Believers, Followers, and Disciples
Matthew and John 8:32
Matthew Lesson #116
April 10, 2016
“Father, we’re grateful that we have Your Word. What a tremendous privilege we have throughout all of church history. There were so many centuries when individual believers had no copy, no personal copy of Your Word. They did not even have Your Word in their own language. Yet we not only have excellent translations of Your Word available to us, we have the opportunity to have our own personal copies of Your Word, and in many cases different translations that we can read, that we can study, and that You can use to challenge each of us in our own daily walk with You.
Father, as we study Your Word, we recognize that there is a challenge before us, that we are not simply to end our spiritual experience with our spiritual birth and be satisfied with the fact that we’re now born again, regenerated, destined for Heaven, but that there are additional responsibilities incumbent upon those who are members of Your royal family. There’s a challenge before us to grow, to mature, to serve, and to glorify You.
Father, as we view many of the things that we have learned in Matthew today, we pray that You will make these things very clear to us, help us to understand them, and that we might be responsive to the challenge of Your Word. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
I want to begin by thanking everyone for your prayers for me while we were traveling this last week to Tucson Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for a three-night conference on inerrancy and infallibility.
That’s not new information for most of you. We’ve gone through that as we studied that in 1 Peter, but it was a good opportunity to go out and to let people know what is going on. It was also a wonderful opportunity to see several people in the Tucson area who regularly listen and live stream. They were able to come and be part of the conference as well.
I’ve know their pastor there, John Hinz, for many, many years. I was about nine years old, and he was 18 when we first met many, many years ago. It was a tremendous, great time to be able to spend with them.
I’m not going to give you a passage this morning to look at as we begin, but I will want you to turn with me to several passages as we go along. I want to take this time that we just concluded in this section of Matthew 18 through Matthew 20:28, and I want to stop and reflect on a few things, summarize much of what we’ve learned in this section of Matthew up to this point, and talk a little bit about the underlying doctrines that are here, which are related to rewards and inheritance and really fits within a broader concept of discipleship.
Discipleship is one of those words that has become quite popular in Christianity in the last 50 years since the post-World War II generation, and a lot of it is due to the ministry of an organization called the “Navigators.” You’ll hear this from a lot of people. It’s interesting that this word is not used that much in the New Testament.
The term “disciple,” the noun most often refers to The Twelve. The verb itself is only used a few times in the New Testament, and yet if you listen to a lot of popular preachers and Bible teachers, this is the key word that shapes all Christian experience. Though it’s important, if it’s that important of a word, it’s not used that often in the Scripture.
There’s a lot of confusion about it. You’ll find that a lot of people think that the term “disciple” is a synonym for being a Christian, that it’s a synonym for being a believer in Jesus Christ. You will find that there are other aspects that are often confused when we look at the concept of being a disciple. I want to go back and think through this a little bit because discipleship and being a disciple seems to be emphasized more by Matthew than any other writer of Scripture.
I think there is a reason for that, and it is found in the background for the Gospel of Matthew in that he is writing to a Messianic Jewish congregation, and they had a background in Judaism where discipleship resonated.
The idea of being a disciple wasn’t invented by Jesus and wasn’t invented in the New Testament. You had discipleship going on among the Pharisees, which was the most popular religious group within Judaism in the first century.
This was something that people were extremely familiar with. If you grew up in a Jewish context, a Jewish background, then this was a word that had great significance and meaning for you because among the Pharisees, there were various great teachers, and they would accumulate to themselves various students who would then learn Torah under them and learn the tradition of the elders, and then they would pass that on unto the next generation.
Part of being a good disciple, if you were a Pharisee, was that you grew up memorizing the Scripture. Not a verse or two or a chapter or two, but usually by the time they bar mitzvahed, they had memorized all of the Hebrew Old Testament, which is a quite a feat.
I would like it if most Christians would just memorize, for example, the 65 verses in the Navigators Topical Memory System. That would be a great improvement over what we have today.
