disciples who will become like our Teacher. To be what God wants is to be a disciple, living a life of totally devoted to becoming like the Teacher.
Why Be a Disciple?
This is going to be a lot of work. Sacrificing your life. Pouring all your allegiance into One Person. Changing everything you are into something you do not yet know. We are compelled to ask: Why should I be a disciple? Surely the fact that Christ demands it should be enough, but that is not the only reason He gives. He promises us something else at the end of this passage. “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” If social media, dating apps, relationship frustration, love stories, conflict between people groups, and the rabid tribal alliances to sports teams and political affiliations teach us anything, it is that we as people crave to ‘be with’. We fight against isolation with every fiber of our being. We deeply need healthy, fulfilling relationships. Can I tell you something? There is only one Person who is stable and dynamic, loving and genuine, joyful and peaceful enough to satisfy all your needs. You need Him in your life. You need Him to be with you. You need to be His disciple.
Would you be His disciple? Whether you are ready right now or are even willing to consider the pursuit of discipleship, there is more that we need to consider regarding what it actually takes. Read the Master-Teacher’s story. Listen to His teachings. Start counting the cost to become what He wants you to be—His disciple.