For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ? How does one become a disciple of Christ? Need a person only say “Hey! I am a disciple of Christ!” and then immediately find himself one of the faithful? Perhaps we ought to know what the word means first, and then we can move on to application. The English word “disciple” derives from two separate Latin roots, “dis-” and “cipere” that mean “two-” and “grasp” respectively. A disciple is literally one who hangs on with both hands. What does the disciple hang on to? Simply put, for dear life. In the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel according to John, Jesus observes, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). The first act of a disciple is to allow himself to be “disciplined” by his Master, to do the things that the Teacher instructs. Knowing what to do under any given set of circumstances is the first product of discipleship. This peculiar awareness is not acquired in a day, but it can be facilitated as the disciple increases his determination to be obedient.
We may spend a great deal of time quibbling about those things which we are expected to do as Christians, but the sum and substance of the whole matter was circumscribed by the Lord Jesus Christ himself in the Sermon on the Mount. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). There is no escaping that mandate. The ultimate goal of discipleship to the Savior is perfection. Peter teaches much in this same vein:
“Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” (2 Peter 1:2-10).
Can anything be clearer than that? Certainly the disciple is expected to be proactive, adding each divine attribute to the others previously acquired. Is this accomplished in a trice? Are we to be passive recipients? The answers are obvious.
John the Beloved taught the saints much the same, especially when it came to the time when the promised blessings would be bestowed:
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).
What is it that a disciple, a son of God, must do in order to “purify” himself? Can this be transacted in a moment? How much time has been given to the children of men to achieve purification? How much time would be required for a lost and fallen man to become as God the Father is? Is this something that a man on his own could accomplish? Has the Father of All given any tools, provisions, or accommodations by which His children might partake of the divine nature? Surely this must be the case or He would not have required this of His children at all. What we will discover, however, is that the price of discipleship is miniscule in comparison to the investment that the Father and the Son have made in bringing about our salvation and redemption from death and hell.
At the heart of the matter is our relationship with God the eternal Father. We call Him Father; we are encouraged to address Him as such. Were all to be revealed to our minds and hearts, we would discover that our kinship with the God of Heaven is not metaphorical, but literal. As His literal spirit offspring, we are capable, with a great deal of help, to become as He is, just as an infant has the potential to become grown adult. This potential takes nothing away from the character of God, any more than any infant takes away from the adulthood of his parents. Just as loving mortal parents nourish, protect, and instruct their little children, so also God the Father nourishes, protects, and instructs His children, preparing and providing for their eventual exaltation, their own coming of age in the eternities. Therefore, we cannot dismiss perfection as something beyond human capacity. The truth is, there is no other acceptable destiny for the children of God save that of being perfected in Jesus Christ.