A couple of generations ago, there was great emphasis on Bible memory. In fact, when I taught a Sunday School class, I taught and reviewed them on memory verses all year long. I built the whole curriculum just on those memory verses, so that when they came out of that, they would know two memory verses for each of the ten problem-solving devices of spiritual skills, so that they could carry that with them, and that would have some spiritual significance.
We just don’t emphasize that enough anymore, and if we’re going to have young men who are going to come out of churches and go into the pastorate, the best thing that can ever happen to them is to grow up memorizing Scripture.
I remember my first year or two in the pulpit how amazed I was at how many verses I had memorized as a kid that would just pop into my head as I was teaching because they were right on target, and God the Holy Spirit would bring those to memory. I talked to many of the younger pastors and pastors that I have known for a long time who did not have that kind of a background, and they didn’t have that much Scripture memorized.
On the other hand, you have somebody like Jim Myers who has probably memorized most of the New Testament at one time or another. He’s just a walking encyclopedia, and that is so impressive because whenever you’re talking Scripture, he’s able to just retrieve that at any point. That’s not something that should just characterize a pastor. That should characterize every single believer.
That was true at the time of Jesus, that the Jews had memorized the Scripture. They understood that, that then prepared them for being a disciple within the context of Pharisaism. I think that one of the reasons that Matthew uses this term is because of the Jewish background of his audience.
Now to begin, what I want to do is just talk a little bit about how this concept relates to being a believer and being saved. I want to start with the Gospel of John.
The Gospel of John is the Gospel of the four that most people associate with evangelism, that if you’re going to have anybody read a book of the Bible, start with the Gospel of John. John makes it very clear at the end of the Gospel that these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God.
He makes it clear that His purpose for writing the Gospel is so that people would believe that Jesus is the Messiah—that (more than the other three Gospels, the three synoptics), his focus is on moving people from not being believers to being believers in Jesus as Messiah. It is the most evangelistic of the Gospels.
He uses the verb “believe” over 85 times, so that that is important. It is not used that much in the other Gospels. This word “to believe” is the word that John uses to express THE only condition for having eternal life. In Pauline terminology, this is the only thing necessary in order to be justified by faith alone.
I’m always amazed that in our contemporary evangelical culture, when people go through evangelistic training, very often they use other phrases that are not biblical. They talk about inviting Jesus into their heart—they talk about having a relationship with Jesus. But they never talk about the one word that is so clearly expressed in Scripture. And that is the word “to believe.”
Judas had a relationship with Jesus. He’s not going to be in heaven. Having a relationship with Jesus is not the key to salvation. We have to look at the terminology that’s there.
There are other synonyms for faith. For example, as I pointed out earlier in our communion service, John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become the sons of God.”
“Receiving” Jesus, “accepting” Him as Savior—these are synonyms for believe. But believe is THE most precise term, and it means to accept something as true, as true for yourself, that you are trusting in Jesus as YOUR Savior, not some third person academic truth that, “Yes, I believe Jesus came to die on the Cross for people’s sins,” but believing that Jesus died on the Cross for YOUR sins, personalizing that.
But John uses another word that is more often found in the other Gospels. It’s another word that Jesus used, and it is not a word that is related to salvation itself. It is the word “to follow.”
To follow Jesus in the Gospel of John is not synonymous with believing in Jesus. The aspect of following was something that Jesus said to those who were already believers.
If you want to turn in your Bibles with me, turn to John 1. In John 1 we have the introduction to the Gospel of John, where we are introduced in that chapter not only to Jesus as the eternal LOGOS, the eternal Word of God, but we are introduced to John the Baptist.
As we see John the Baptist, his ministry is already in full bloom, and he has around him various followers, various disciples.
So look with me at John 1:35. We read, “Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus”—whom he had already baptized the day before, which is the second day in a series of days here, we read—“looking at Jesus as He walked”—this was the second time Jesus came down to the Jordan—“he said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God.’ ”
There were two disciples who heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. These two disciples, as we’re going to come to understand, are John and Andrew—John who is the author of this particular Gospel. And they are already believers in an Old Testament sense.
