The Lord's church today needs devoted disciples! The truthfulness of this statement is self-evident. The purpose of this article, and one of the reasons for this special issue of Watchman, is the recognition that there are many challenges besetting the church as we near a new century. In order for God's institution to be able to fulfill His mission for it, Christians must do their work. It should be obvious to any with discernment that a primary need is devotion on our part, as individual Christians. Webster's New World Dictionary, in describing the nuances of the term "devote", states, "Devote suggests the giving up or applying of oneself or something with the seriousness or earnestness evoked by a formal vow (to devote one's life to a cause)." No other phrase defines the essence of discipleship better than the "giving up or applying of oneself." Consider the Apostle Paul's sentiment as recorded in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." It must be stated that the only true disciple of Christ is the devoted disciple of Christ.
What is needed is an understanding of what constitutes true devotion. The idea of "devotion" has given rise to quite an industry in our day. One need only go to a religiously oriented bookstore to see this. Books which foster serious Bible study, and are helpful tools to the true learner, are in short supply. The shelves are instead filled with "devotional" books. Books that make the reader feel good, make him feel closer to God, make him feel closer to his brethren. While I would not deny that such books have their place, I fear that we may lack true understanding of what constitutes genuine devotion to God. This misunderstanding has given rise to a "feel-good" approach to religion in our day. So many are content with their 15 minute morning devotional, which consists of a short passage of scripture on a particular theme, a morning prayer, and a thought for the day. They feel that after they have spent their quiet time with God, they have shown their devotion to Him, and have fulfilled their spiritual duties for the day. God is forgotten as the more pressing matters of the day descend. Or, some are content to give God only the time that has been reserved for worship services, and expend very little energy on spiritual matters the rest of the week. Brethren, in doing this we are not showing true devotion, and are robbing the church of what is dearly needed in these difficult times. Perhaps an appeal to scripture will help to remind us of what true devotion is all about.
First, recognize that true devotion consists of making Christ our Lord. He is to rule in our life. Our existence, mirroring that of the Apostle previously mentioned, must be centered in service to Jesus. Jesus stated, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24). Most are aware of the so-called "conversion" of the infamous Jane Roe whose court case resulted in the legalization of abortion in 1973. Most are also aware of the fact that she is a lesbian. While listening to her in a television interview shown shortly after her "conversion" I heard her state that she was not going to leave her sexual partner, "for anyone, not even the Lord." This shows the shallow nature of her "conversion". She has not yet submitted herself to God. Rest assured, we must come to God on His terms, not our own. Any practical suggestions I might have as to how to develop personal devotion to God will not be effective unless you, dear reader, come to grips with the necessity of giving yourself totally to Him. Can we say, as Paul did, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me?" The first step to true devotion is the crucifixion of self.
Understanding this, take note of the example of King David. One must only look to the psalms of the sweet singer of Israel to see a soul deeply devoted to his God. In Psalm 18, David expressed this devotion. "I will love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies" (vss. 1-3). When David expressed this love it was not mere sentiment. He could truly be stated as a man after God's own heart because his devotion was shown in his life each day. Consider the following suggestions to help increase your devotion to the Lord.
A devoted disciple is one who immerses himself in the word of his God. The root definition of the term disciple is "a learner". Thus, a disciple of Christ is a learner of Christ. This necessitates diligent study. Not the 15 minute devotional mentioned above, but a systematic and thorough examination of God's will for man. David expressed this sentiment in his very first Psalm, when he said, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night." Paul expressed this need to young Timothy, when he wrote, "Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine" (1 Timothy 4:13). Further, he stated in verse 16, "Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you." It is impossible to overstate the importance of Bible study. The Bible is our road map to eternity. It is the precious communication of God to man concerning His will. It is the only means of determining what He would have us to do, what He would have us to be.
Bible study alone, however, is not enough. This truth is seen in the broken lives of so many who fall into sin despite having a knowledge of right and wrong. How many elders, preachers and deacons we hear of who know what is right, but do not do what is right. They are as the Jew of Romans 2. Paul says, "Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things." Mere knowledge is not enough, it must be yoked with application. This speaks to the importance of meditation. I do not mean the "New Age" meditation gaining so in popularity, where the practitioner seeks to empty the mind. Rather, I refer to the filling of the mind with truth. After we have learned a concept, heard a sermon, participated in a class, we need to mull it over in our minds. Ask ourselves, how we can apply it to our lives? What practical things we can do to implement this precious nugget of truth? How can we use this knowledge to avoid the pitfalls that our advesary has placed in our path? For, as James stated, "If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of a man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:23-25). Study the word, meditate on it, and then apply it as you seek to serve your God with devotion.
An extremely important aspect of the devoted life is prayer to God. David recognized this, indeed many of the Psalms we have referred to are prayers. Notice the following sentiments expressed by him in the first few chapters. "Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer" (4:1). "O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, who have set Your glory above the heavens!" (8:1). "How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?" (13:1). "To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever" (30:12).
Prayer is our means of communicating with our God. It is a blessed privilege that is afforded us as His adopted children. The poignancy of David's petitions to God touches the heart. He poured out his needs, his praise of the Almighty, his despair during difficult times in his life, and his thanks for the deliverence afforded him through God's providence. These are sentiments which, as we express them, will increase our devotion to our Lord, and help us to recognize our dependence upon Him. Paul encouraged the Philippians to, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6).
James concisely stated what it is to be a devoted disciple when he wrote, "Pure religion, and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." This verse speaks to two main areas of the disciple's life: moral purity, and compassionate concern for others. Both are necessary to the devoted Christian. In a time of ungodliness, the call for purity in life has never been more needed, and more often ignored. As children of a righteous God, our lives, dress, speech and conduct must be of the highest standard. We must not conform to the mores of the day, but rather transcend them in righteousness!
Equally important is the need for a compassion and concern for others. Our Lord was most compassionate, and is the supreme example for us in this. Paul forcefully stated this obligation on our part when he wrote, "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). Further on in the text, in verse 10, he wrote, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith." This obligation to "do good", whether by helping your brother spiritually (as contextually indicated in verse 1 of the text), or in helping him in some physical way (as indicated in James 1:27), is part of being a devoted disciple. We must remember that we are brothers and sisters, part of the family of God. As such, we must treat one another with love and deference.
Many other practical suggestions could be given to enable us for greater devotion to Christ. However, these suffice to illustrate what truly is a devoted disciple of our Lord. A devoted disciple is a Christian who immerses himself in God's word; who applies it daily in his walk; who prays to his God often, revealing his needs, praise and thankfulness; who conducts himself uprightly; and who cares for and actively helps others. Now for the more difficult question, "Are you a devoted disciple?" God and His church need you to be!
e-mail Stan Cox
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