In order to celebrate our victory on the summit, we must lay aside anything that would hinder our quest to get there. And so we remember the Spirit’s words:
Do not fear those things that you will suffer. Behold, the devil will cast some of you into prison so that you may be tested. And you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life (Rv 2:10).
All preparations must be made to climb through all the trials that we will incur along the way in our quest to grow as disciples of Jesus. We seek to be aware of our hindrances in order to change or rearrange, or simply discard unnecessary baggage. Every successful mountaineer has a rucksack full of all those things that are necessary in order to be successful. And because weight is one of the most critical aspects of a successful climb to the summit, it is important to discard any unnecessary articles that would weigh one down in his or her quest.
We must be willing to break out of the bondage of past religiosity. Religiosity must be sacrificed for Christianity. Those things that obscure one’s vision of the summit of spiritual growth, must be left behind. Old appendages of religiosity may encumber our growth in Christ. We must be willing, therefore, to make all changes that are necessary in order to establish a greater relationship with King Jesus on our way to summit. There can be no growth in the knowledge of Jesus if one remains in the bondage of biblical ignorance or laden with fake religiosity (See 2 Pt 3:18).
There is no cheap trek to the peak where Jesus is seated at the right hand of God as King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tm 6:15). Some have held up or stalled their accent by claiming to have reached a “personal relationship” with Jesus. This statement is never made in the New Testament, and thus, we need to be cautioned about the use of the phrase lest we deceive ourselves into reaching a spiritual summit that is far short of greater heights above. We may be claiming a victory that is short of what God has offered for us to enjoy. In claiming a “personal relationship” with Jesus, we are actually weakening the authority of Jesus’ word in our lives and His promises that we must experience. And if we do this, we weaken the strength of His word and promises to empower us in spiritual growth (See Hb 4:12).
The claim of a “personal relationship” with Jesus is commonly made in a world of confused religionists who have little knowledge of the Bible, especially those passages that read with the meaning of what Jesus said in John 12:48: “He who rejects Me and does not receive My words, has one who judges him.” The Judge is Jesus. The standard of judgment is His word. If one uses the phrase “personal relationship” to define his relationship with the Judge, then he must seriously consider a very important point lest he establish for himself a manual on discipleship training that is weak and inactive, and thus will hold one up and stalled on a lower summit. In other words, if one does not consider the word of the Judge authoritative in determining his beliefs and behavior, then certainly he will not respectfully respond to it as the final standard for discipleship training. One’s “personal relationship” with Jesus would make Jesus equal with everyone else with whom we have a “personal relationship.” Doing this is a similar theological apostasy as the Hebrews who were making Jesus equal with angels, but no greater (See Hb 1).
We have a “personal relationship” with our friends and spouses. In this relationship we are buddies. We are partners. We have one another’s back in times of crisis and trials. This definition of a “personal relationship” with Jesus is usually based only on one’s understanding of who Jesus was in His incarnate state with the early disciples who knew Him as they walked down the Galilean pathways. They talked with Him. They conversed, and possibly they played a game or two with Him. They had a “personal relationship” with Jesus on earth. Our relationship with Jesus is all this, save for the personal encounter with Him. But our relationship with Him is far greater.
On the night of His betrayal, and during His final hours with His disciples, Jesus prepared the disciples for a paradigm shift in their relationship with Him. He said, “You call Me Teacher and Lord. And you are right, for so I am” (Jn 13:13). During His personal ministry with them, the disciples grew to the point of calling Him Teacher (Rabbi). They had also progressed spiritually to calling Him their Lord. But before making this statement to the disciples, and on the same occasion, Jesus had said to them, “He who rejects Me and does not receive My words, has one who judges him. The word that I have spoken, the same will judge him in the last day” (Jn 12:48). Our friends with whom we have “personal relationships” would never say this to us. Our wives or husbands with whom we have “personal relationships” would never say this to their spouses. Only one who was God could make such a statement, and our relationship with God is far different and greater than our personal relationship with anyone on this earth.
What the disciples of Jesus did not know at the time when Jesus was personally with them, was that He was about to ascend to the right hand of God as King of kings and Lord of lords. Paul later confessed that God “has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man [Jesus] whom He has ordained” (At 17:31). It is this Judge who is coming again. And it is with this Judge that we must establish a relationship. But the relationship is beyond simply “personal.”
