The 3 Essential Ingredients of Discipleship

One of my all-time favorite jobs was working at Trader Joe’s. While there, I learned the importance of reading labels, particularly, the list of ingredients on the side of food packaging. It was helpful to know key ingredients so I could assist customers with various dietary needs.

The first thing I recall learning about ingredient lists is they are labeled in order by quantity used. In other words, the highest amount of an ingredient used is listed first and the lowest last. Basically, the first two or three ingredients on a list is the majority of what a person is consuming.

Understanding what’s in your food is important for a number of reasons, but one very practical reason is to make sure you get what you want. For instance, if you want to eat something high in protein, one or more of the first few ingredients must be rich in protein. Likewise, if you want to consume a food product high in fiber, one or more of the first few ingredients must contain fiber.

Like ingredient lists, discipleship is made up of some essential components. If these “ingredients” were removed, discipleship according to Jesus would cease to exist.

Jesus gave us the three essential ingredients of discipleship.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

– Mark 8:34 (NIV)

Deny Yourself

We live in an age of self-exaltation and self-gratification. If you haven’t noticed, people are really into themselves. Entrepreneurs picked up on this trend years ago and created industries that feed people’s desire to build their kingdoms. Whether through social media or consumerism, fashion accessories or status symbols, people spend their time and money creating an image, one they hope will give them fame, influence, or power in their social spheres.

Jesus says, if we want to be his disciples, the first thing to go is our own agenda. Following Jesus means unfollowing ourselves. It’s a radical message in a world of self-centeredness; however, according to Jesus, life is not about us. It’s not about our goals, dreams, or ambitions. We are called to deny ourselves. Discipleship is about dying to self.

C. S. Lewis understood this dynamic of discipleship and wrote about it in the closing of his famous book, Mere Christianity. Lewis said, “Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

Take Up Your Cross

During the Roman Empire, the cross was the most offensive and brutal way to be murdered. Criminals were forced to carry a cross to an execution site only to be nailed to it. Once there, they were publicly displayed and left for dead. Rome used such tactics to display their authority and power over individuals. Rome was in charge and everyone knew it. To be crucified was to submit to the authority of another. Jesus called his disciples to take up their cross, proclaiming his authority over them. God is sovereign and has claimed the right to rule every human life surrendered to him.

People love to proclaim their false sense of authority. They choose to live their life, their way, often becoming combative toward anyone who appears to undermine their reign. Submitting to the authority of Jesus will be challenging in a world where everyone does what seems right in their own eyes. Yet, Jesus calls us to himself, so we must follow. If we want to be his disciples, we must pick up our cross.

Living under the authority of Jesus has radical and practical elements. For instance, it will be radical to many if you deny yourself and pursue holiness. First Peter 4:4 says people will be surprised when you don’t join them in their reckless, wild living. They will even heap abuse on you for taking the high road. Yet, practically speaking, the Bible tells us we will reap a harvest if we do not become weary of doing good (Galatians 6:9). Furthermore, Paul reminds us that “godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8 NIV).

Follow Jesus

Following Jesus means turning away from every voice and opinion not of him and seeking his will only. There are two primary ways disciples can do this today: soaking in the Scriptures and actively engaging in a local church.

The Bible is the inspired word of God, and although it’s about God, it’s for his people. We see the clearest picture of Jesus in the Bible. If we are going to follow him, become like him, and walk in a manner worthy of his gospel (Philippians 1:27), we must know what the Bible teaches about him. Simply reading the Gospels can go a long way in understanding his heart and message for the world.

Engaging in a local church is another way to follow Jesus. As we interact with those for whom Christ died, we learn to lay down our lives, love our neighbors, and unite through the midst of diversity. We learn to live as family. We learn to navigate messiness. Practicing the way of Jesus works best in the context of church community. He designed it to work as such.

Don’t miss the power of Christ’s words. If you want to be his disciple, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him. There is no other way.

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