They are already Old Testament saints. That is why they’ve become disciples of John the Baptist; they responded to his message to repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and they are believers in God’s promise of providing a future Messiah.
Now that Person, that Messiah, has come into their presence, and John has identified Him and announced Him. So they stop being a disciple of John, and they are going to become disciples of Jesus Christ—not in the technical sense of The Twelve—they will become that as well, but first they become a general disciple. They’re going to follow Jesus.
The term “following Jesus” is distinct from becoming a believer in Jesus. I want to make that clear because that is so confusing for many people. They believe anyone that is a believer is automatically a follower, but that does not follow—no pun intended. Some people can be believers and not followers. But they were followers, and we see this introduced at this particular point.
We have John and Andrew, and then Nathaniel and Philip are introduced down in verse 43, and they are also already believers in the Old Testament sense, but now they are identifying Jesus as the Messiah, and they are not only going to believe in Him as the promised Messiah, but they are going to follow Him.
As we go through the Gospel of John, Jesus does not use the term in the more restricted sense. There are two senses of “follow:”
- One is, “well, the crowds followed Him.” They’re just talking about people who are walking after somebody else wherever they are going.
- But the more technical term is that of a disciple who is listening to, responding to, and learning how to live as his Teacher is instructing him to. It is the Master–disciple relationship.
But Jesus talks about it again at the end of the Gospel. We’re told there that He was specifically speaking to Peter. This is after Peter has, of course, betrayed the Lord, and then he’s come back. The Lord has forgiven him, and He is speaking to him. He has identified the fact that some of those He’s talking to will die, and some will not. And He says to Peter, “Follow Me.”
Then in verse 22 Jesus says to him again, “If I will that he”—that’s referring to John who won’t die for his faith—Jesus said to Peter again, “If I will that he remains till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”
The point that I’m making that we get from the Gospel of John is that following Jesus is the challenge to anyone who is a believer in Jesus. It is distinct from being justified, but it is the challenge to anyone who is a believer to continue to grow and mature in the Lord Jesus Christ.
As I pointed out earlier, we have these three stages of salvation, or three ways in which the word “saved” is used in Scripture. We refer to these as Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3.
- In Phase 1, which takes place in an instant, we believe that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins, and that is referred to more technically as “justification,” at which time we are regenerate.
- Then in Phase 2 we are growing spiritually.
- In Phase 3 when we die, we’re absent from the body and face-to-face with the Lord.
In Phase 1 we’re saved from the penalty of sin. So there are verses like Ephesians 2:8–9 that use the word “saved” to refer to justification. But then there are many verses that talk about being saved, and they are talking about being saved from the power of sin, and this is related to our spiritual growth.
Then in Phase 3 we’re saved from the presence of sin, as we are no longer in this body of corruption, no longer have a sin nature, and we are face-to-face with the Lord.
Now as we look at the Gospel of Matthew, there are several things that we should observe about discipleship in the Gospel of Matthew.
- One is that this verb “to disciple” MATHETEUO is only used four times in the New Testament.
It’s used in Matthew 13:52. It’s used in Matthew 27:57. It’s used in Matthew 28:19, which is part of the Great Commission, which is its most well-known use. It’s also used in Acts 14:21.
It’s used only these four times in the New Testament. So it’s not a predominant word. Notice it’s not used in Luke, and it’s not used in Mark, and it’s not used in John. The concept is there because the concept is teaching and training those who will follow Jesus.
- What we learn also is that a disciple is more than simply someone who believes. You have to believe before you can truly become a disciple. But we know of at least one use when “disciple” was used to describe someone who wasn’t saved. And, of course, that was Judas Iscariot.
- Third, we learn that a disciple is someone who is a follower of Jesus. And this word AKALOUTHEO is used 24 times in Matthew. Now sometimes it’s just used in a general sense of the crowds that are following after Jesus or someone walking after somebody else, but the more technical sense that it is used in refers to the disciple who’s learning from his teacher and who is applying what he is taught.
