by Mike Ratliff
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 14:25-35)
During all my Soul-led years as a born again believer, I read the passage above (Luke 14:25-35) innumerable times. I had an understanding of it, but I have found since I became Spirit-led that I was wrong all along. I had assumed someday I would learn to enjoy church enough and develop a deeper love and devotion to the Lord through that. Boy was that stupid!
The very day I surrendered to the Lord by submitting to His Lordship in every part of my life, in August 2004, I experienced the deepest love for the Lord imaginable. It has never diminished. It is constantly growing deeper. I was doing many self-evaluations during those days and I remember being totally amazed at the changes in me. My value system had been completely altered. Of course, now I know why. The Lord had circumcised my heart. That hard layer separating my conscience from my Mind, my Will, and my Emotions had been crushed and cut away. God’s value system was now apparent to my Soul. It was the most humbling yet exhilarating thing I have ever gone through rivaling even the day of my salvation.
I was deep into the Word through it all. God was writing His Word on my heart. I found myself in worship at times so deep I would be weeping and weeping in total devotion and adoration of my Lord never wanting it to end. God was reshaping my heart constantly. Why? I was spending the vast majority of my time in His presence. I was seeking His face with all sorts of deep questions about doctrine and this spiritual walk. He blessed me with an overwhelming understanding in every area in which He led me to pray. It was and still is very humbling. Moreover, He did it all.
What is the outcome when we do this? We grow up and become genuine disciples of Christ. We are no longer just church folks. We have become those who follow hard after our Lord. When we do this, He changes us. What are the changes? We find we have the deepest Love and devotion for the Lord. We love Him above all. We love our spouses and families deeply, but the love we have for the Lord is infinitely higher. The Soul-led cannot say that. They are still putting self first. The Spirit-led are the opposite. Because of their heart circumcision, their love for God outweighs everything. They have a Disciple’s heart.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)
This is another passage I had trouble grasping until I became Spirit-led. I thought all along to love God like that I had to try hard. In fact, the moment I became Spirit-led this love took over my heart. This love is rooted deep and firm in our broken Disciple’s heart. Jesus said only those willing to take up their crosses are His disciples. That means that His disciples are those who have died to self. Instead, they live for Him and His glory. That is also nearly impossible for the Soul-led. Why? The very definition of Soul-led gives us that answer. The Soul-led live for self. Their pursuit is almost entirely self-gratification. The Spirit-led have died to self. They are shouldering their crosses most of the time. As they mature, they carry that cross more and more. As they near the transition point from Adult to Mature Christian, they are carrying their crosses most of the time. The Mature Christian has died to self. Any straying back to self-gratification is dealt with swiftly with Repentance with Joy.
Another thing I did not understand about that passage in Luke is that counting the cost stuff. After I became Spirit-led, I finally understood the essence of this passage. When we cross that threshold of total surrender we are making the statement to the Lord we are giving up everything to be the disciple He wills for us to be. We have counted the cost and found the value of our eternal treasure is far more valuable than living for pride’s sake. We see the stuff the world offers as pitiful and worthless compared to the wonderful godly treasure being laid up in the treasury of our hearts. The Spirit-led are letting go of it. The more they mature, the more they let go. By the time, they become Mature Christians they are not holding on to any of it. The cost to them is seen as nothing. Their Disciple’s hearts are broken yet bold for the Lord. They see obedience to their Lord and Master as the sweetest and most fulfilling place to be.
