The Centrality of Christ in Discipleship - Part 2

II. The Cross of Discipleship


INTRODUCTION: When we hear about the cross of discipleship, normally the first thing that comes to mind is the life of self-denial required by the disciple.  Our minds turn to command to take up our own cross and follow Christ.


            But the ability to take up our own cross flows from the fact that Christ took up His cross—thus Christ’s work for us makes real changes in us that enable us to live the life of a disciple. 


            Therefore we must feed our faith upon the message of Christ and Him crucified. 


            Paul’s own activities in disciple-making always began with we proclaim Him!  The admonishing and the teaching follow.  It is the proclamation of Christ in His fullness that is the foundation for all ethical action and devotion (Col 1:28-29). 


            Paul knew that his listeners must also build upon Christ.  All of their own striving and repenting must rest upon Christ and Him crucified.  The centrality of Christ must always be our proclamation in discipleship—or our efforts will be met with disappointment.


A. We proclaim Him and His cross-work—for only in the Christ-centered—cross-centered life do we find the divine power and love necessary to make a disciple.  Only in His glorious Person and work upon Calvary are found the divinely powerful resources necessary to make a disciple.


            When Paul was among the Corinthians, his message focused upon the heart of the Gospel—the truth with which God associates His power (Rom 1:16-17).  “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).


             The cross produces real transformation—radical changes that can only be adequately described as an entirely new creation.  In Christ’s atoning work there is a death applied to us; a resurrection performed upon us that implants a new life principle; there is a spiritual circumcision in which the dominance of the flesh is cut, severed, and rolled away (Col 2:11-12). 


            Christ’s death and resurrection affects these changes in the believing sinner.  Therefore, our approach to discipleship must have the centrality of Christ at its center.  For it is in the hearing and believing of this sweet message of the God-man standing in your room and stead that the poor sinner receives the power and the motives for discipleship.


            That means that when we proclaim Christ, we do so with the goal in view of making disciples and bringing them to maturity.  For the Word of the Cross is a message filled with divine power. 


            When the converted sinner hears what Christ has done to slay our old man and how we have been resurrected to an entirely new form of existence—it opens his understanding to spiritual realities that are life-changing.  He discovers the source of power for personal holiness (Christ in you).


            This has immense consequences and crucial application for our own methodology in making disciples.  We must follow the Pauline order—We Proclaim Him—then we Admonish and Teach.  Because only Christ and His cross can make a true disciple—you cannot by your own efforts.


            All of our instruction, exhortation, pleading, and admonishment must be anchored in Christ and His cross. 


And here is why—because the devotion, the diligence, and the sacrifices made by a true disciple constitute a series of faith responses to Christ, the Lord of Glory.  The life of obedience lived out by a true disciple takes place because he has ever clearer views of his Savior.   Faith-based obedience is never separated from its object; the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, as pastors and disciple-makers, we proclaim Him—for in Christ there is limitless transforming power.


Now at different times in church history these precious truths of Christ’s centrality in discipleship have been forgotten.  The pietistic error has dominated at times.  In that error the present power of Christ’s atoning work has been obscured and hidden from view; and all the emphasis has been placed upon the individual’s pursuit of personal piety. 


The pietistic, or holiness movements, have had much to commend; but they have been characterized by foggy view of the comprehensiveness of the Savior’s work in our nature.  And they have been characterized by weak views of the believer’s union with Christ.


B. Naturally a struggling Christian who is for the most part blind to the glories of his Savior’s work will fall back on self in an attempt to perfect the flesh. 

Dear brothers, practice without (Christ-centered) doctrine tends to produce legalism—like the Galatians of old; they made an attempt to perfect the flesh apart from the cross.


Another error is quietism—“only rest and believe” we are told—God will do the rest—He will do it all.  In this error, there is a disproportionate emphasis placed upon the believer’s position in Christ without the attending truths of diligence; self-denial; mortification of sin; and zeal for good works. 


In the quietistic error we see that doctrine without practice leads to carnal false security andantinomianism.  This constitutes an anemic, passive form Christianity which does not overcome the world; nor does it make true disciples.  Both of these errors (pietism and quietism) prove to be a departure from the Pauline model of disciple-making. 


Paul gives us our pattern—for he joins the power of God in the cross with the believer’s response of diligence and consecration.  The power of the message of the cross believed produces consecration and devotion to Christ which we will see shortly in our text.


Our disciple-making must be characterized by both proclamation and practice; by exhibiting the supremacy of our Savior and by exhorting believers to follow Him without limits or reservations. 


Today many evangelical pastors have strayed from the Pauline formula of disciple-making.  As they seek to shepherd from the pulpit; they have sincerely hoped that exhortation to holy living would gain the result of spiritual victory in the lives of their listeners.


But what they have failed to consider is that consecration to greater obedience is a function of looking unto Jesus and beholding Him.  They are exhorting without exhibiting.


Bare principles and moral injunction will not produce lasting change in the listener.  In the final analysis our most impassioned pleas for our listeners to be good; to try harder; to stop sinning—must be joined to the display of Christ—or the flesh will conclude that in itself are the resources necessary to crucify the flesh. 


