Becoming a Disciple of Christ Part 1
Becoming a Disciple of Christ Part 1
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Nita LaFond Johnson
New Orleans 2009 Revival Services
If there is one thing I am continuously learning about God, it is this: God is good and He just keeps on getting better. What did the people say when they saw the Lord? “He does all things well.” (Mk. 7:37)
The Lord has put something on my heart for you that He thinks is very special. My heart is so alive with love for Him.
Matthew 10:38 And he who does not take up his cross and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conforming wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying also] is not worthy of Me.
Matthew 10:38 is a profound statement from the Lord; albeit not something you hear much about in contemporary Christianity. The Church is taught that once you get saved, life is glorious thereafter, except for the moments when it is not so glorious. It is in the low places that you must be comforted and encouraged that God loves you and is carrying you. However, Jesus says, “he who does not take up his cross and follow Me [ cleave steadfastly to Me, conforming wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying also] is not worthy of Me.”
God is calling each one of us into a deep and intimate relationship with Himself. However, there is a requirement to have the deep things of God. Salvation is free; everything after that comes with a price. Everything in the kingdom has a price. The Bible presents us with a clear picture of becoming worthy of God, worthy of intimacy with Him, and worthy of His attention in respect to bringing us into the deeper places of revelation of Himself – things that most will never enter into. We have to make ourselves worthy before the Lord and there seems to be only one way to become worthy of God: to pick up our cross and come and follow Him, conforming wholly to Him in life, cleaving to Him and conforming to His example of living. He goes on to say that whoever seeks his lower life will lose his higher life, and he who loses his lower life in Him, will find the higher life. The picture is stated pretty clearly; if you want the lower life, then hold onto it, but you will lose the higher life in the process. If you want the higher life then you must let go of the lower life; there is no in-between. There is no place in the Bible that says you can walk the fence between them; you either go all the way to reach the summit, which represents fellowship with God, or you sit around at the bottom of the mountain of God. The dividing line of the world-wide Church is between those who are willing to pay the price, and those who are not.
I have a wonderful book about the reformers in Scotland called The Scots Worthies. It makes you think about the blood of the martyrs that was poured out for the sake of the Reformation. In America, we do not think about the blood of the martyrs. We think about McDonalds or our favorite special restaurant, and having a good, comfortable life without sacrifice. In America, everything is about the ease of life and when it gets a little rough, Americans are great at running in the opposite direction. We have some great marathon runners, some of which have paid a high price to excel as athletes, but even a marathon requires only a brief, albeit tedious effort. When it is over, it is done until the next year. In the Kingdom, wanting something from God is an on-going and sometimes laborious work. It can be full of difficulties, disappointments, discouragements and unexpected turns, because in the process of seeking, you must make yourself worthy for the higher things of God, and if you are not willing to pay that price, then the door remains forever locked to you.
There are no boundaries that God Himself sets on getting to know Him, but He establishes the boundaries based on your decisions. I can help you go deep in God, but I am going to tell you over and over, there is a price and you must be willing to pay it. If, at any time, you are not willing and linger in that frame of mind too long, the door is forever closed and your plateau in God is forever set. But remember this: in the days ahead, the only safe place in the world is going to be in God so that is where you want to go. To this end, I am going to teach you how to be a disciple of Christ.
Matthew 5: 1- 3 Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and when He was seated, His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them. Blessed (happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous–with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the poor in spirit (the humble, who rate themselves insignificant), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!
In seeing the crowds, Jesus taught them the beatitudes, the most beautiful and inspiring truths about God that the world had ever seen or heard. I do not think that there have ever been words spoken out of the mouth of man more beautiful than the Sermon on the Mount. Why? Because it is the way into God. What else is there in life that is worthy of our passionate pursuit? If you desire to go into God, you want the words of beauty and instruction that shed light on your path, and that is exactly what He gave to the crowds and to His disciples.
