Being a disciple of Jesus means that we imitate His love. In a cold world, we must still have a warm heart for people. We must have not just a heart for people, but a love for each other. It is in God’s nature to love and our love is proof that we know God (1 John 4:8).
The command to love others is first given in Leviticus 19:18. There the people of God are instructed to love their neighbor as they love themselves. In John 13:34-35, Jesus issues a new commandment on love: “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” (NKJV). Christ is the new standard for what it means to love. When we love like Christ, we are showing the world that we are His followers.
Christ Jesus loved with a love that was sacrificial. His love was endless. Jesus loved all people, even those who hated Him. His love was demonstrated and not just discussed. His love was real and not just rhetoric. A love that others cannot see is not real love. The love that we have for one another is a visual display to the world that we belong to Jesus. Are you willing to go the extra mile for your brother or sister? Are you willing to treat people right even when they do you wrong?
This may sound like an impossible standard. However, God’s expectations of His people are based upon His empowerment. God does not ask us to do that which He has not equipped us to do. If there is a command, know that there is power to obey the command. We cannot love people unconditionally without help. We cannot bless those who curse us, do good to those who do us wrong, and pray for those who use us without some divine intervention. God has given us the help of the Holy Spirit who empowers us to live out the command to love each other.
As we saw last week, Jesus encourages us to grow in our relationship with God and do more than just believe. He is calling us to be His disciples (John 8:31-32). So what does it mean to move beyond belief and be a disciple of Jesus?
To be a disciple of Jesus means that we imitate His ministry. We have been called to bear fruit (John 15:8). You know a tree by the fruit that it produces. A Christian tree produces fruit that looks like Christ. Christ cared about those who were hungry, sick, experienced injustice, children and widows. He cared about sinners who were looking to turn their lives around in a positive direction.
John 15 reminds us of God’s expectation that we bear fruit, bear more fruit, and eventually bear much fruit. If we want to bear fruit we must remain and abide with Jesus, the true vine. We will not be productive without Christ. A branch that is not attached to the vine will not produce fruit. We must stay connected to Christ in order to produce the fruit that pleases God. It is in Christ that we receive the nutrients needed to bear fruit. We have to be intentional about staying connected. There are no accidental disciples of Christ.
God prunes us so that we will bear more fruit (v. 2). God prunes us to cleanse us and He cleanses us to use us. He prunes us through His word (v.3). The more of the word we know, the more we are able to do with what we know. God’s word is designed to reveal sin and empower us to live godly lives. Our fruitfulness is determined by our connection to the vine. We cannot have a strong connection to Jesus without knowing and understanding His word.
God the Father also prunes us by cutting away those things that jeopardize our fruitfulness. Pruning can be a painful process. We may have jobs, friends, family members, fears, or relationships that are preventing us from being more fruitful. There may be some people planted around us who are like weeds, taking all of the good stuff out of our lives and choking us so that we can't grow. We would be more fruitful if we weren’t trying to hang on to what God wants to prune out of our lives.
Pruning does not simply mean spiritual surgery that removes what is bad. It can also mean cutting away the good and the better so that we might produce the best. It takes pruning to bear more fruit and move beyond belief.
God values belief (Hebrews 11:6). One cannot become a Christian without belief in Christ. However, belief will only get you so far. In John 8:31-32, Jesus invites us to move beyond belief. Jesus makes a distinction between one who believes and one who is a disciple. While every disciple is a believer, not every believer is a disciple. The challenge for us is to move from being believers to being disciples.
Belief is the starting place. And that belief is predicated upon some knowledge of the Word (Romans 10:17). However, hearing the word to come to faith is only the beginning of your relationship with the Word. It is like Kindergarten, you don’t stay there forever. It is merely the first stage in your journey of formal education. Peter would say, “Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, love for if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8).
Jesus says that the key to truly being His disciple is to remain in His word. So many people don’t move in their relationship with God because they are not constantly and consistently in the Word. And it is only when we come to know the truth of the Word of God that we experience freedom.
Freedom does not come merely from Bible knowledge. You can know the Bible and still be a slave to sin. You can know the Bible and still be a slave to the traditions of men. You can know the Bible and never become a Christian. Freedom comes when we know, understand, internalize and obey the truth that is revealed in the Bible. When we come to understand what the Word says and operate based on that understanding, then we are truly free.
There should be no doubt in the minds of others that we are followers of Christ because our lives begin to look more and more like His life. What are some practical ways that your life can look more like Christ?
The summer break is in full swing. Summer is a time for vacations, barbecues, fish fries, summer sports and family reunions. Unfortunately it is also a time when our desire for the things of God tends to decrease. Worship attendance drops, Wednesday night Bible class attendance decreases, and what people would normally give to the Lord is given to airlines, hotels, and theme parks.
All of us, including those children, youth, and college students who are just wanting to chill this summer, should use this as a time to renew our commitment to the Lord and not reduce our commitment to the things of God. Here are some practical ways to have a spiritually rich summer.
Minister Ross' creativity, wisdom, and insight have inspired community, church and corporate audiences throughout the United States.