- And then the fourth thing that we learn is that a disciple is challenged to live at a higher standard. We are recognizing that we have been born again, but just like any new born baby, there has to be spiritual nourishment and growth in order to reach maturity, in order to really have a significant and meaningful life.
I don’t know how it is today, but I know when I was a kid, when you got to a certain age, usually around nine, ten, eleven, or twelve, you really didn’t want your folks to treat you like a kid anymore. You wanted them to treat you like an adult. The reason is you recognize that in adulthood was where real life was experienced. Kids were too restricted. There were too many things they couldn’t do, but you could really live life as an adult.
Why is it then that in the spiritual life most Christians just want to stay in diapers? They don’t want to grow up. Yet the real life that Jesus provided for us is a life that we experience as we mature and as mature believers. For that is when we are useable and useful to the Lord, and we can fully serve Him.
Disciples are called and challenged to a higher standard and that’s what we find through most of these synoptic Gospels—is that they have more of an emphasis on being a follower of Jesus.
I want to review a few passages for us that we’ve talked about that emphasize the characteristic of this higher standard.
John 8:31–32, “Jesus said to the Jews who believed”—and this is a very famous passage. I’m not going to get into all the details of it. He’s been talking to and been involved in a controversy and an argument with the Pharisees. Then He stops and is addressing a smaller segment of the audience, which are the Jews who had believed Him; they are believers.
He said to them, “If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
That second sentence is often taken out of context and emblazoned over all kinds of educational operations and doesn’t have anything to do with what they’re using it for. Jesus is talking to those who believe. He is talking to believers, and He tells them that the next step is to be a disciple and what one of the critical characteristics is, and that is to “abide in My Word”.
When we take that word “abide,” which is the Greek word MENO, and we look at how that is used in the Gospel of John, we realize that Jesus says a lot about that when you get into John 15 as part of the upper room discourse.
There He is teaching His disciples that if they are going to bear fruit—if God is going to bear fruit in them, if they’re going to become productive, growing, maturing believers, then they have to abide in Christ.
We are to abide in Christ. That is another way of talking about fellowship or walking by the Spirit because when we look at John 15, the sole and necessary condition to produce fruit is what? To abide in Christ. When we get to Galatians 5, the sole and necessary condition to bear fruit, the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22–23, the sole condition for bearing fruit is what? To walk by the Spirit.
So, if “A” is the sole and necessary condition to produce “B,” and “C” is the sole and necessary condition to produce “B,” then “A” and “C” must be synonymous. OK? That means abiding in Christ is just another way of talking about walking by the Spirit. Jesus says that that is not in and of itself—it always goes along with abiding in His Word.
As Jesus said in John 4 to the woman at the well, we worship by means of the Spirit and the Truth. What Jesus is emphasizing is the role of the Holy Spirit—and walking by the Spirit goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge of the Word of God and abiding in the Word of God. This is one of the qualifications to be a disciple.
It’s not just someone who shows up on Sunday morning. It’s not someone who shows up and even takes a lot of notes on Sunday morning. But it is somebody who goes to the next level and abides or remains in the Word. They become a student of the Word, so that not only are they in the Word, but the Word is in them, so that it can manifest itself because it is by the Word, as Jesus prayed, that we are sanctified.
Another aspect of the higher standard challenge to the disciples was introduced in Matthew 4, as Jesus is calling Peter and Andrew to be disciples. We looked at this in John, in the first chapter of John, and I just want to give you a little bit of the chronology.
Jesus came down to the Jordan, and John the Baptist baptized Him. He came back the next day. John again identifies Him as the Lamb of God, but this time he’s got two disciples with him. He’s got John and Andrew with him, and he identifies Jesus as the Messiah. At that point they leave to follow Jesus.
Then at some time later, Jesus is back up in Galilee. They’ve gone back to Galilee, gone back to work with their fishing business, and at this time Jesus is going to challenge them to the next level of following Him, and this is when He is going to challenge them and call them to be disciples in the more restrictive sense of the term, in terms of The Twelve.