This author has found that a substantial portion of believers a stuck in cycles of lukewarm-ness; defeat, uncertainty, doubt, fear, guilt.  When we call them to greater devotion and consecration and holiness—we must also exhibit Christ their Sanctifier—who is the Author and Finisher of their salvation (Heb 12:2).


If we do not; our poor listeners are apt to conclude that we have shouldered them with a heavy yoke—for where are they to find the strength; the hope; the motivation; the enablement and capacity to measure up?  How will they break out of their cycles of mediocrity and compromise and move squarely into victory?


Brothers, we must preach to our hearers what we preach to ourselves—namely that Christ is the Divine Architect of the new man.  The cross of Christ has redeemed and purchased us making us God’s possessions for His holy and loving purposes.  Christ’s mediatorial work has poured us into a life mould—totally shaping us to live for God’s glory (Col 3:10-11).


Brethren, on this side of the cross, true discipleship is living the new life Christ has wrought for us. We do not live a life of self-denial so that Christ will accept us—no; God has accepted the believer in the Beloved.  Discipleship with its life-style of self-denial is living the life Christ has wrought for us. 


C. The power to live the life of a disciple comes from the fact that our Savior lives through us (Gal 2:20).  Paul’s overflowing joy as a disciple of Christ emanated from his understanding that he was living anexchanged life.  Paul could say with complete confidence that Christ was living His life through Paul. 


The old Paul had been crucified with Christ.  The new Paul was nothing less than a daily cognizance of the reality that Christ lives in me.  Paul was animated by this truth—it permeated his understanding—Christ is expressing His personality through the vehicle of my fleshly body (Gal 2:20).  Paul was so conversant with his divine resources in Christ that he could actually say of himself, “It is no longer I who live!”


Pastors, let us mark this down in our own disciple-making—exhortation without this Word of Christ and Him crucified can produce exasperation.  I remember the formula this way: exhortation without enablement equals exasperation.   When we exhort—we must never fail to imbue our listeners with their infinite resources in Christ. 


These spiritual realities of identification with Christ stretch our understanding to the limit.  Just to think that in the mind of God, the elect were so fully identified with Christ their Head as to gain His life.  So intimate was this identification that in Christ’s crucifixion, our fallen human natures were judged so that we should no longer be slaves of sin (Rom 6:6). 


This is Paul’s victory cry—those who have died are freed from sin—sin is no longer master over them.  Our Adamic nature with its original sin—that bottomless vile vent of rebellion and pollution was once and for all judged in the body of Christ in His death. 


The Apostle does not relegate this doctrine of co-crucifixion with Christ to the realm of theory.  He immediately plows it into practical use.  The believer is to reckon, count, consider himself dead to sin and alive to God.  He is to present the members of his body to God as instruments of righteousness (Rom 6:11-13).


How blessed this is to know that our fruitfulness as disciple-makers is tied to the Word of the Cross. For the message of Christ and Him crucified comes with assurances that the message of the Gospel is God’s power to all who believe. 


The proclamation of Christ’s indestructible life and His intercession for us in His passion and His glory cannot fail to produce a life of true discipleship in the elect.  As pastors; you and I need that assurance. 


            In the Corinthian correspondence, Paul was dealing with a local church that was not manifesting true discipleship.  The problem in Corinth was that the believers there were still too attracted to the human strength and wisdom.  In their spiritual immaturity and pride, they flirted with an earthly value system that was hostile to the cross of Christ. 


False apostles from Jerusalem found the Corinthians all too ready to have their ears tickled by this fleshly value system. 


By contrast, Paul stressed that true disciples of Christ are radically identified with Christ.  They take their marching orders from the Lord; they operate by means of an eternal value system. The strong meat of the cross-centered life is their spiritual diet.


Paul spends much of the second epistle vindicating the genuineness of his apostleship.  He does so by both exposing the fleshly value system of the false apostles AND by revealing his own motivations for ministry.  When Paul opens his heart, we see that he abides at the base of the cross.


Paul made it known that his motivations for ministry were the polar opposite of the false apostles who preached earthly prosperity.  Paul’s radical identification with Christ meant that “[He] was always carrying about in his body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus might be manifest in him” (2 Cor 4:10). 


The Corinthians were in danger of being deceived by the false apostles.  These false teachers from Jerusalem had motives tied to pride, vain-glory, boasting, human wisdom, and the approval of men.  The world has always been transfixed by human strength, human honor, and human resources.  Christ said, “That which is esteemed by men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).


How different was Paul.  He only was seeking to prove to the consciences of the Corinthians that Christ was in him (2 Cor 13:3), and that all of his motives in ministry issued from the Person and work of Christ.


Paul’s point is that only Christ’s cross can produce the mindset of a true disciple of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle expounds his motives for serving God, and he expounds the source of those motives.


D. Paul’s motive for service and discipleship was the controlling love of Christ.   This motive issues forth in an action—the believer no longer lives for himself—he lives the life of a true disciple.  “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor 5:14-15).  


