Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself . . .

As the New Year begins, some feel locked in a season of life that won’t go away and where time stands still where neither they nor the clock can move on. Some feel alone, in doubt or spiritually dry. Wounded and weary or helpless and angry, some are so discouraged that a New Year means absolutely nothing positive. But they – or you - don’t need to think that way. God will make all things new.

Every year, we awaken to a new chapter in our lives. Every year, it reminds us of the restoration God has for us. Every year, God offers us this gracious gift called January. It will not be our circumstances this year that will determine our future. Our past will not determine our destiny. Our faith in a God who can make everything and everyone new can shape our tomorrow and year. With a gift like that evidenced by our calendar, what’s our next move?

You might say, "there’s nothing for me." But there is. Consider the words of C. S. Lewis who said, "If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion … is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
God wants us to want more — more of life, more of Him and more of us. This growing spirit of fidelity, eagerness and earnestness is wrapped up in the thing called discipleship. And so for heaven in 2007, let’s make disciples by living like disciples first. Simply put, a disciple is a learner who will follow the Teacher. Jesus called His Apostles to go into the world and make "Disciples." And He said we are "made" disciples when we have learned who He is, believed who He is and obeyed who He is by being baptized (c.f. Matthew 28:19-20).

Jesus outlined what discipleship does too. Here is what He said: "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?" (Luke 9:23-25).

Discipleship requires that we lay something down. What we need to lay down is "self". Jesus did not say that we must deny ourselves luxuries or necessities but that we should renounce the rule of our own lives. The phrase "deny himself" literally means, "to completely disown, to utterly separate oneself from someone." The word is also used to describe Peter’s denial of Jesus outside the high priests home (Matthew 26:34)! Each time he was confronted, Peter "denied" knowing him (vv. 70, 72, 74) or disowned his connection to Jesus. Christians are to count the old man as being dead (Romans 6:11) and no longer live for that self but Christ. We are to live our lives as one alive to God but dead to sin and to the world (Galatians 2:20).

Discipleship requires that we lift something up. We need to raise the Cross. To the listeners of his day, the cross referred not to "suffering" but "death." John MacArthur writes: "…the cross was a very concrete and vivid reality. It was the instrument of execution… a symbol of the torture and death that awaited those who dared raise a hand against Roman authority. Not many years before Jesus and the disciples came to Caesarea Philippi, 100 men had been crucified in the area. A century earlier, Alexander Janneus had crucified 800 Jewish rebels at Jerusalem, and after the revolt that followed the death of Herod the Great, 2,000 Jews were crucified by the Roman proconsul Varus. Crucifixions on a smaller scale were a common sight, and it has been estimated that perhaps some 30,000 occurred under Roman authority during the lifetime of Christ." [John MacArthur. "The MacArthur New Testament Commentary" p 49].

We are called upon to take up that cross, once for all, and go after Jesus. We must mortify the flesh (Romans 8:13). While we may "die daily" in persecution (1Corinthians 15:31), we must die to sin once for all to live again (Romans 6: 7-13). And finally, if we face death because of that Cross (Revelation 2:10), then "come sweet death." Disciples raise the Cross as the means of redemption and the meaning of redeemed life.

Last, discipleship means we must live something out. Jesus says, "let him follow Me day by day." To be a disciple is to follow after Jesus as a way of life, a pattern for living. As William Hendricksen paraphrased v.24: "If anyone wished to be counted as an adherent of mine, he must once and for all say farewell to self, decisively accept pain and shame and persecution for my sake and in my cause, and must then follow and keep on following me as my disciple." [William Hendriksen. New Testament Commentary. Matthew, p. 656].

So make 2007 a year where discipleship is the right description of your year. It might make 2007 heaven. But one thing is for sure for all disciples, it will lead to heaven. And isn’t that worth it all?

by Don Hooton

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