The Disciple’s heart does not live for self. It lives for the Master’s glory. Suffering for His glory is the most edifying place to be. The believer with a Disciple’s heart will not compromise or be self-protective. He or she will deny self as a way of life. This is all by God’s Grace. A disciple is a pupil, learner, or follower. All believers are called to be in a constant state of learning from the Lord. Our teacher is God. Our curriculum is life plus His wisdom empowered by His grace. Our textbook is the Word of God. In my own case, God drew me out of Soul-led religiosity over several months. He was, and still is, my tutor. He guided me into ever-deeper studies and steps of faith. One day I found He had circumcised my heart. All of the wonderful cleansing and reshaping of my heart was His good work. I was truly functioning as His disciple. He had developed my heart into a Disciple’s heart.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of our becoming serious students of all things which God leads us learn. He gave me an insatiable hunger and thirst for the truth. I look back now on the path I have traveled over the last several years and can now see very clearly how my study of one thing led to the next thing which drew me into further study of Church doctrine or Church history or proper Biblical exegesis. (2 Timothy 2:15) God controlled and is still controlling it all. He is my discipler.
The believer with a Disciple’s heart will fall out of love with doctrines they used to embrace and even teach. Instead of hanging onto the doctrines of men, this believer drops them like a hot potato as God imparts His truth and wisdom about those things. Proper exegesis, the rightly dividing of the Truth of God’s Word, results in doctrinal gaps being filled in and faulty portions being replaced entirely.
Over the last several months, I have been slowly developing the chapters you are reading. Then I took some time off writing because my discipler, my Lord, had guided me into some deeper study. Now I am writing again after three weeks. Since the Lord has drawn me into this deeper walk about becoming a Mature Christian, I have done a great deal of study and research. Over the last three weeks I have dug deep into Church history in an attempt to nail down the doctrinal position God has lead me to grasp. I have found the Lord had led me to the truth once again. I believe this is a function of the Disciple’s heart.
I have fallen out of love with religiosity. I still teach and serve in my Church, but I have become convinced that many of the things I have taught and have heard preached over the last several years are not right. In fact, the huge majority of Church doctrines taught in the Western Church are the heretical doctrines of Arminianism, Semi-Pelagianism, and Pelagianism. These heresies depend on one basic tenet. They teach the natural man is not totally depraved and has enough good in him to seek God and do works of faith. They teach salvation is a choice man makes on his own without God’s help. Pelagianism teaches that God does not empower Christians to do His will. The Bible clearly teaches the opposite.
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:9-18)
Many who call themselves evangelical are actually operating within complete and unabated Pelagianic doctrines. Does this sound familiar? A local body of believers decides to have a revival. For this event, a special speaker will come from another church or wherever. It will be advertised a great deal within the city or the county where the church is. The services will involve sermons directed to make decisions based on feelings of guilt or fear. Since the gospel is presented there will be some who will sense the conviction of the Holy Spirit. These will experience a glorious salvation experience. However, there will be mostly false decisions that do not last much longer than the few days after the revival meetings. Unfortunately, those numbers are counted as victories for the kingdom. The emphasis on this type of evangelism is not a response to a Holy God who is offended by our sin, but instead is based on coming to Christ so He can make our lives better. In other words, those people are called to make decisions based on feelings and by their own determination. The focus is not on getting right with God, but on people make decisions.
True salvation is brought about by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the lost. Believers who stick are those who respond to His effectual call by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. The reason the Church in this country is messed up and confused is its dependence on the false doctrines that elevate our responsibility to the gospel to our own decisions and feelings. This results in masses of pew sitters who are completely Soul-led. They believe their spiritual maturity is all up to them. However, if the opposite were true, then our churches would be full of the maturing Spirit-led who have given up on the doctrines of men and have come back to the truth. That truth is we can do nothing good outside of the grace of God and genuine believers live for His glory.
One of my favorite Christian works is The Pilgrim’s Progress. John Bunyan wrote it in the 17th Century. His doctrine really appeals to my heart. I began to research other Puritan writers. I found tons of material by those 17th Century Puritans as well as modern ones. I kept digging deeper. I found I had some of my own doctrinal problems I had grown up with. God showed me my own doctrinal position was a mixed bag of Calvinism and Arminianism. Since these doctrines are diametrically opposed I was stunned. God drew me into a deep study of both positions. I have since rejected my old mishmash doctrine and have lined up with the evangelical Puritans such as Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards. Why? The Puritans’ doctrines revolving around the importance of personal holiness match mine exactly. I agree completely with the Puritan view of God. He is sovereign. He is perfect. His grace enables sinful Man to be saved and to do good works. There is nothing good in any of us that God would want. Instead He extended His grace to me so I could be saved and grow in Christ. I allowed God to teach me through all of this instead of me deciding which way was right. This is what a Disciple’s heart does. Our Disciple’s heart is at home in the doctrines of grace.
