IN THE LEADER'S FINAL HOURS, he was almost completely alone. He faced death without the company of those who swore their allegiance. Most of his trusted and closest friends deserted him. Some fled and painfully betrayed him. The world scorned him. But not this disciple.
This disciple would remain faithful to death, following his leader to the grave. His mind was fully committed, his will set on his leader's agenda, and his heart thrilled by the intimacy of the relationship with his teacher. He was in awe of his king, humbled to be included in the inner circle. This disciple wrote of an early encounter with his leader:
Great joy. He greets me like an old friend. And looks after me. How I love him! Then he speaks. How small I am. Later the disciple penned these words about his leader's teaching and influence:
When he speaks, all resistance breaks down before the magical effect of his words. One can only be his friend or his enemy. He divides the hot from the cold. But lukewarmness he spits out of his mouth.
The disciple is famous, just as his leader.
Before his death he said of himself and his leader, "We shall go down in history as the greatest statesmen of all time, or the greatest criminals."
The disciple's name was Joseph Goebbels, and he was a disciple of his Fuhrer (his leader), Adolph Hitler. While others deserted Hitler, Goebbels spent his last days alongside him in Hitler's secure bunker. When Hitler committed suicide, Goebbels and his wife followed closely behind after killing their six children. Goebbels was correct; they are known as the greatest criminals in history. The atrocities they committed against humanity are disgusting. Their plan to eliminate the Jewish people was twisted and evil.
Goebbels was a true disciple of Hitler, a follower, a student. He trusted and emulated his leader. He was discipled, but his heart was obviously never transformed. He died a wicked man with a depraved heart of stone.
Not all discipleship is transformational.
Chris Farley is still regarded as one of the funniest comedians of our generation. From his sketches on Saturday Night Live to the movies he starred in, Farley was a success in the entertainment business.
Chris Farley was impacted by the example and influence of another famous comedian: John Belushi. In a real sense Farley was a disciple of Belushi. Farley famously admitted, "I wanted to be like him in every way." John Belushi moved from the comedy troupe, Second City, in Chicago to Saturday Night Live to starring in movies. Farley followed the same career path.
Farley's emulation did not stop there. Both Belushi and Farley struggled with obesity and had a reputation for wild living. Sadly Belushi died of a drug overdose when he was only thirty-three years old. And years later, after a night of partying, Chris Farley was found dead in his apartment from a drug overdose. He was thirty-three years old. While his mentor impacted his aspirations and his behavior, his mentor never transformed his heart.
Not all discipleship is transformational.
Every person who has ever lived is a disciple. Every person in your church, neighborhood, and community is a disciple. In the New Testament the word for disciple is the Greek word mathetes, which can also be translated pupil or apprentice. Disciple simply means "learner or student." Therefore, everyone everywhere is a disciple of someone. Or something.
Jesus warns us to be careful whom we follow because, as happened with Goebbels and Farley, we will become like our leader. In Luke 6, Jesus gathered a large crowd to Himself and challenged the people to consider carefully who they would learn from, who they would follow. They had many teachers to choose from, and Jesus used a brief parable to show the people the seriousness of the choice.
Every person who has ever lived is a disciple.
He also told them a parable: Can the blind guide the blind? Won't they both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher." (Luke 6:39-40)
Jesus was speaking among a plethora of religious teachers who led people away from the grace of God. To the crowd Christ was saying, "Follow the wrong leader, and he will lead you into a pit." We become like the teacher we admire, so be careful.
Only one Leader brings transformation to His disciples.
Discipleship apart from Jesus is nontransformational. It may bring changes, but it essentially leaves you in the same spiritual state as it found you. The discipleship may provide education, improve behavior, increase happiness, add value, or make the disciple more skilled at a craft. But these are just changes. It's the reskinning of the same thing on the inside.
Jesus isn't just a passing fad, soon to be replaced by another right around the corner. If you believe what the Bible says, Jesus doesn't change people?s clothes; He changes the very fabric of people?s being. He brings light to darkness. He brings death to life. He brings new to the old. The transformation Jesus offers is radically different from simply being conformed to the world.
One of the clearest statements in the New Testament that makes this distinction is in the well-worn verses of Romans 12:1-2.
Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
The difference is vitally important. The world seeks, through a million marketing messages every day, to conform our thinking to its standards. Most of us are more influenced by these messages than we realize. We will, in fact, either be conformed or transformed. Jesus isn't merely interested in conforming-changing the appearance and behavior of people. He's interested in transformation. Transformation is more than a surface-level alteration; it's actually becoming something else entirely.
Transformation only comes through the discipleship that is centered on Jesus.
This excerpt is from from Chapter 1 of Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow, originally posted on B&H Publishing's blog on June 25, 2012