Faith, God, Grace, Holy Spirit, Saints

Christian Discipleship: Becoming More Like The Master

In Luke 6:39-40, Jesus told the crowd a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher”.

Two extremes exist in reference to the pilgrimage and scholarship of life. Some assert that man needs no guide whatever. Is he not a noble creature, gifted with high intelligence? Can he not reason and judge, and understand and discern? He can surely find his own way without direction from without. As a learner, why does he need a teacher? Such self-sufficient people will not, therefore, condescend to sit at the feet of a master or follow the track of a guide—and consequently, they frequently become erratic, singular, lawless, and unreasonable in their modes of thought and action. This scheme is dangerous, but its opposite pole is not less so. Deliver a man from rationalism, and he often swings into superstition, and says, “I see that I need a guide, I will take the one nearest to hand.” Finding a guide constituted by this authority or that, the man who has ceased to use his judgement surrenders himself at once to his leadership and reckons that to question is to be guilty of wicked unbelief. Weary of thinking, they beg others to think for them and there they leave the matter.

Between these two extremes lies a narrow path of right, and happy is he who finds it. By the grace of God, the honest and sincere seeker will come to the discovery that a leader has been appointed in the person of the Lord Jesus and a teacher in the divine Spirit—and then a complete, willing, and believing submission of the whole being to His infallible guidance. Happy is the man, having seen Jesus appointed to be the prophet of His people, delights to sit at His feet and receive of His words, reason, affection, contemplation, and will—finding perfect rest in Him. He, with his eyes open, follows the All-Seeing One and with his mind illuminated, becomes a disciple of the Eternal Light.

It is evident that the disciple is generally drawn to the master who is most like himself. There is about us all a natural tendency to admire our own image, and to be willing to submit to any who are superior to us, and yet are of our type. If the blind man only could see he would not choose a blind man to be his guide; but as he cannot see he meets with one who talks as blind men talk; who judges things as they are in the dark, and who does not know what sighted men know, and therefore never reminds the blind man of his infirmity; and at once he says, “This is my ideal of a man, he is exactly the guide I require, and I will commit myself to him.” So the blind man takes the blind man to be his guide, and this is the reason why error has been so popular. No error would live if it did not chime in with some evil propensity of human nature, if it did not gratify some error in man to which it is congruous. Mind, then, whom we choose for a guide.

Having chosen his tutor, the student gradually becomes more and more like his master, or, having taken his guide, the tendency is to tread more closely in his footsteps and obey his rules more fully each day. A true disciple is like clay on the wheel and his master fashions him after his own image. We may be scarcely conscious of it, but we are most surely being conformed to the likeness of those to whose influence we submit ourselves. If we choose to be led by the votary of pleasure, we will become more and more frivolous. If we admire the slave of avarice, we will become avaricious. If we feel the sway of the minion of vice, we will grow vicious. If a man who despises the Word of God becomes our hero, we will, before long, despise it, too. While we are gazing upon him with admiration, a kind of photography is going on, and we, like a sensitive plate, receive his image.

When a man chooses a bad leader for his soul, at the end of all bad leadership there is a ditch. A small turn of the switch on the railway is the means of taking the train to the far east or to the far west: the first turn is very little indeed, but the points arrived at are remote. Men hold truths nowadays with the heart taken out of them, and the very life and meaning torn away. God save us from ever leaving the gospel, or losing its spirit and the solid comfort which it brings. Yet into the ditch of lifeless profession and philosophic dreaming we may soon fall if we commit ourselves to wrong leaderships. Let us not take any man whatever as our leader, for if we trust to any mere man, though he may be right in ninety-nine of the hundred, he is wrong somewhere, and our tendency will be to be more influenced by his one wrong point, than by any one of his righteous. There is only one whom we may trust without reserve—the Man, Christ Jesus, the Son of God.

If we have the Lord Jesus Christ as our leader we certainly cannot go beyond our leader, but we shall be privileged to grow more and more like Him, and we shall be perfected as He is. With such a Master, of whom our lips cannot speak well enough, a Master the laces of whose shoes we are not worthy to unloose, it may well come to pass that we are melted down with love and poured out into the mold of obedience. He is the Creator—can He not create in us His image? From such a one as He is, we confidently expect it. For, observe, the teaching, itself is such that it must have power over hearts that yield to it. His doctrine is almighty love—all His teaching is divine and yet so broken down to human capacity that it exactly suits the man who has taken the yoke of Christ upon him and determined to learn of Him. With our Lord, the teaching is most sure, most heavenly, most potent—and we feel within ourselves that it is so true, so noble, so grand—that it comes to us with authority and not as the word of man.

It is not in Jesus’ teaching alone that His influence lies. The most potent charm is Himself. When He spoke here below they said, “Never man spoke like this Man,” and the reason was because, “never man lived like this Man”. His Word was with power, but then He Himself was THE WORD. If we view the precepts of Christ as embodied in His life, they glow with beauty and flash with power. We are overpowered by the grandeur of the Redeemer’s goodness, by the splendour of His love, the infinity of His self-sacrifice. Jesus commands our faith by the revelation of Himself and by that same revelation He conforms us to Himself. In life, He was so outspoken and yet so gentle, so courageous and yet so kind, so unflinching and yet so tender, wearing His heart upon His sleeve in the transparency of truth, but prudent and guarding Himself with infallible wisdom. He was a match for all, however they might assail Him, and yet apparently never on His guard at all, but as a child among them, the holy child Jesus. Who could bear the Lord Jesus on his heart, like a cluster of myrrh, and not be perfumed by His presence? Who could be with Him and not be like He is?

