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Ideal Disciple?by Duane Mabee on April 15, 2021
What does an ideal disciple of Christ look like? J. Oswald Sanders addresses that question in his book Spiritual Discipleship, and he refers us back to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12. If you have paid careful attention to that list of character qualities, you know that it sets the bar for disciples quite high. At least we see it as high. Jesus sees these attributes as normative for His disciples, not limited to elite Christians.
Sanders writes that Jesus’ discipleship list begins with four passive personal qualities. They describe the spiritual attitudes of a disciple. Sanders names the first quality Spiritual Inadequacy, v.3. We strongly dislike the word “inadequate,” and never want it applied to us, but Jesus says it’s a good thing spiritually. The disciple who is blessed is the person who recognizes his or her own spiritual bankruptcy and relies completely on Jesus and His limitless resources. This person realizes that they cannot bring anything spiritually impressive to Christ. They are completely dependent on what He brings to them. Because they recognized their own spiritual poverty, Jesus promises that the kingdom of heaven will be theirs.
The second spiritual attitude is Spiritual Contrition, v. 4, and it is a direct result of the spiritual poverty described in the first beatitude. This attitude causes the disciple to mourn deeply over sin, failure, and the slow pace of their spiritual growth in Christ likeness. True disciples grieve over anything in them that displease the Lord. Because they do, Jesus promises they will be comforted.
Spiritual Humility, v. 5, is the third attribute of a disciple. Humility is rare. It isn’t something we typically value because we see it as weakness. Jesus and Moses, however, were described as deeply humble, yet “both could blaze with sinless anger when the interests of God were at stake”. Sanders doesn’t give a solid definition of humility, so let me take a shot. To be humble is to have an accurate assessment of yourself in relationship to God and others that is absent of pride. A humble person understands that who they are and the gifts they have come from God. They did not create or earn their talents, abilities, intellect, etc. We think the aggressive, self-assured will end up on top, but Jesus promises that the humble will inherit the earth.
The ideal disciple is also characterized by what Sanders calls Spiritual Aspiration. This is a person who is unsatisfied with their current level of spiritual progress and has a passionate craving to grow in Christlikeness and righteousness. Spiritually, this person may put the rest of us to shame spiritually, yet they still yearn to grow closer to Christ and more like Him. Because they do, Christ promises that they will be filled.
The bar of discipleship is already set high, and we have only looked at the first four beatitudes. But the beatitudes do not describe a goal for us to strive to attain – as though they are something we can accomplish on our own. They describe a person who recognizes their complete dependence on Christ. That’s what an ideal disciple looks like.