So we see this in Matthew 4:18–22, “And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ ” This is taking it to the next level.
They immediately did what? “They immediately left their nets and followed Him.” They just came back into shore, left everything behind, and took off to follow Jesus.
“Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother”—and we’ve seen that they’re cousins of Jesus—“in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.”
That is what happened at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, as He is beginning to gather The Twelve around Him who He will train to lead the church. But then that’s only the introduction to these concepts in Matthew 4.
We recently saw in Matthew 19 that when the rich young ruler came to talk to Jesus, that the Lord challenged Him to leave everything or sell everything that he had and give it to the poor. He was really confused about that.
I pointed out that this wasn’t talking about salvation or justification. The rich young ruler was already justified, he was really coming to find out how he could secure an inheritance and position in the Kingdom, which was the theme throughout all this section in Matthew 18–19 that we studied. Matthew 18, remember, starts off, the disciples are arguing with each other who’s going to be the greatest in the kingdom, and Jesus said you have to become like a little child.
The purpose of that illustration is a child had no status or position in the culture at that time. What Jesus is saying is, if you’re going to be a real disciple, you’re not going to put your focus on position and status in the Kingdom—your focus is on service, not status.
That same contrast is seen in that whole story with the rich young ruler because the introduction to it is that Jesus talks about a child again. The contrast is between the child who has no status and the rich young ruler who in their culture is viewed as someone who has everything: he’s rich, he’s young, he’s a ruler, he’s got power and money and looks, and he is also very focused on studying the Word. So he seems to already be a believer, but he is still focused on himself and what he’s going to be in the Kingdom, just like the disciples.
After that little interchange, Peter says, “You told him to sell everything and to follow You. We already did that.”
Now the difference is the rich young ruler was told to, “Sell everything; give it to the poor,” but Peter and the other disciples just left everything. They didn’t sell and give it to the poor, so that’s another point that indicates Jesus wasn’t talking about the fact that you have to sell everything and give it away in order to be spiritual or be saved. This was just the problem that the rich young ruler had. His focus on status was His focus on his money and his power.
But Peter said, “Look Lord, we have left all and followed You.” When did that happen? Matthew 4.
So Jesus said, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration”—that is a synonym for when the Kingdom comes—“when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
See, He’s saying there’s more to the future than simply getting into Heaven. There’s going to be rewards for those who “follow Me” and are willing to leave everything in order to be a disciple. For those, He is saying there will be these twelve thrones for their position in the Kingdom.
Then He goes on to say not only for you Twelve, but “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.”
What He is talking about here is not justification and getting into Heaven for eternity. He is talking about how the quality of life that one can experience in Heaven is related to the degree to which one is a disciple in this life.
This is the doctrine of understanding rewards and inheritance, which is what I’ll focus more on next time.
I’m just setting the stage for this because what we see here is Jesus is really recognizing and showing that this idea that all believers have all the same thing when they get to Heaven isn’t true.
That is a very popular idea. Every believer gets to Heaven and no matter what they did in this life, no matter how obedient or disobedient, everybody gets the same thing and starts with the same thing in Heaven—that is not what Jesus is saying.
He is saying there are going to be differences in Heaven between believers related to their degree of obedience and spiritual growth and service that occurred in this life. That’s in Matthew 19:29, “Everyone who has left houses and everything shall receive a hundredfold and eternal life, but many who are first will be last, and the last first.”—He’s talking about in Heaven. He’s not talking about this life.
There are other things that are set up by Jesus. Matthew 16:24 says, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me”—that’s a synonym for “following Me”—“ ‘let him deny himself and take up His cross, and follow Me.’ ”
Now in the context that develops later on in Matthew 18–19, the disciples were not denying themselves. They’re arguing about who’s going to be the greatest in the Kingdom. But Jesus is saying you have to take up your cross and follow Him.