Our great Teacher has a Spirit with Him, a mighty Spirit, God Himself, the Holy Spirit. And when He teaches, He teaches not with words alone, but with a power which goes beyond the ear into the heart itself. Our Lord, though most eloquent of all, for His lips are like lilies dropping sweet-smelling myrrh—though full of arguments, for His is the wisdom of God—relies upon the energy which He felt when He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, for the Lord has anointed Me” (Luke 4:18). The divine Spirit casts a light into the soul of such a brilliance that things not seen stand out in clearest evidence. And things hoped for are grasped in their very substance. With that light there comes also life to feel, power to realize, and discernment to judge. And so the soul is led into all truth and the student receives the lessons of his Lord in their life and energy. Who else can give this Spirit? By what other teacher can the Holy Spirit be breathed into us? If we want Him to be our Master, He equally longs for us to be His disciples.

It is promised to us, in effect, in the great decree of predestination, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29). This is the great purpose of God, that Christ may be the first-born among many brethren, and that the brethren may be a company in whose faces the Lord shall discern the image of the Only Begotten. What God predestines, we may confidently expect. It is promised to us in the very name of Jesus, “For He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). But saving men from their sins is the bringing of them back into a condition of purity and holiness. This indeed is the salvation which we preach—not the mere forgiveness of sin—but the conquering of sin, the driving out of sin, the making of men like the Lord Jesus by the Spirit of God. The very name of Jesus tells us that He means to make His disciples as free from sin as He is.

We know, also, that this was our Lord’s object, for the design of Christ’s life is clearly seen in His last prayer when He prayed, “Sanctify them through Your truth; Your Word is truth. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:17, 19). You can see that His one object is to make His people holy as He is holy, to keep them from evil even as He was kept, and to make them conquerors over sin even as He conquered. All His life He laboured at this with the twelve and with others who followed Him and His last prayer breathes this, “I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil” (John 17:15). Everywhere this is seen to be true. The relationships which He assumes suppose it, for brethren are like their brother, and friends are like their friend. The metaphors which He uses imply the same thing, for the grafted branch drinks in the nature of the stem, the spouse grows like her husband, and the members of the body are of the same nature as the head. The mystical Christ it not like the image of the Babylonian monarch’s dream with head of gold, and feet of clay, but Christ is one throughout. The grace which dwells in the head, transforms the whole body. It is our delightful expectation that, “We shall be like He is, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2), and then we shall be satisfied, for we shall wake up in His likeness.

What we might have expected, and what God has thus virtually promised, has been actually seen, for the disciples have been like their Lord. Have they not been like their Lord in points of character? It would be very absurd to say that the Old Testament saints were disciples of Christ in a literal sense, and yet in spirit they all were so, for the gospel is the same in all ages, and it is the same light which lightens every man that comes into the world. The inner teaching of the Spirit was the same to Abel and to Noah as it was to John and Paul. And while apostles looked back to Jesus and were enlightened, patriarchs looked forward and had light, too. Now each of the saints in the olden time had some likeness to the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of a few of them and you will see some of His beauties. Abel reveals His righteousness and Enoch His walking with God; Job shows His patience and Abraham His faith; Moses His meekness and Samuel His power of intercession; Daniel is like Him in His integrity and Jeremiah in His weeping. Like drops of morning dew, all these reflected the light of the Sun of Righteousness. In the New Testament, we see the transforming power of His teaching in many instances. Peter and John were like their Master, for we read that when their enemies “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13). The likeness was so striking that they were obliged to confess it.

Christ’s disciples grow like He in their struggles and temptations. They are met by Satan as Christ was. They are tried by the world as Christ was. They are assailed by Sadducean unbelief and Pharisaic superstition as Christ was. They have to go through the same fight and blessed be God, they win the same victories. Christ’s disciples overcome sin. By their Master’s help, they rise above doubt, they vanquish the world, and they stand in purity and faith. By-and-by they shall be like Him in their rewards. “To him that overcomes,” He says, “I will give to sit upon My throne, even as I have overcome and have sat down with My Father upon His throne” (Rev 3:21).

Come to Him, for if you are incapable, He is not, and His capacity will soon overcome your incapacity. You say, “I cannot learn.” Ah, but you do not know how well He can teach, for He can teach so well that even those who think they cannot learn are soon instructed in His school. Stand not back, dear friend, because you cannot pay the fee, for my Master’s is a free school. He takes nothing from us, but He gives everything to us. The only admission ticket that you need is simply to be willing to be taught, to be conscious that you need teaching and guiding, and to submit yourself to His guidance and instruction. Are you willing to do so? “Oh,” you say, “I shall grieve Him till He gives me up.” Well, I have often thought so. I do not wonder that you are troubled with that thought—it has often come across me when I see what little progress I have made after being so many years in His school. If I had a human master, he would have been out of patience with me long ago. But the Lord Jesus Christ never gives up a student—having once commenced to teach, He continues His divine lessons till they are fully learned—and the more difficult it is for Him to teach, the more honour it will be when He gets all His students educated for the skies. He will not brook a defeat in this matter—He will overcome ignorance, sin, hardness of heart, infirmity, and incapacity till He shall have instructed us in the lore of heaven and made us partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Come, dear brothers and sisters, you that are students of Christ, let us sit at His feet. Let us follow in His ways more closely than ever. And you, dear friends, who as yet are not in His school, He says to you, “Who is simple, let him turn in here. As for him that needs understanding, let him eat of My bread and drink of the wine which I have mingled” (Prov 9:4-5). May the good Lord incline your hearts to learn of Him, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

Let us ask the Lord to make us better disciples with the song “Transfigure Us, O Lord”:

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