The Marks of a Disciple

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Jermaine Wilson experienced tremendous transformation. He grew up in Leavenworth, Kanson and started to sell drugs out of his childhood apartment at an early age. He was eventually incarcerated at the maximum-security wing at Lansing Correctional, a state prison in Kansas where he had a realization. “If I don’t change,” he thought, “I’m either going to spend the rest of my life in prison or dead in a casket.” In a strange turn of events, Jermaine is now the mayor of Leavenworth, according to a story that air on CBS earlier this year. Jermaine credits the transformation to God, education, and volunteer work. After prison, he started serving his community and got his felony record expunged, paving the way for a political run.

Jesus used a parable of the vine and the branches to teach us about spiritual transformation in John 15:1-17. Like Jermaine Wilson, the disciples experienced a transformation while they followed Jesus. In one sense, they become disciples the moment they said, “yes” to Jesus. In another very real sense, they didn’t become disciples until they put their faith in the resurrected Jesus. (John 20:29)

The parable of the vine and the branches invites the question, “When does an unbeliever become a disciple?” This metaphor and the explanation follows gives us three marks of a disciple. Notice that these marks are dynamic, not static, meaning they grow and develop over time.

1. Disciples build a friendship with Jesus.

Social media has changed the way we view friendship. It used to be that you had to be physically present with someone to make a friend, but now you can become friends with people all over the world with the click of a button. Social media can increase our ability to communicate, but it can’t increase our capacity to care.

A friendship with Jesus is based on trust and affection. Friends depend on each other because they have a two-way bond. Jesus calls us to “abide in me and I in you” (v. 4). We are branches and branches can do nothing by themselves, they are just sticks (v. 5).

Friends are better than servants because they care for each other. Jesus considers us friends because he gave his life for us (v. 13). He also reveals God’s Word and will to us (v. 15).

It takes time to build a friendship with Jesus. It takes up to three years to grow grapes on a vine. After the vine and branches are established, grapes grow like the life of the vine moves into them. Jesus could have downloaded everything he wanted his disciples to directly into their brain the moment he called them, but he didn’t because he wanted to develop a relationship with them.

2. Disciples bear fruit that lasts.

Spiritual fruit is the Word of God put into practice. In a broad sense, it’s every act done in obedience to Christ. Spiritual fruit is every display of Christ-like character, ever prayer prayed in accordance with God’s will, and every deed done to bring unbelievers to faith in Christ. The beauty of the vineyard is in the sheer magnitude of grapes produced, not just one particular grape. In a narrow sense, its ever act of love done for another believer (more about that in a moment).

God prunes us to make us more fruitful. The vinedresser removes all the old growth to make room for new growth and fruit. God uses His Word to prune and clean us (v. 3). He works to remove things in our lives that get in the way of our fruitfulness. Those things might be sinful habits, misplaced priorities, or even harmful relationships.

People who don’t bear fruit aren’t disciples, they’re imposters (v.6). True spiritual fruit remains to the end. Anyone can do something that looks spiritual on the outside. Only the deeds done in the power of God will make a lasting impact.

3. Disciples demonstrate love for other believers.

Spiritual fruit has a broad and a narrow definition (see the previous point). Demonstrating love for other believers is a prominent mark of a disciple because grows out of the first and second Greatest Commands revealed by Jesus in Matthew 22:35-40.  The first command is assumed in this passage while the second command is reinforced (v. 9).

We must follow Jesus’ example in demonstrating love for others. Jesus laid down his life for the ones he loved – his friends. We must show love to everyone we meet as our “neighbor,” but we have a special responsibility to love our fellow disciples.

Our special relationship with Christ must not become a source of pride. He chose us, we did not choose him (v. 16). Back to the parable, he planted us we did not plant ourselves.

In summary, an unbeliever becomes a true disciple when he or she builds a friendship with Jesus, bears fruit that lasts, and demonstrates love for other believers. These activities cannot be accomplished without the transforming power of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Have you tapped into that power?

Photo by Nacho Domínguez Argenta on Unsplash

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The Resurrection and the Gospel​​

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Easter is a big deal. It’s a big deal because it’s the oldest festival celebrated by the Church. In our day and age, Easter has also become the heart of the spring season with warm weather, baby animals, and family gatherings. Experts expect that Americans will spend over 18 billion dollars in 2019 on Easter clothes, food, decorations, and candy which means Easter also has a huge impact on our economy.

Easter is an even bigger deal because it commemorates Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The resurrection itself is a big deal because it is central to the Gospel – the main message of Old and New Testaments. Well-know Pastor, John MacArthur, has said, “The truth of the resurrection gives life to every other area of gospel truth. The resurrection is the pivot on which all of Christianity turns and without which none of the other truths would much matter.” In other words, if you don’t have a resurrection, you can’t have the Gospel.

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, the Apostle Paul lists three ways that the resurrection is central to the Gospel. The resurrection of God’s Son is the biggest miracle in human history. As we explore the connection between the resurrection and the Gospel we will be better prepared to embrace the supernatural side of Easter.

1. The Resurrection Informs the Implications of the Gospel. (v. 1-2, 11)

The first implication of the Gospel is that if Christ was raised from the dead then you can be raised too. At least some of the people in the church at Corinth did not have a coherent grasp on the Gospel. They had received the Gospel. They stood in it and were saved by it, but they were at risk for believing in “vain.”

Jesus shares his resurrected life with everyone who comes to him by faith. One aspect of that resurrected life is a spiritual resurrection (I Peter 1:3). The other aspect of the resurrected life is a bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15:42).

