Two thousand years ago, Jesus walked up to a handful of men and said, “Follow me.”
Imagine being one of those original disciples. They were ordinary people like you and me. They had jobs, families, hobbies, and social lives. As they went about their business on the day Jesus called them, none of them would have expected his life to change so quickly and completely.
The disciples could not have fully understood what they were getting into when they responded to Jesus’s call. Whatever expectations or doubts, whatever curiosity, excitement, or uncertainty they felt, nothing could have prepared them for what lay ahead. Everything about Jesus—His teaching, compassion, and wisdom; His life, death, and resurrection; His power, authority, and calling—would shape every aspect of the rest of their lives.
In only a few years, these simple men were standing before some of the most powerful rulers on earth and being accused of “turn[ing] the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). What began as simple obedience to the call of Jesus ended up changing their lives, and ultimately, the world.
What Is a Disciple?
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? As you will discover, the answer is fairly simple, but it changes your life completely.
The word disciple refers to a student or apprentice. Disciples in Jesus’s day would follow their rabbi (which means teacher) wherever he went, learning from the rabbi’s teaching and being trained to do as the rabbi did. Basically, a disciple is a follower, but only if we take the term follower literally. Becoming a disciple of Jesus is as simple as obeying His call to follow.
When Jesus called His first disciples, they may not have understood where Jesus would take them or the impact it would have on their lives, but they knew what it meant to follow. They took Jesus’s call literally and began going everywhere He went and doing everything He did.
It’s impossible to be a disciple or a follower of someone and not end up like that person. Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). That’s the whole point of being a disciple of Jesus: we imitate Him, carry on His ministry, and become like Him in the process.
Yet somehow many have come to believe that a person can be a “Christian” without being like Christ. A “follower” who doesn’t follow. How does that make any sense? Many people in the church have decided to take on the name of Christ and nothing else. This would be like Jesus walking up to those first disciples and saying, “Hey, would you guys mind identifying yourselves with Me in some way? Don’t worry, I don’t actually care if you do anything I do or change your lifestyle at all. I’m just looking for people who are willing to say they believe in Me and call themselves Christians.” Seriously?
No one can really believe that this is all it means to be a Christian. But then why do so many people live this way? It appears that we’ve lost sight of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. The concept of being a disciple isn’t difficult to understand, but it affects everything.
Q1 | Up to this point in your life, would you call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ? Why do you say that? Do you see evidence of your faith as described in Luke 6:40?
How Do I Become a Disciple?
To understand how to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, it makes most sense to start where Jesus started. While it is true that He said to the disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19), the Bible records one message He proclaimed before that. In Matthew 4:17, Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Try taking this phrase literally. If someone warned you to be prepared because a king and his army were coming, what would you do? You would make sure you were ready to face him. If you weren’t prepared to fight this king, then you would do whatever it took to make peace with him.
The word repent means “to turn.” It has the idea of changing directions and heading the opposite way. It involves action. In this context, Jesus was telling people to prepare themselves—to change whatever needed to be changed—because God’s kingdom (the kingdom of heaven) was approaching.
So how do we prepare to face this heavenly kingdom? How do we make sure we are at peace with this coming King?
Jesus says we need to repent. This implies that we all need to turn from the way we are currently thinking and living. Romans 3:23 explains that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Every person reading this sentence has done things that are evil and offensive to this King. Romans later explains that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Because of our sin, which is an offense to God, we should expect death. But then comes an amazing truth.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The death penalty we should have faced from this King was actually paid for by someone else. The King’s Son, Jesus Christ!1
The Scriptures then say, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). We are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. It is all about who Jesus is and what He has done. Part of our repentance is to turn from believing that there’s anything we can do to save ourselves—for everything was accomplished by Jesus Christ.
The thought that someone else has paid for our crimes is strange to most of us because it defies our natural way of thinking. And the idea that we need to trust in another person’s sacrifice on our behalf is even more foreign. But understand that while it is strange to us, it is consistent with God’s actions throughout the Scriptures.
We get a picture of this when we read the book of Exodus. In this story, Moses warned Pharaoh repeatedly about what God would do if he did not repent. It climaxed when God said He would bring death to the firstborn of every household if they did not repent. Meanwhile, He told His people that if they put the blood of a lamb over their doorposts, His angel would pass over their homes and not kill the firstborn of that house. So even in the story of the exodus, we see that people had to trust in the blood of a lamb to save them— and this was the only way they could be saved.
Q2 | Read Ephesians 2 carefully and take some time to consider the truths it presents. Do you trust in the death of Christ for your salvation? Do you ever struggle with believing you need to do something to save yourself?