You notice throughout His ministry that Jesus even after sharing beautiful nuggets from heaven and preaching to multitudes, He did not have a lot of disciples. I think it is very interesting how the Bible makes a distinction between the multitudes and His disciples. The lesson to learn from this is that you can be born again, love Jesus, go to church every Sunday and yet not be a disciple of Christ. Most Christians today are disciples of man. They go to church a few times a week, some like to listen to radio preaching all day long, some watch the preaching on TV and love to hear the Word preached; nevertheless, they forever remain disciples of man and never make the transition to become disciples of Christ.
If this is true, then what makes a disciple a disciple, and what distinguishes the average Christian from a disciple of Christ? The answer is simple: a disciple of Christ picks up his cross and follows the Lord; he learns and walks in the ways of Christ, and not of man. What we are taught from the pulpits in America is how to be good disciples of man. People are taught about God, but not how to pick up the cross and follow Jesus. Even if they are, there are not a lot of people who truly embrace this message of the cross. They are uncomfortable with the fact that they must carry upon their backs something as encumbering as a cross; it breaks through their comfort zones, setting them apart from their friends and family. To be a disciple of Christ, you have to be willing to walk with the obnoxious cross and allow it’s placement on your back, and daily applied to your heart. This is what distinguishes a disciple of Christ from a disciple of man.
If you want to be a disciple of man, you can avoid the cross, learn the truths about the Bible and store them up in your the mental files to increase your intellectual understanding. You can do this every day for your whole life, and never have to deal with the cross. You can be very safe in your walk as a Christian. You do not have to change or live through all the discomforts of carrying an obnoxious, encumbering cross on your back; you can do all this and be a good disciple of man. You can come listen to me every day and love everything I teach and never do it. If this is the case, you too will remain a disciple of man.
The Lord Jesus Christ is not looking for those wanting the position of being a disciple of man; He has a whole Church of people like that. He is looking for those who are willing and desire Christ’s own discipling. The original twelve disciples were handpicked by the Lord and it is amazing to me that, through prayer, He learned who would continue to walk with Him, and who would not. What is also interesting is that out of the twelve He picked, one of them – Judas – walked with Him claiming to be His disciple, but, never truly became one because of his love for money. He was there more for the sake of his position of being associated with a very wise sage. He wanted the excitement, the thrill, and apparently, what he thought would be the financial gain of it all. Yes, he did go into all the rough places and deal with all the discomforts for three and a half years; he looked like a genuine disciple, but in the end, he proved that he was not willing to pay the price.
There are people like that in today’s Church as well—short term disciples who will stick with it for a while, until Christ starts to put His finger on a place in their heart that is deeper than they expected. At that point, they begin to put on the brakes; the end of discipleship has come.
Pressing through Testing and Trials
If you are going to become a disciple of Christ, your worth will be tested because – you must prove yourself worthy of Him if you want the deep things of God. I remember one time ministering in Vancouver, Canada with my friend Bernard, who set up what was supposed to be a very small meeting where he personally invited everyone that was to come. By the second meeting, the place was packed, and there was standing room only. Afterwards, he said to me, “You know, I did not invite a lot of these people; I do not know how they heard about this meeting, but I really believe you gained some disciples of these truths today.” To that I replied, “If I gained even one disciple who will really go all the way with Jesus, I am going to be amazed.” “Really?” he said, “But they were so hungry! You could tell just by watching and listening to them. They came to every meeting and when I talked with them during the breaks, I could hear the excitement in their voices; I just know they are getting the message.” I told him I that would be extremely excited if even one made it to the end of the year as a true disciple of Christ. He said, “Okay, well, when you get a letter from me saying how many of these really stayed, then just rejoice!” I replied, “I will rejoice so much!”