By the time Paul made the preceding statement, his relationship with Jesus had changed from the time when he thought Christians were only a religious sect of this world. At the time he made the statement, Paul had an obedient relationship with the Judge who was King of kings and Lord of Lords. He had this relationship in mind when he wrote,
The Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Th 1:7,8).
Now when we use the phrase “personal relationship” in reference to our discipleship of Jesus, it is this Lord Jesus Christ before whom all men will give account of their sins, “for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Co 5:10). In order to stand before the judgment seat of the Lord Jesus, we must have an obedient relationship with Him in reference to His word by which we will all be judged (Jn 12:48).
Discipleship of Divinity must move beyond the “personal relationship” that the disciples had with Jesus before He ascended to the right hand of God. Our knowledge of the Lord Jesus must include more than the information provided by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. One must move on to the ascension of Jesus, and then into the epistles wherein it is declared that the Father raised Jesus . . .
. . . from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named, not in this age, but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet …” (Ep 1:20-22).
We must not settle for a cheap discipleship that sparks no fear deep in our souls in reference to standing before the Lord Jesus in judgment. Our personal friends may forget a multitude of sins because of their love for us. Our spouses may do the same. But if one is not obediently walking in the light of the word of the Lord Jesus, then His blood will not cleanse him of sin (See 1 Jn 1:7). And if we stand before the Lord Jesus in judgment, then we will have serious trouble.
As the first disciples who walked with Jesus moved on from a personal to an obedient relationship with a reigning King, we too must move on as disciples to the summit of our King Jesus (See Ep 1:20-22). This the early disciples did. And because they did, the word of King Jesus empowered them on to higher summits. This we also must do. Jesus is now the ascended Judge at the right hand of God who is coming to judge the world. It is this Judge with whom we must now have an obedient relationship. When this relationship with Jesus is established, then we too will be able to declare with Paul, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Ph 4:13). And to mountaineers this means, “We can reach all spiritual summits through the One who empowers us.”
The early disciples of Jesus made this paradigm shift. Paul explained this transition in the lives of the first disciples: “Even though we have known Christ [personally] according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no more” (2 Co 5:16). The first disciples had a personal relationship with Jesus when they walked with Him “according to the flesh” during His earthly ministry. But that all changed when Jesus ascended on high to the right hand of God. Knowing that the Lord Jesus now has all authority is comforting (Mt 28:18). Knowing that the Lord Jesus is head over all things is empowering (Ep 1:22). Knowing that the Lord Jesus upholds all things by the power of His word is reassuring (Hb 1:3).
Our discipleship with Jesus is based on love, but it is a love about which John wrote: “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18). Our love must go into action. We know that we are God’s “little children,” therefore, “when we love God and keep His commandments” (1 Jn 5:2). “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 Jn 5:3).
Our discipleship of Divinity is now based on our obedience to the commandments of our Lord. Our obedience is always flawed, but our flaws are covered by His grace. We cannot ignore commandments by focusing on grace, lest we turn the grace of God into a life of disobedience (Jd 4). True disciples of Divinity love God through their love of His commandments. It is for this reason that a true disciple is discovered by his or her obsession with the word of his Lord (See At 17:11). A true disciple seeks to be knowledgeable of the “climbing manual” of the Judge before He shows up at the court house for judgment (Hb 9:27).
When the love of God’s commandments reigns in our hearts, fellowship between Bible loving disciples happens. And when the fellowship of obedient Bible lovers happens, then we are brought together in assembly to sing the praises of our Lord and Savior.
Once we clear away all the religiosity that may have been handed down to us through our fathers, we are then on our way to the summit of an unadulterated relationship with the Judge who is seated at the right hand of God. The first disciples transitioned in their relationship with Jesus from personal to the One who reigns as a king over all things (At 17:31). If we would have an obedient discipleship relationship with this Lord Jesus, then we too should say as Eli instructed Samuel the next time he heard the still quiet voice from the Lord, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (1 Sm 3:9).
Do not forget these words from Jesus: “Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). When times get tough on “discipleship mountain,” and when you think you have spent your last efforts to scale the slopes, having dressed yourself with Christ, have handy also a comb and some lipstick.
[End of series on Disciples of Divinity. Download the book from www.africainternational.org, Biblical Research Library, Book 71. If you would share the book around the world, it would be appreciated.]