The Lord of Grace
Salvation is all about the grace of God. There is absolutely nothing that you can do to save yourself or earn God’s favor. Paul said, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9). No one can brag about his or her good deeds because our works cannot save us. Salvation comes through the grace of God as we place our faith in Jesus Christ. All salvation requires is faith: Do you believe that Jesus is who He says He is?
But keep in mind that while this is simple, it’s not easy. Faith in Jesus Christ means believing that He is Lord (according to Rom. 10:9). Have you ever thought about what that word Lord means? We sometimes think of it as another name for God, but it’s actually a title. It refers to a master, owner, or a person who is in a position of authority. So take a minute to think this through: Do you really believe that Jesus is your master? Do you believe that He is your owner—that you actually belong to Him?
Paul is so bold as to tell us: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19–20). The same Lord who by His grace set us free from sin and death now owns us. We belong to Him, and He calls us to live in obedience to His rule.
The problem is, many in the church want to “confess that Jesus is Lord,” yet they don’t believe that He is their master. Do you see the obvious contradiction in this? The call to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is open to everyone, but we don’t get to write our own job description. If Jesus is Lord, then He sets the agenda. If Jesus Christ is Lord, then your life belongs to Him. He has a plan, agenda, and calling for you. You don’t get to tell Him what you’ll be doing today or for the rest of your life.
Q3 | Evaluate your approach to following Jesus. Would you say that you view Jesus as your Lord, Master, and Owner? Why or why not?
It All Comes Down to Love
But don’t get the impression that following Jesus is all about joyless sacrifice. More than anything else, following Jesus boils down to two commands, which He said were the most important commandments in the Old Testament Law:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matt. 22:37–40)
It all comes down to love. Peter expressed it well for people like us, who didn’t see Jesus on earth but follow Him nonetheless: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Pet. 1:8).
Following Jesus is not about diligently keeping a set of rules or conjuring up the moral fortitude to lead good lives. It’s about loving God and enjoying Him.
But lest we think that we can love God and live any way we want to, Jesus told us very clearly, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). The love for God in the first commandment is made practical in the love for our neighbors in the second commandment. John actually told us that if we don’t love the people that we can see around us, then we don’t love God, whom we can’t see (1 John 4:20).
True love is all about sacrifice for the sake of the ones you love: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). When we understand love in this light, it’s not difficult to understand that love for God and obedience to Jesus Christ cannot be separated. God’s love changes us from the inside out and redefines every aspect of our lives.
Q4 | As you look at your life, how would you say that your love for God is shown in your actions? (If you’re having trouble coming up with an answer, take some time to think through some changes you may need to make in your lifestyle.)
Count the Cost
As you work your way through this material, you will be challenged to consider what it means to be a follower of Jesus. You will think through what the Bible teaches and its implications for the way you live your life today. Everything you study will be for the purpose of applying it to your life and teaching other people to do the same. But before you set out to teach other people to be disciples of Jesus, you need to examine your heart and make sure you are a disciple.
Read the following words from Jesus slowly and carefully. Understand that Jesus is speaking these words to you. Think about what Jesus is saying and how it should affect the way you approach this material and your relationship with Him. After you have read this section, use the questions below to help you count the cost of following Jesus.
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25–33)
Q5 | If you choose to obey Jesus’s call to follow, what might it cost you? (Avoid being vague. If following Jesus would cost you specific possessions, comforts, or relationships, list them below.)
Q6 | What might hold you back from following Jesus at this point? Are you willing to let go of these things if necessary?
Q7 | Before you end this session, spend some time in prayer. Ask God to work in your heart and prepare you for what is ahead. You don’t need to have all the answers or know specifically how God will use you. He simply calls you to follow wherever He might lead. As you pray, be honest about your doubts, hesitations, and fears. Ask Him to give you the strength to proceed and follow Him no matter what the cost. In other words, place your faith in Him.
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My Hope America with Billy Graham is a nationwide effort to reach people across the United States with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Following a simple biblical model, My Hope America with Billy Graham combines the impact of video programs with the power of personal relationships. Christians across America will open their homes to share the Gospel message with friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors using one of several new evangelistic programs featuring life-changing testimonies & powerful messages from Billy Graham.
Watch this live event for free!
We will be streaming live, all day, from our fellowship hall on November 5&6, 7am-4pm (PST, 10am-7pm EST) both days. Everyone is welcome to come and go as they please, see the schedule below for more details.
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This story was posted on June 8, 2013
WILSON – When Pastor Stephen Hay of Wilson’s First Baptist Church peppers his dialogue with the term “five guys,” he’s not talking about the popular hamburger spot. He’s referring to the team of five men – himself included – tending to the needs of the church, which saw attendance jump more than a third last year.
An articulate and personable native of Scotland with a college degree in graphic design – not a theology degree – Hay is quick to credit “God’s grace” for his church’s success.