“Blessed, happy, to be envied.” When you are walking around with a cross on your back, you do not feel like you are to be envied by the crowd. Crosses are constraining and quite conspicuous. If a man walks into a room with a cross on his back, he is probably going to get a lot of notice, but not many will say, “Hey, that is cool! I like that, where did you get that? I would like to do that; I would like to get a cross for my back.” Crosses are miserably uncomfortable, the wood scraping against your back, blisters, the heaviness and the pain when it bumps along the rocks in the road tearing up your shoulders. It is sheer agony as it rubs against your flesh. Your feet become covered with blisters and bleed, your knees ache under the pressure. The cross is a miserable thing with which to walk and no one really appreciates it. People ask you to come out and do this or that activity with them, but your cross will not fit. As time goes by, they start to think you are not very much fun to be with and, little by little, the friends fade away. Yet the Bible says that those carrying the cross are blessed and to be envied and spiritually prosperous. Why? Because you have God’s favor regardless of your outward circumstances. Blessed are the poor in spirit and the humble who rate themselves as being insignificant, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
In the beginning of Jesus’ dissertation He tells His disciples and the crowds, “This is where the blessing of God begins. You want to know how to be blessed of God? It is right here; become poor in spirit.” In today’s church, it is taught that you want to be seen as having been blessed by God, become wealthy, have much material blessings, a successful ministry and business, have wisdom above anyone else in every situation so that you always look like you are favored by God and never out of control. This is what is taught in the church, not in the Bible. The Bible says you are to become poor in spirit. This starts with humility, moving into emptiness, and only after experiencing emptiness can we move into the fullness of God. Embracing humility means that you consider yourself as less than others, the servant of all, that you consider yourself as one who will always take the lowest seat and never demand the highest seat. You are not one who wants to be seen by man but one who wants to lift up and encourage others. Humility is a place that draws the willing heart that searches for selflessness. The humble heart seeks selflessness, to the point that, eventually, the only thing the bearer of true humility sees is Christ. He becomes All in all, but your lower nature must experience mortification. The less of you there is, the bigger and more real Jesus becomes.
10:37-39 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who find his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”
How do we identify with Him? The only way to identify with Him is to carry your cross, which means to die. When you make the agreement with the Lord to become a true disciple, you are truly signing your death warrant and I do not know very many people who run to the guillotine. Even if they say they are willing, people are not looking to die and when they are faced with the circumstances that would require them to die, they run away from it. Yet Jesus is calling us to identify with Him in death of the self-life, self-love, the love of traditions, worldly expectations and worldly desires. There is much death that we must experience in many different areas of our lives.
A woman whom I am mentoring said to me one time that it seems like she receives a huge victory in one area and then, by the time she goes to bed at night, she has failed miserably in another area. I explained to her that this is because we have many hearts in our soul, and each heart controls its own sphere of influence. The Lord spoke to me one day and said, “Nita, you have many hearts and I am pleased with each one, but there is one you have got to get the victory over.” It was amazing to me that I had many hearts and that He was pleased with all but one. I wanted to know how many hearts I had, but I suppose it is different with everyone. However, He has the same goal for all of us: to make them all into one under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. “Unite my heart Oh Lord, to fear and honor Your name.” (Ps. 86:11)
Colossians 2:2-3 [For my concern is] that their hearts may be braced (comforted, cheered, and encouraged) as they are knit together in love, that they may come to have all the abounding wealth and blessings of assured conviction of understanding, and that they may become progressively more intimately acquainted with and may know more definitely and accurately and thoroughly that mystic secret of God, [which is] Christ (the Anointed One). In Him all the treasures of [divine] wisdom (comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God) and [all the riches of spiritual] knowledge and enlightenment are stored up and lie hidden.
These particular verses fit into this message because of the way Christ walked in the wisdom of God. The Bible says that Moses was the meekest man on the face of the earth; there is only one meeker than he, Christ. He walked in divine meekness. Now, that does not mean he allowed people to walk all over him. When He needed to stand up, gather attention and convict people of their sin, He did not have a problem doing just that. Yet He walked in such meekness that correction always came out of love for their souls, even when His words had to go forth as a sword into their hearts, and, as a result, He was persecuted for the truth He was giving. Humility and meekness provoked Him to love. He never tried to protect Himself, not even once, because He walked in the meekness and humility of the Father.