What we understood when we studied that was in the Roman Empire, the worst, most horrible form of punishment was crucifixion, and it was reserved for those who were rebels against the authority of Rome.
In order to give a visual demonstration of the fact that they had been forced to submit to the authority of Rome, they had to carry their cross—really the patibulum—up to the crucifixion area. That showed that they were now under the authority of Rome.
So taking up your cross is simply an idiom for being willing to submit to the authority of God in your life and following Jesus.
Notice what the Lord says in a parallel passage in Luke 9. He says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
Then He adds, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it.” Are you willing as a believer to leave everything, to lose whatever you think you need to have in life and to follow Jesus? That’s what is required of a disciple.
That doesn’t mean you’re going to lose everything. You may! I had a man sit next to me one time in a class at Dallas Seminary. He was about 30 years older than I, and he had been a missionary in India. He was soft spoken. He was interesting. He turned out to be the father of a girl I had met who was a student at Dallas Bible College.
I found out from my roommates who were also at Dallas Bible College that this man had been a missionary for 30 years in India, and he lived in a room that was probably not as large as our bathrooms in this church, and all he had to his worldly possessions were basically one change of clothes, a mat on which he slept, and his Bible.
But he had led thousands and thousands of Indians to the Lord and taught the Word. But he had left everything in order to go on the mission field and do that.
So Jesus goes on to say in Luke 9, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.”
He’s not talking about salvation there. He’s talking about what happens at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
In 1 John 2:28, John says, “And now, little children, abide in Him”—which basically is saying grow in Him in fellowship—“that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.”
He’s talking to believers there, and he’s saying the same thing the Lord said in Matthew 9—that there’s going to be those at the Judgment Seat of Christ who are ashamed. They are an embarrassment to the Lord. He will be ashamed of them when He comes because they have failed to follow Him.
In Luke 14:26, Jesus takes the statement about leaving father and mother to another level. Earlier it was “if you want to be My disciples, leave father and mother,” etc., etc. Here He says, “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 by My disciple.” It’s a much stronger statement.
This doesn’t mean to literally hate in the sense of anger your parents, your friends, your family. Hate and love are often idioms in Scripture for acceptance and rejection. You’re just not going to put your family in front of and before your priorities to study the Word and to grow spiritually.
If there’s a conflict, your focus is always “I have to serve the Lord. I have to grow spiritually. I have to do what the Lord called me to do, and if that creates a problem within my family, then sorry ‘bout that, but I have to do what the Lord called me to do and not what others expect of me.”
The next verse Jesus says, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” Again, it’s a much stronger statement.
He’s not just saying, “If you want to follow Me, you need to be willing to take up your cross and follow Me.” He says, “If you don’t take up your cross and follow Me, you can’t be a disciple.”
Luke 14:33 goes on. He says, “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”
The challenge to be a disciple is far beyond that of just being saved, because discipleship involves carrying out responsibility, willing to give up things, willing to take on certain challenges; whereas salvation is simply “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
So we’ve seen this all through this section in Matthew 18, where the disciples are saying, “Who’s the greatest in the kingdom?” Then we see they continued it, and James and John got their mama to come up and ask Jesus if one of them could sit on His left hand and on the right hand.
Jesus’ response was to them and to all the disciples, “You will indeed drink My cup and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with, but to sit on my right hand and on my left is not Mine to give.”
See, when the disciples were arguing about who’s going to be the greatest in the Kingdom, Jesus didn’t say, “Shut up, sit in the corner, everybody’s going to be the same.” He didn’t deny the fact that some are going to be great and others are not.
When the mother of James and John said, “I want you to grant this honor to my kids, that one will sit on Your left hand, the other on Your right hand,” Jesus didn’t say, “Well, there’s not going to be any special positions of honor in the Kingdom.” He didn’t reject her assumption that there would be different positions in the Kingdom.
He said there will be, and there will be someone who has a position of honor on My left hand and someone in a position of honor on My right hand, but it’s not Mine to give. That’s been already established by My Father. It’s His decision.