That wouldn’t surprise Brad Clark, a longtime church member, who said Hay doesn’t seek the limelight and rarely takes credit for anything.
“But Pastor Steve doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk,” said Clark, who also served on the committee to hire Hay as the church’s youth minister nearly five years ago.
Hay perfectly fit that job description. He will turn 26 on June 26.
“As far as bringing the youth into the church, he’s been called the ‘Pied Piper,’ ” added Clark. “It’s amazing how he can relate to both the kids and the adults. They’ve changed the church basement into a youth center, and the kids come just about every night of the week as well as during the day during summer. But he’s also matured into being a good leader for the entire church.”
Hay explained that he shares his pastoral duties with four other men, each with their own specific roles, which often overlap. It’s admittedly a departure from the way his well-respected predecessor, the late Rev. Jeffrey Durham, ran the church, but it appears to be working.
Hay said that when he arrived about five years ago, there were probably 25 to 30 in the congregation.
“We had 33 percent growth last year, which is phenomenal, and we’re still growing,” he said. “I’d say we average about 110 every Sunday. Quite honestly, it’s the work of God’s grace.”
The church is gearing up for its popular community event, the “Amazing Race,” on Friday, which draws participants and spectators of all ages. It’s a race with a twist – teams will travel throughout the village guided by texted clues, competing to reach the finish line first.
Hay recently took a few moments from his busy schedule to speak – in his lilting Scottish brogue – about his calling, his new hometown and the challenges and rewards of being a minister.
Let’s start at the beginning.
How did you come to be a pastor in Wilson?
I arrived here when I was 21 for my first lengthy visit in the U.S. Growing up in Scotland, we were fortunate, and I grew up going on vacations in the United States. When I turned 19, I worked at a religious summer camp here in the Southern Tier – it was the summer before my last year of college, where I was studying graphic design, because I had graduated from high school early. I worked at the camp for three months and went back home to Scotland and came back to visit friends and such over the next two years.
Then I was offered a position here in Wilson as a youth pastor at the First Baptist Church. And I initially declined. But six months later, I was in Scotland and not really content in the job I thought I’d be doing the rest of my life and I felt the calling to come to this church.
I was in this job for a year and a few months when the pastor retired, and they asked me to assume the position of lead pastor. I initially refused. But two weeks later, I presented myself as a candidate. That was January 2010.
But please explain the hierarchy of your church.
We don’t function as a church with me as a senior pastor. Jesus is our senior pastor. We function in a plurality of leadership. We have five elders, or pastors, here. Our executive elder is Doug Farley; our care pastor is George Waters; our campus pastor is Ken Twist; our community and worship pastor is Tim Bach; and I am the teaching and outreach pastor. Only Tim and I have paid positions.
I don’t want to take credit for this, but when I took over for the pastor when he retired, I was only 22, and I was feeling the pressure. There was no way I could meet all of the demands with the limited amount of wisdom I had at 22. So Tim and I actually began praying about it and studying the Bible, and we saw how it worked this way in the early church.
You said you don’t have a theology degree – were you raised in the Baptist Church?
In Scotland, there are two main religions, Presbyterian and Baptist, but we’re not big on denominations. That was a big culture shock for me when I came to the U.S. And I feel it’s important that we don’t find our identity in being Baptist. We have to find our identity in Jesus. He established this thing he called the church. I’m going to be 26, I’m from Scotland, I don’t have a theology degree – so logically, this church shouldn’t be working, but it is. Because, if you read the Bible, you’ll find it’s filled with stories that don’t make sense if you take God out of the equation. God is clearly at work here.
I have done work through the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and I do attend conferences and seminars to continue my growth. But I believe that based on my personality, I’ve learned a lot more through practical experience than I could in a classroom. These experiences cause you to go and seek out wisdom.
Explain how your church strives to move beyond its boundaries to reach the greater Wilson community.
We really try to achieve selflessness. It’s truly not about growing our church or looking like we have it all together here. We want to break down the walls and barriers and embrace the ideas of community. It’s part of the heart of what we’re doing. Jesus teaches us in the Bible of service to others and selflessness, and we try to adopt that philosophy. We believe that’s part of our responsibility to the community, and that’s why we never charge for our events. We just want people to come and enjoy the experience.
What’s the most difficult thing about being a pastor?
The difficult thing is understanding that there are no mathematical equations to church work, to being family to people. You try to establish systems and have structures in place to meet needs, but those needs are so vast and so varied and so unexpected , that you really just have to try and embrace the work with belief in the gifts God gave you.
And what are the rewards?
We live in a broken world, and to see lives change and understand and believe in the work of Jesus – it’s a privilege to be a part of that. It’s very humbling. To try and make disciples, you have to roll up your sleeves and enter the rawness of life, to get into the mess of life to try and help people.
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