There never was a lover on the face of this earth like our Lord Jesus Christ. He loved everybody, both His friends and His enemies, at the total expenditure of Himself, because that was the wisdom of God. He walked in meekness, humility and love because that, too, was the wisdom of God. Never have we seen in all of history a man who walked in greater holiness than the Lord Jesus Christ because that was the wisdom of God. He walked and lived, breathed and thought only truth. He made every thought captive to truth because that was the wisdom of God. He desired no earthly platform, throne or pedestal, nor did He desire to be seen by man. His friends and family once asked Him why he did not go out before the crowds and do His works to demonstrate His power and He told them, “Your time is always right, but not mine.”
He waited upon the Father instead of rushing off after every seemingly demanding need. His friend Lazarus was dying and the love for His friend compelled Him to go, but the Father compelled Him to stay. People urged Him, “Go touch the man, heal him, let God’s people know that He loves them and that the Father is there for them.” This seemed like the natural course to take, but the Father said, “Wait.” Instead of getting up and running to the demand of the moment, what did Jesus do? He waited, because that was the wisdom of God. He was a man steeped in prayer, always praying, whether in solitude or out in the streets with the people. It is the wisdom of God to be a man or woman of prayer, to wait for His green light, to walk in meekness, humility, love and truth, to fill your mind with truth rather than the failing thoughts of this hour.
In Christ are all the treasures of divine wisdom, comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God, and all the riches of spiritual knowledge and enlightenment are stored up and lie hidden in Him. He is calling you to be poor in spirit because it is the wisdom of God. If you do not have this quality, you will not understand revelation when you hear it. You will hear the wisdom of God and you will not recognize it, let alone understand it. Only the poor in spirit understand the wisdom and ways of God and want to run in the His ways and not those of the marketplace. It is wisdom to be poor in spirit, humble, meek, and lowly; to learn love, faith and to be overcome by truth instead of every thought that flings itself upon your mind. The Church is so inundated by worldly knowledge that they have little understanding of the true knowledge of God. We are the only ones who can change that, and it does not come by reading the Bible alone; it comes by living the Bible. You must live it; this is His wisdom. In whatever areas of our life that we do not live the Bible, darkness reigns. Conversely, in those areas where we do live the Bible, light reigns. The darkness that reigns in your heart will affect you and every part of your life. Everything God wants to do through you will be tainted and hindered by the darkness in your heart if you do not live for the Lord.
Learn and Live Truth
In this life we are called to learn one lesson: to learn and live truth. Our warfare must be to fight to live truth. Our warfare must be to wrestle to understand the wisdom of God so that we may live the wisdom of God. All divine treasures are locked up within the wisdom of God, which in turn is locked up in Christ. If you want to walk in the depths of God you must hunger and thirst for the treasures locked up in Christ and the only way to unlock it is to live in the wisdom of God; this is the goal we must struggle to attain. It is also Satan’s struggle to keep us from this goal. If there is one thing he does not want you to understand, it is how to become a disciple of God. He wants you to keep thinking that you can continue to listen to the Word without living it, and continue to prosper. He wants you to keep believing that knowledge is possession, when in fact it is not. You do not have true possession of the knowledge until you are living it, but Satan wants you to think that the minute you know, you have got it, so that you will never change and consequently never attain to what you were created to have: union with Christ in this life.
Truth was given to us through Christ, the Word Incarnate, to help us understand the ways of God so we are transformed into the likeness of Christ. You could pastor a church of one-hundred thousand people, but if you get to Heaven and you have never learned the ways of Christ, it is all going to be burned up in the fire and you would have gained nothing. On the other hand, when a pastor of a tiny church of ten or fifteen has learned the ways of Christ, his wealth in Heaven will be phenomenal. He is going to have many crowns to lay at the Lord’s feet, because he has learned the true reason for life: to be fully formed into His image and to live the fullness of truth and abundant life which you cannot have unless you are transformed by truth, a transformation that can only happen as you invest your very soul to live the truth you are learning.
