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Disciple or Dabbler?

by Jim Ward
via Lost River Bulletin, Vol. 57, No. 3, October 2007

In his book, Basic Christianity, John Stott wrote, "The Christian landscape is strewn with the wreckage of derelict half-built towers. The ruins of those who began to build and were unable to finish. For thousands of people still ignore Christ's warning and undertake to follow Him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of Christendom today, so called nominal Christianity. In countries to which Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent but thin veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to become somewhat involved, enough to be respectable. Their religion is a great soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder the cynics speak of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism."

These observations are based upon Jesus' teaching about what it takes to be His disciple, especially Luke 14:25-33. He told of a builder who brought ridicule on himself by beginning a tower without first having the funds to finish it. Jesus reinforced His point about counting the cost by saying that a king would surely negotiate terms of peace rather than go into battle badly outnumbered. His purpose is to discourage half-hearted disciples; they must count the cost before committing to Him. If they begin and then quit, they will disgrace themselves and harm His cause.

Read these astonishing words in which Jesus makes this demand:

"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" (Luke 14:26,27).

"So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:33).

Obviously, Jesus wants total commitment in His disciples; He does not want them to be merely dabblers. Merriam Webster defines a dabbler as "one not deeply engaged in or concerned with something." It's impossible to square superficiality with the "first and great commandment": "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37-38). Consider the Lord's demands on discipleship in some other passages:

"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24).

"Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, 'Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.' And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.' Then He said to another, 'Follow Me.' But he said, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.' And another also said, 'Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.' But Jesus said to him, 'No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God'" (Luke 9:57-62).

Jesus' purpose in all these passages from Luke is to drive away dabblers, those who are not willing to follow Him anywhere in any circumstances, no matter how demanding, emotional, or dangerous. Let's review the startling Words of Jesus; He said that one who follows Him:

Must hate his family.
Must hate his own life.
Must forsake all he has.
Must deny himself.
Must take up his cross daily.
Must be willing to lose his life.
Must be willing to be homeless, even though foxes and birds have shelter.
Must be willing to follow Jesus even before seeing to his father's burial.
Must be willing to follow Jesus even without bidding farewell to his family.

That's quite a list, isn't it? But we should understand that Jesus is utterly serious; He will not tolerate uncommitted followers.

One example of this is found in Mark 10:17-22, where Jesus told the rich, young ruler, "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me" (Mark 10:21). The young man walked away sadly, and Jesus let him go. He would not lower His demands, even though He loved this man.

The apostles provide another example. When the young ruler walked away, Jesus spoke of how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. That stirred Peter to ask Him, "See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?" (Matthew 19:27). And Peter was not exaggerating. We don't know the details of every apostles' calling, but we do know that at least Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew left their lives and livelihoods in order to follow Jesus (Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 5:27-28).

Now, the point of all this is not to beat us up or weigh us down with guilt over our commitment failures. We are imperfect human beings. So were the early disciples. Yes, Peter, for example, "left all" to follow Jesus, but that's not the end of the story. He boasted that he would never deny Jesus, but he did -- three times! Years later, he acted so hypocritically that Paul had to rebuke him publicly (Galatians 2:11-14). In both cases, he fell victim to peer pressure.

Jesus and the apostles were "beyond the Jordan," when they heard that Lazarus was ill. Jesus determined to return to Bethany, but the others reminded Him of how the Jews had sought to stone Him. After a while, Thomas said to the other apostles, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him" (John 11:16). He showed great courage, but it did not last. During the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, Thomas fled, along with the others. All of them wavered in their resolve. But they all came back. (Judas, of course, is no longer in the picture.)

Our purpose is to get us to count the cost and commit ourselves to Jesus with our eyes wide open. A cross is a heavy thing to bear, and, yes, we will falter, but God's grace will help us to rise again. He will dry our tears and calm our fears and cleanse us of our bitter self-hatred. He will forgive.

Jesus is very clear: He intends for His disciples to be willing to die for Him. But in understanding that, we mustn't forget that we must also be willing to live for Him. We can mention briefly only a few of the ways we might do this:

Disciples know and obey the Word of Jesus. "Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed'" (John 8:31).

Disciples love and help each other. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).

Disciples bear much fruit, both inner growth and souls. "By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples" (John 15:8).

Disciples guard against false teachers. "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).

So, back to our title: Disciple or Dabbler? Which is it for you? Which is it for me? To answer, we must face two other questions: Am I living for Jesus? Am I willing to die for Him? If we cannot answer yes, we are contributing to what Stott called the "scandal of Christendom today, so called nominal Christianity." We have added our own rubble to that landscape "strewn with the wreckage of derelict half-built towers."