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:8-12)
Part of our problem is the Church has long held to Bible interpretations by those who use faulty exegesis. That means they inject man’s doctrines and positions instead of rightly handling the Word of Truth.
Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:14-15)
The vast majority of Christians do not know their Bible. Instead, they rely on teachers and preachers who adhere to bad doctrine to spoon-feed them. These are the Soul-led led by Soul-led leaders. It is another example of the blind leading the blind. Proper God glorifying worship is rare. Worship should be all about blessing God not entertaining the pew sitters. Why has this happened? False doctrine is prevalently taught and accepted by those Churches. These people do church and think that is what it is all about. It is little wonder many of the younger generations do not want anything to do with church.
Those believers mired in their traditions may puzzle over the term doctrines of grace. It is nothing new. In fact, it has been around from the beginning of our faith. It is the essence of the gospel itself. The following is an adapted excerpt from a confession from the Counsel of Orange in 529 A.D. that was held to determine whether Pelagianism was a heresy.
If anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Corinthians 4:7), and, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10) If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, or that we can be saved by assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the effectual work of the Holy Spirit, who makes all whom He calls gladly and willingly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray from the plain teaching of Scripture by exalting the natural ability of man, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the gospel, I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God (2 Corinthians 3:5)
The Counsel of Orange practiced proper exegesis in full submission to God who empowers us by His grace. That is how proper doctrine becomes manifest. Proper doctrine comes from rightly handling the word of truth. That means not corrupting God’s truth with our own favorite theories or trying to make the Bible say something it really does not say. That only adulterates the truth and causes those who believe it to wallow in false doctrine. I do not want to be the discipler who has to stand before my Lord in shame because I have done such a thing. What sort of disciple of my Lord Jesus Christ would I be if I did not constantly seek to learn and present the truth?
What happens when the correct doctrines are taught and accepted in a body of believers? God blesses it all. Why? When believers live their lives according the doctrines of grace they are walking within the full knowledge they are saved, kept and grown according the Lord’s will and by His grace. Our works or our abilities are not part of that equation. God grows those disciple’s hearts as they submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As God develops our Disciple’s heart, our part will be to submit to His doctrinal cleansing. When we adhere to proper doctrine, there is no confusion or doubt when bad doctrine is brought to light. Instead, God gives us the discernment to know truth from what is false. We must not hang onto the doctrines of men. Instead, we must learn how to use proper exegesis and not deviate from the truths God reveals to our hearts. When we do that, we may become very unpopular with those who still hang onto their false doctrines that are really just their feel-good traditions. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus said would happen to us when we live our lives entirely for His glory?
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)
The Disciple’s heart listens to the Master, learns the truth, and acts. The world may persecute the believer who lives this way, but that is to be expected. The tragedy is the persecution that comes from other believers who are in love with their false doctrines. The believer with a fully obedient Disciple’s heart, however, will have the courage and conviction to not back away from the truth. That does not mean we throw our new knowledge and wisdom around like a club or sword and bash everyone over the head with it. No, we must be Christ-like in our dealings with everyone. There are no exceptions.
The Mature Christian is humble and is committed to remaining a disciple of Christ their whole life. There will never be a point when they will know it all. They will never reach perfection in this life. However, if they continue to allow God to cultivate their Disciple’s heart, their Bible knowledge will solidify more and more until it becomes the deep source of correct godly doctrines that will never become adulterated by faddish and false teachings.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.