The Bible teaches us that if we look in the mirror and do not see the face of Christ, or if we hear the truth and do not live it, then we are deceived because we have not taken the truth and made it ours and sought to live it. Truth is given to free us into the abundant life of Christ, never to bind us. However, the cross, which applies the truth to our souls and is the instrument of transformation, is a very uncomfortable thing to bear because it fights against our flesh. The cross was given to be a sword cutting asunder between soul and spirit, cutting off the flesh so that the spirit can prosper. The sword is meant to sever the spirit from the soul so that the spirit can be released to reign over the soul, and to sever the flesh from the soul and spirit so that the spirit can make it’s ascendancy so you can rule and reign with Christ in this life.
That is what the cross does but it is a miserable thing to bear because our flesh and soul are very uncomfortable with truth as God sees it. The height of human intellect and power stand naked before the Lord and say, “What is truth?” When truth bound in thorns stands before man, he does not comprehend. Only one who has learned the wisdom of God can see the majesty of meekness and brokenness of Christ Jesus and will look at the crucified Christ and find the beauty of the crucified life. Wisdom will turn away from the glory, glamour and glitz of all that is worldly, even if all these things were laid at its feet.
The one who walks in the wisdom of God walks in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ and will not settle for less. They will demand that their flesh die before the glory of the cross of Christ. In making daily demands of the flesh to die, they will be born into the experience of being poor in spirit, together with its promised blessing of happiness. We are not looking for the wealth of this world, but for the poverty of Christ, for this is where you will find truth and the kingdom of Heaven. When you have the poverty of Christ and it has become one with you, and you with it, you will have the wealth of the world but you will never touch it. It will be used for Kingdom purposes but you will never hoard it. It will go where God wants it to go because the aim of your life is not fixed on attaining power. The hearts of people that have to hoard money are forever attached to this world. You cannot break your heart away when you hoard money. If you want the life of Christ you must do the opposite of hoarding money, because it is too dangerous; it will kill your faith. You must not anchor your life upon any earthly thing, or it will destroy your faith, and without faith you cannot be anything in Christ; you do not have the grace or strength to die the death.
God is calling us to be poor in spirit that we might be rich in Christ. Your goal in this life is not to become someone of worldly wealth, lest you be poor in Christ. When you are rich in Christ, the Lord will put money into your hands because He knows you will never touch it with your heart and it will always go where He wants it to go. You will never stuff it into some bank account because you have set your heart on the wrong thing. Do you understand how serious this is? Whenever you let your life get settled on anything temporal and it becomes your foundation, security or safety, you are destroying the faith that will lead you deep into Christ. When He becomes your all in all, you will have all the treasures in Heaven at your disposal in your soul, a prize much greater and riches much more magnificent than any temporal thing you could ever own.
Learn the ways and purposes of the Father by learning the ways and purposes of Jesus. Jesus came to this earth to reveal the Father to us and to teach us how to walk before Him. If we are not walking like Jesus we are missing it. You want to know how to go deep in God? Matthew, Mark, Luke, John – know these books and understand them and read them over and over again until the Word is so deep in you because those four Gospels show us the way He walked. They show you in living color how our Lord Jesus Christ walked so we can walk like Him. We cannot modernize them to make them adaptable to today’s world, for His ways are eternal. We do not adapt Him to our world, we adapt ourselves to His, and as we do, we become ever-increasingly poor until we are rich in Christ which is the ultimate goal. And He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”
Galatians 5:19-21 Now the doings (practices) of the flesh are clear (obvious): they are immorality, impurity, indecency, Idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger (ill temper), selfishness, divisions (dissensions), party spirit (factions, sects with peculiar opinions, heresies), Envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Here He is speaking to the Church, not the sinner. If you continue in the way of the world you will not inherit the kingdom of God. If you are one who practices idolatry, meaning you have a tendency towards bitterness, unforgiveness, anger and strife; you will not inherit the kingdom of God. If you practice immorality and indecency, again, you will not inherit the Kingdom, even though you might be born again. If you live in the works of the flesh then you will never inherit that to which you have been called; it is therefore imperative that you let go of the works of the flesh if you want to inherit the things that you were created to inherit in this life.