The second implication is that everyone who preaches the resurrection preaches the same message. The Apostle Paul preached a message that he received directly from God, along with a growing group of believers who shared their faith. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are the most important thing about the church. We can find great hope and solidarity in that message!

2. The Resurrection Supplies the Substance of the Gospel. (v. 3-8)

The Gospel message contains at least four parts. The first is that Christ died for our sins. Jesus died for other people’s sins, not his own. While presiding over the Last Supper, he said, “This is my body, which is for you” (1 Cor. 11:23-24). Christ’s sacrificial death was predicted in throughout whole Old Testament, not just one particular passage.

The second and third parts are that Christ was buried and that He was raised on the third day. Amazingly, Jesus predicted his death and his resurrection (Mark 8:31)  The third day was key because it provided that Jesus was really dead. In Jewish thinking, the spirit didn’t leave the body until the third day.

The fourth part of the Gospel is that Christ appeared to many. According to Paul, Jesus appeared to his disciples and his brother, James, He also appeared to 500 more people, many of whom were still alive at the time of Paul’s writing to give an eye witness account. Last, Jesus appeared to Paul making him an apostle as well.

3. The Resurrection Emphasizes the Effectiveness of the Gospel. (v. 9-10)

The gospel delivers us from death to life. In verse 8, Paul refers to himself as “one untimely born.” That phrase is refers to a baby who is stillborn. By using this phrase, Paul is pointing out his spiritual death and bankruptcy. Paul’s experience is our experience – that we are all born “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

The gospel also takes us from hurting to helping. Paul was so spiritually dense, he persecuted the church. By God’s grace, Paul began to build up instead of tear down the church. Like Paul, we can’t take any credit for “labor,” because it is all by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The resurrection is central to the Gospel – You can’t have one without the other.

We’ve explored these three connections between the resurrection and the Gospel so that you can embrace the supernatural side of Easter. Easter is a miracle we all need. Our lives are all more delicate than we want to admit, and our lives are passing quickly away.

You can embrace the supernatural side of Easter in two ways. First, analyze the content of the Gospel you believe. Does your Gospel include Jesus? Does it include His sacrificial death for sin? His resurrection from the dead on the third day?

Second, assess the effects of the Gospel in your life. How have you changed as a result of the Gospel? Are you experiencing a new life? Are you anticipating heaven? Are helping to build God’s kingdom here on earth?

 

That You May Believe

john-sermon-ppt-title-bEveryone has a story to tell.

The Apostle John told his story about Jesus Christ. From everything we know, John was the only one of Christ’s original disciples that who lived into old age. John used his time to minister in the church and write Scripture. John wrote three Epistles, the book of Revelation, and the Gospel that bears his name.

Recently, we started a new sermon series at the church where I serve as pastor on the Gospel of John. Instead of starting at the beginning of the book, we started near the end where John reveals the purpose of his writing. In John 20:30-31, John identifies the keys unlocking his story about Jesus Christ. He writes first about his himself, and then about his mission.

1. The Man: John wrote from his own personal experience (v. 30).

John was transformed by his time with Jesus. He learned to balance and spiritual maturity. In his book, Twelve Ordinary Men, Pastor John MacArthur outlines three ways that John changed. First, John learned the balance of love and truth. Second, he learned to balance ambition with humility. Third, he learned the balance of suffering and glory. The old adage is “a leopard can’t change its spots,” but that wasn’t true for John. He grew from one of the “Sons of Thunder” into the Apostel of love (Mark 3:17).

John also witnessed Jesus perform many signs and wonders. John describes seven of those miracles in the first half of his Gospel. He focuses last half of his Gospel on Christ’s most incredible miracle, his resurrection from the dead. John tells us that Jesus did many more signs and wonders than were recorded in the pages of Scripture.

The only other place in the Bible where signs and wonders are so widespread is in the story of the Exodus. In Exodus 10:1-2, we read that God performed many signs through Moses so that the people would recognize God as God and come to know Him. John was thoroughly convinced that Jesus was God in the flesh because he saw him perform so many signs and wonders.

2. The Mission: John wrote for a special purpose (v. 31).

He wrote his story about Jesus so that his readers would exercise faith in Jesus. John uses some form of the verb “believe” 10 times more often than any of the other Gospel writers. In John’s story about Jesus, almost everyone that comes in contact with Jesus is faced with a choice to either believe in or not believe in Jesus.

He also wrote so that his readers would experience eternal life. Eternal life is a gift we receive from God by faith. is the gift we receive in return. Eternal life is a quality of life as well as a quantity of life. It describes life walking with Jesus day by day, either on this earth or in heaven.

In summary, John wrote his Gospel so that you would believe in Jesus Christ and eternal life.

John was the only disciple that we know that was present at Christ’s crucifixion. In John 19, we read about him standing by the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother Mary and some other women. As Jesus was about to die, he asked John to take his mom into his home and take care of her. This tender moment paints a beautiful picture of belief and discipleship. John identified with Jesus at great risk to himself. John dedicated his life to caring for the people that Jesus cared about – His mom as well other disciples in the church. John also told his story of transformation with Jesus.

Just like the characters in John’s story about Jesus, you have a decision to make – what will you do with Jesus?

  • Will you identify with Jesus through repentance and faith?
  • Will you dedicate your life to caring for the people Jesus cares about?
  • Will you tell your story of transformation in Christ with others?

(Special thanks goes to Thearon Landrum for making a graphic for this post!)

Listen to the whole sermon at:

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/unitybaptistashland/episodes/2019-01-15T05_33_43-08_00