June 25, 2015

Archival Series: Salvation & Discipleship

We are continuing with the series by Dr. Rick Flanders. If you are new to this series you might begin with Part One, Part 2 and Part 3 before proceeding.

One of the most hotly debated issues in the Lordship Salvation (LS) controversy revolves around the doctrines of salvation and discipleship. Most LS advocates see these as one and the same. LS advocates blur the lines of distinction, which creates an evangelistic message that conditions the reception of eternal life on a lost man’s upfront commitment to what should be the results of a genuine conversion in discipleship.  Dr. Rick Flanders wrote Salvation and Discipleship, which addresses this vital issue in the Lordship Salvation controversy. The article first appeared at the Baptist College of Ministry website and with the author’s permission it is being reproduced here as a multi-part series. I am hopeful every guest will read this series with discernment and prayerfully consider the plain teaching of Scripture as Dr. Flanders presents it now in this fourth installment.

The Bible teaches that we are saved by faith in Christ, and also that we are to live by faith in Christ. Faith makes all the difference both in having assurance that you are saved and in living the Christian life after you are saved. We see this clearly in the book of Galatians. Chapter 2, verse 16, says that “a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.” We are justified (made right in the sight of God) by faith in Christ (as opposed to earning God’s favor through our supposed obedience to God’s law). Then verse 19 begins a discussion about how to “live unto God,” and verse 20 says that this is done also “by the faith of the Son of God.” Chapter 3 begins by affirming that, just as we were saved by faith through the work of the Holy Spirit, so now we are “made perfect” by the Spirit through “the hearing of faith” (read verses 1-3 carefully). Although the Christian life is indeed about commitment to obeying Christ, and discipleship involves self-denial and sacrifice, they are never successfully lived out except by faith. Just as real assurance of salvation comes only by faith in Christ, victorious Christian living is experienced only by faith. Notice also these scriptures:
•“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.” (Colossians 2:6)

•“Whosoever is believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:1-5)
Colossians teaches that we walk in Christ the same way we received Him: by faith. I John says that we are born again by believing, and that we overcome the world also by faith. Whenever a Christian gets his eyes off Jesus and Calvary, and begins to look to himself for assurance of salvation, he loses what assurance he had! When we focus on how we feel, or how earnest we were when we came to Christ, or how much our lives have been changed, we have forgotten the basis of our assurance. We are not saved through anything we have done, or do, or feel. Real salvation is based on what Jesus did for us. When we focus on that, God gives us assurance grounded in faith.

Just as many fail to have blessed assurance because they have stopped seeking it by faith, many come short of victory in their Christian lives because they are seeking it through the efforts of their flesh. As we have seen, discipleship is about works, and it will be our works that will be rewarded if we succeed at discipleship, but nobody ever succeeds at Christian discipleship until they learn to live by faith. Perhaps the strongest passage about the cost of discipleship is Luke 14:25-35. In it we find the Lord Jesus calling upon would-be disciples to count the cost (verse 28) before committing. There are several other strong statements made in the New Testament by the Lord Jesus about being His disciple, and it would be good for us to be familiar with them, too.
•“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39)

•“Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.” (Mark 8:34-35; see also Matthew 16:24-25 and Luke 9:23-24)
Some of the same ideas are taught in Luke 14, and the language there is possibly even stronger.
•“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (verses 26 and 27)