So we’ve seen this in other passages earlier in Matthew. Let me just summarize this before we finish up this morning, recognizing what we see here is that there are different levels of spiritual growth.
First of all, there’s a person who is just regenerate. They’re born again. They’re saved. They’re going to have eternal life. They are justified, but they don’t go anywhere. They’re babies that stay in diapers, and they never grow up. But they’re going to be in Heaven.
Then we see those who grow a little bit, and they go through different stages of growth that are characterized by different levels of entry. Some are curious. They’re saved, but they’re just a little too busy to really be involved in Bible study and spiritual growth and following the Lord.
Others are more interested, but they, too, are distracted. They’ll show up on Sunday, but getting them to do anything else during the week is “I’m just too busy. I’ve got to go to school. I’ve got to serve my country. I’ve got whatever it is.” Not that those things are wrong, but they get in the way of their spiritual life.
We all know there are times in our jobs and in our careers, whatever they are that we have excessive demands and that crowds out some things, but this is someone’s general orientation to life.
Then there are others who are more convinced of the significance of Scripture, and they’re growing, and they may grow by fits and starts, and one year is better than the next year, but they’re gradually moving forward.
We see that there are different stages of commitment, different levels of spirituality. Some are willing to follow the Lord a little more or a little less. Others just get distracted.
For example, one scribe came to Jesus in Matthew 8:19, and said, “Lord, I’m going to follow You wherever You go.” The Lord says, “It’s going to be tough because I don’t live in a house.” “Wait a minute, it’s uncomfortable? Maybe not this week.”
Then another disciple in Matthew 18:21 was going to follow the Lord, and he said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, I’ve got to go bury my dad.”
People come up with excuses. There are different levels of involvement.
What we see is that there are two basically broad categories of the saved. There are those who are growing and maturing and those who aren’t and never will.
But among those who are growing, there are different categories:
- There are those who have minimal growth.
- There are those who have sporadic growth.
- There are those who are low achievers, those who are moderate achievers, and those who are higher achievers.
What category are you?
Although all are saved by faith alone in Christ alone, there are different levels of discipleship. The challenge that we get from Matthew is what level are we?
Do we want to be a disciple and a follower of Jesus, or is that just a nice thing to say and hope for, but the details of life just crowd it out?
Or, are we willing to take up the challenge and really go forward? Because at the end of the day and at the end of our life, the only thing that we take from here into Heaven—(we don’t take academic degrees, we don’t take promotions, we don’t take money, we don’t take any earthly achievements with us)—the only thing that transfers from here to eternity is our spiritual maturity, our capacity for life, our capacity for fellowship with God.
It’s on that basis that we’re evaluated at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
We’ll come back and talk about that next Sunday morning.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study these things in Your Word and be reminded of Your wonderful grace, that You have given us everything for salvation. You’ve given us everything that we need for a remarkable, spiritual life.
Salvation is based on what Christ did, and He paid the penalty for sin so that we can have eternal life. When we believe in Him we’ll spend eternity in Heaven. Our destiny is not in doubt. We’ll never lose that. It will always be ours.
But there’s a challenge also to grow and mature. And that challenge relates to spending time in Your Word, learning Your Word, spending time with You, serving You, growing over the years, over the decades, over the course of our life. The challenge is, are we willing to do that?
If you’re listening this morning, and you’re unsure of your eternal destiny and uncertain of your eternal life, the issue for you isn’t becoming a disciple. The issue for you is just having eternal life, and that comes simply by trusting in Christ, believing on Him.
Scripture says when you believe on Him, you have eternal life, that you are regenerate. You become a new creature in Christ; you are justified, you’re declared righteous, and on that basis you have eternal life.
But after we’re saved, we have to focus on “then what,” what comes next? If we choose not to grow, it doesn’t mean we lose our salvation—it just means we lose out on many of the blessings that God would otherwise give us, both here and in eternity.
Father, we pray that You would challenge each one here with the focal point of this message—the challenge to grow and mature as believers.
We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”