A man says to his son, “I am going to leave you a great inheritance, but I want you to learn the family business so well that you can do it with your eyes closed. You must know the answer to every question that will ever be asked of you because you will have learned how to prosper the family business so well. I want to see this in your life before I go onto the next life. If I see it, the inheritance will be yours.” And the son says, “Well, I can do that in a year or two, it is no big deal. There is a lot I can do between now and when Dad is taken home. I would like to take a tour of Europe, go down to the Bahamas. Yes, I can definitely have some fun. Dad will live a long rich life and in the last few years when his life seems to be coming to a close I will come learn the family business.” Year after year, the son would spend his time touring Europe and going down to the Bahamas, and all the while his dad is thinking that the son does not understand anything. The young man has no wisdom, he is chasing after things that are foolish and stupid, and he will ruin the family business. Finally, he decides to give it to the kid next door who is doing everything that the father wishes his own son would do.
The kid next door comes to work for him and learns the business inside and out, he learns to think like the old man thinks, and to run the business the way the old man does, every nook and cranny of it. In fact, he has learned it so well that he has added to it. The old man dies and the business is signed over to the kid next door because the son showed him upfront that he never understood. This is where the Christian stands today. God has given us a wealth so magnificent, adorned with such nobility, but His sons and daughters are wasting it on frivolous living, not giving all that they have to learn the kingdom truths. They yield to their flesh; everything is based on fleshly needs and the Father says, “They have not learned.” Because they would not learn, they cannot inherit the kingdom of God in this life.
All of us make a choice every single day of our lives and that choice is: “Am I going to learn the value system of my Lord Jesus Christ?” Most are not willing, and because of this, the Church has suffered a loss so high that it cannot be estimated. Those who, through a careless life, lose their inheritance, lose out not only for themselves, but for everyone in your world, saved or unsaved. No man is an island; we all live in relation to one another. The cost we have paid (in terms of a lost inheritance) for not learning the ways of Christ cannot be estimated in this life. Daily we have an opportunity, and daily it seems as though we choose the wrong things. God is a forgiving God and He will help change our heart so we desire to live the way of Christ and to make the right choices instead of the wrong. The things He wants to bring into the Kingdom through you can be birthed. It begins with a minimal amount of small fruit but the more you keep making the correct decisions, the easier it gets, the riper the fruit and the more the fruit abounds, not just in this life but also in the next. God looks upon your demonstrated wisdom and says, “This one will inherit the Kingdom of God.”
He wants to give us our inheritance in this life, but most will never receive it here because they will not pay the price of giving up the lower life. They think they cannot, but they can; anyone can if they want it bad enough. To become poor in spirit means that you empty yourself of the world until there is nothing left but Christ. Everything you empty, he fills. When you cannot empty anymore, you start crying out to Him, “Empty me! I cannot do this when I do not know how to do it. Give me the grace, give me the wisdom, give me the capacity!” You plead, fast, pray, stay in the Word, constantly comparing your life to it. This is the way you must walk before God. If you fail, you fail. Pick yourself back up, get back on track. People will point the finger at you and condemn you, but Jesus never will because He loves you. He knows you are frail, that you are going to make mistakes and a lot of them, but He is always there to help you if you lean on Him. His love covers, it hovers and strengthens. His wisdom is ever there to guide so you can make it all the way through the marathon successfully. It is the only marathon every runner can win; He wants you to win it more than you could ever want to win it.
Where you lack, He wants to provide. He wants to do for you everything you need Him to do, but He will not do it for someone who is sitting there not making an effort, saying, “I cannot do it.” He will let you live the rest of your life in apathy, if that is what you choose. If you will not pick up your cross daily and separate yourself from the world you are not worthy; and you yourself have determined that, not Christ. Blessed are the poor in spirit.