•“Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, cannot be my disciple.” (verse 33)
The phrase “cannot be my disciple” troubles us, but its meaning is clarified as we are reminded of the stark difference between salvation and discipleship, even in this chapter. All of these words of warning were given to the “great multitudes” that came to Jesus and went with Him after He illustrated salvation with the parable of the Great Supper (see verses 15-26). In that parable the way to salvation was made extremely clear, and also very easy. The invitation to the feast of salvation is given to all, and it is simply, “Come, for all things are now ready.” God has done everything that must be done for a sinner to be saved. He has given His Son to die a Sacrifice to pay for our sins, and He has raised Him from the dead, the Victor over sin, death, and Hell. All the sinner must do is come and partake of so great a salvation! But as many responded that day to the offer of free salvation, Jesus turned and warned them of the cost of discipleship. Salvation costs us nothing because God Himself paid for it. However, discipleship costs us everything! In verse 26, we are told to give up people we love; in verse 27, we are told to give up our plans for the future; in verse 33, we are told to give up our possessions. If we don’t, we cannot be His disciples. What Jesus meant by these things is explained by the two parables of discipleship He told, one about building a tower, and the other about making war (read again verses 28 through 33).

In the illustration about building the tower, the Lord emphasizes how foolish it would be for a man to start building without knowing if he had enough materials or money to finish the project. People would mock such a man and say, “This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” In the illustration about making war, the Lord points out how foolish it would be for a king to go to battle against an army larger than his unless he was convinced that he could win anyway. In both cases, the man starting into a venture should first count the cost, and evaluate his chances of success.

These parables picture discipleship, the Christian life. The follower of Jesus is building a tower, and he is fighting a battle. Will he succeed? Notice that the question is about finishing successfully. Will he begin but not be able to finish? Will he go to war, but only to be defeated? When Jesus said, “he cannot be my disciple,” He meant, “a person who will not forsake people, plans, and possessions will not complete the task he has begun; he will not succeed as a disciple.” The fact is that these three (people we love more than Jesus, plans we have for our lives, possessions that mean so much to us) are the things that usually draw a believer off the path of discipleship. Jesus tells us to forsake them all in our minds before starting out. It is not that we should “hate” our family any more than we should literally “hate” our own lives, but that we must love the Lord Jesus so much more than the dearest of our earthly loved ones that our love for them looks like hate in comparison with our love for Him.

Now the question of our likelihood of success comes before us. Will we make a success of our Christian life? Do we have enough to finish the tower? Can we defeat the enemy that is mightier than we? Think about these questions. The right answer is the same for both: yes and no. In our own strength and ability, the answer is “No.” The twelve did not do very well at discipleship in their three years of following Jesus while He was with them on earth. We do not do very well at living lives surrendered to Christ when we try to live for Him by our own power and determination. However, the Lord never intended us to live the Christian life, to fulfill the demands of discipleship, in our own strength. He said, “Without me, ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). He called on those who came to Him for salvation to yoke up with Him for discipleship (Matthew 11:28-30). With His help, we can build the tower, and we can defeat the foe! When we live by faith, the answer is “Yes.”

Let us not forget the context of the words we have been examining in John 8. Jesus told those who had just believed on Him for salvation that if they would continue in His Word, they would be true disciples of His (verses 31 and 32). And He promised that the result of their continuing in His Word as His disciples would be that they would “know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” The incident with the woman taken in adultery set the stage for the unfolding of this teaching about victory over sin in the life of a saved person (read again verses 1 through 12). Salvation from the condemnation of sin is the possession of every believer in Jesus Christ. Liberation from the power of sin is the experience of believers who commit to discipleship, and live it by faith. Actually, we are free from the bondage of sin the moment we believe on Christ for salvation (see this in verses 34 through 36), but it won't happen for us, so to speak, until we learn about it from the Word, and reckon it true by faith. This happens as we follow Jesus in discipleship (read again John 8:12 and 31-32).

No penitent sinner who has come to Christ need struggle over whether or not he is saved. No saved person need struggle in defeat without knowing victory over his sins. Jesus has provided deliverance from both the penalty and the power of sin, and we can have it by faith in Him.

Originally published September, 2010
The series continues with Part Five the final installment.

Dr. Rick Flanders has an itinerant preaching ministry for revival. He can be contacted at drrickflanders@gmail.com. Dr. Rick Flanders Revival Ministries

See- John MacArthur’s Discipleship Gospel and Summary of Lordship Salvation From a Single Page for related reading.

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