Paul says that he is constrained or controlled—he is so affected by a sense of incarnate love as to be controlled.  He makes the will of Christ the rule of obedience.  The true Christian is controlled by a sense of divine love so as to consecrate his life to Christ.  The one who lives supremely for family, science, world, mankind, or whatever else is not a Christian.


Christ died and rose on our behalf.   That is, He died in our stead.  The theology of this verse is more profound than merely the response of love to love.  The cross has an inner consequence only understood in terms of substitution.  He died for me as Substitute.  He met the demands of justice for me (the basis and reality of my justification) – I died with Him (co-crucifixion is the basis for the whole possibility of my discipleship and sanctification).


The power of Christ’s cross is life-transforming.  The sacrificial work of Christ is not merely an example of ultimate obedience for the disciple of Christ to emulate.  The cross of Christ exerts the power tomake new creatures. 


This is a profound truth in relation to discipleship because the cross of Christ produces actual changes in the sinner—changes which make the new believer willing to pay the cost of true discipleship!


Therefore we must fix in our minds that the cross provides each of the following three necessities for true discipleship.  The cross provides the motivation to live as a disciple (we are controlled by the love of Christ); the cross provides the obligation to live as a disciple (we are to no longer live for ourselves); the cross provides the enablement to live as a disciple (we have died with Christ).  


E. The nature of the atonement is learned from its effect – one effect is “therefore, all were dead” (lit. Grk).  His death secured their death.  Its design and effect limits (qualifies) the use of the word “all” in the preceding clause.  Thus, “Christ died for all who died when He died” (Hodge, Mac Arthur, et al).  Christ’s people are so united with Him that His death is their death (same argument as Rom 6:1-14 & Gal 2:20).


Dying with Christ involves death to sin and self and involves the obligation to die to sin and self. All who died with Christ receive the benefits of his substitutionary death.  The specific character of the atonement -- it was for those who partake of that new life of which Christ’s resurrection is the pledge and pattern. 


This is how Paul defends his conduct before the Corinthians.  Christ’s love claims him in such a way that in relation to others, he can no longer exist for himself (in contrast, his opponents boast to the Corinthians that they are religious, spiritual, and something in themselves). 


Paul wanted his readers to know that his old self-centered life was gone (now righteous, resurrection life).  Paul’s disinterested motives are a result of the cross.  God’s design in the atonement was to found the relationship with the sinner (design, choice, calling, relationship – Romans 8).  Divine love proceeds from Christ and streams down to the elect producing conformity to their divine Head (Rom 8:28-29).


 “Having concluded this” or “We thus judge.”  This clause assigns the reason why Christ’s love exerts constraining power.  Christ’s death not only placed the obligation for devotion, it secured that devotion!! (they died in Him).  “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24).


F. Faith in His having died for us is the source and principle of the Christian life.


Paul’s motive—the constraining love of Christ—is followed by another actionas a new creature in Christ; he no longer judges according to the flesh (vv16,17).


            To judge after the flesh means judging by the external, or outward side of life.  Paul is saying that since his conversion, he no longer estimates any man by the world’s standard of judgment.


            Paul exposes the error of his opponents with a powerful argument: his opponents used the same criterion of evaluation on Paul that the unbelieving Jews did on Christ!  Christ’s weakness (as the suffering Servant and Savior) was a stumbling block. 


            Now that the cross was the center of Paul’s existence (through the cross Paul had obtained a new knowledge of Christ and a new set of values, and a new orientation).


            Paul had known Christ “according to the flesh.”  By fleshly judgment, Saul of Tarsus viewed Jesus as a crucified messianic pretender, cursed of God.  When he saw Christ according to the flesh, he viewed Him as unbelieving Israel did (Is 53:3, 4).


            Paul’s new values include his theology of the cross – to know the power of Christ’s resurrection, we share in His sufferings (we are like Him in His death) (Phil 3:7-14).  Paul now recognizes that Christ’s suffering was vicarious—accomplished in the room and stead of Christ’s people.  (On earth, Christ’s true identity as Lord of Glory was hidden behind weakened mortal flesh – But Paul now knows Christ as both suffering Messiah and exalted Lord of Heaven).   


            Union with Christ has transformed Paul—as a new creation, he has a different standard of judgment—old opinions, views, plans, desires, principles, affections have “passed away.” Now he has new views of truth, new apprehensions of his destiny and purpose.


            The Spirit’s work in regeneration is a “first fruits” creative work that makes each believer a representative of a coming new world order!  The transformation has affected a kingdom transfer (Col 1:13). Here we are, radically identified with the cross, yet citizens of the new heavens and the new earth (Phil 3:20-21).  The recreated man in Christ is part of the new cosmos coming (the theme is replacement—new world, new body, new values). 


            With this perception comes a new standard of judging—the pretensions of the world sink into insignificance.  A new creation by union with Christ is the ground of all our hope. 


            A true disciple, like Paul, is animated by Christ’s love and a true disciple does all his evaluating by means of kingdom values.  Friends of the cross have an eternal value system.  No man who sets his mind on earthly things can be said to be a friend of the cross (Phil 3:18-19).