I had never heard of such a thing until my wife and I were knee-deep in planning our wedding. To be honest, she was planning the wedding, I was pretending to be useful.
I’ll never forget when she explained to me that we needed to budget for Manzanita trees as centerpieces for each table. Being a novice green-thumb, I was thrilled! “Manzanita” sounded like an exotic tree I had never encountered.
“Sweetheart!”, I exclaimed, “I love the idea of putting trees on all the tables. Do we need to go to Home Depot? A Nursery? Name the place I’ll pick up the trees!” Graciously overlooking my ignorance, she clarified, “Manzanita trees aren’t the type of trees you’re thinking of honey. I’ll pick some samples up from a craft store after work today.”
The only thing that outweighed my disappointment was confusion. Not only would there be dead trees with “faux fruit” hanging at my wedding, but I was going to pay for them when there was a perfectly good forest behind my parent’s house?
We worked it out in pre-marital counseling. I grew to appreciate her passion for dead centerpieces.
Now Manzanita trees can easily be found at local stores or in DIY categories all over Pinterest. But have you ever stopped to think that there are plenty of Manzanita trees to be found in the church today as well? Could it be possible that you or I are such trees? Appearing to be real while we are in fact, false?
If we don’t stop and take the time to count the cost of what it truly means to be a disciple of Christ, we may one day realize that we spent most of our so-called Christian life simply hanging false fruit on a dead tree.
Jesus will not have false trees at the coming wedding feast with His bride – the Church (Revelation 19:7-10). In preparation for His return, every Christian should constantly be asking, “Am I a real disciple? Am I bearing fruit as evidence?” and reflect on the words of Christ Himself:
“By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove [emphasis added] to be my disciples” (John 5:8).
COUNTING THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP
Jesus taught that no one could be a true disciple without first carrying his own cross. Jesus also taught His own disciples the principles of planning when it comes to discipleship. In Luke 14:28 He explained, “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it?”
Have you ever counted the cost of discipleship? Have you ever thought about how much planning we put into building architecture, building wealth, and building our own image? How much more should we take into consideration the prudence it takes to build our lives on Christ? For the committed disciple of Christ, a clear plan is a good place to start.
THE FOUR F’S TEST
Christians who are pastors, CEO’s, homemakers, small group leaders, or computer programmers may have different functions in life and ministry, but they all must bear the same marks of a disciple of Christ.
No matter our social status in life, we are all prone to sin and can fall prey to the lusts of this world (Romans 3:23; 1 John 2:16). If every Christian would commit to allowing Christ and His word to shepherd their heart, the resulting growth would strengthen their resolve, and be a safeguard against falling into the category of a false disciple.
Through the following four “F’s”, every believer can assess whether or not they are a fruit bearing branch in the vine of Christ or dead weight soon to be pruned.
This is the basics. If a proper foundation isn’t laid than the entire structure of any building is compromised. The same truth applies to faith and discipleship. In order to build a strong spiritual foundation, we must understand the doctrine of salvation. Further, we must be willing to ask the hard questions concerning the authenticity of our salvation. Being a follower of Christ is not proven by praying a prayer to get a one-way ticket to heaven – it’s a total commitment; a lifestyle. When embrace the practice of assessing our salvation and encourage others to do the same, we are blessed with assurance or convicted to seek the Lord – it’s a win-win. Paul instructed the Corinthian church about this type of assessment when he wrote, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). If you’ve never thought about this before, start by asking the following questions:
- Can I articulate what the Bible says in regards to sin, salvation, and sanctification?
- What does it mean to be saved by grace through faith?
- Have I been biblically baptized based on a true confession of faith?
- “Am I spirit-filled? What does it mean to be spirit-filled? How do I know if I am spirit-filled?”
- Do I get excited when I think of faith in Christ or am I embarrassed to be a Christian?
Articulating biblical answers to these questions will bring great joy and assurance to any true believer. Without a doubt, a clear confession of faith and the desire to understand salvation is essential to being a real disciple. Even long-time believers would do well to consistently review these truths as they teach others do the same.
God’s children come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and with a variety of temperaments, opinions and more. Simply put, every Christian has baggage! Thankfully, Christ accepts us the way we are on the outside, but is much too powerful to leave us the way we are on the inside. 2 Corinthians 5:17 reminds us, “Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” As we are being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, there are certain questions that must be asked and addressed to guard against becoming what James described as a “delusional hearer” (James 1:22-26). Delusional hearers are people who hear the truth, and know the truth, but never do what they supposedly hear and know. James says, “You’re fooling yourself!” That is not Christianity, that is hypocrisy. Believers can guard against such hypocrisy by getting in the habit of asking the following series of questions:
- Do I perform lip service to God on Sunday, then do things my way starting Monday?
- Have I set aside time each day to be alone and devote myself to prayer and God’s word? Do I view such disciplines as burdensome and legalistic or as essential to nurturing my relationship with God and hearing directly from God through His word?
- Are my prayers consistently about my own personal, materialistic needs? Do my prayers include confession of my sins like pride, lust, and selfishness? Do I regularly pray for others? Do I experience answered prayers?
- Do I guard against experiences and relationships that pollute my mind with lustful images, rebellious influences, false teaching, or gossip and slander?
- Do I regularly interact with biblical resources that grow me spiritually as much as I pursue leisure and recreation?
Your answers to these questions will reveal the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to your spiritual life – that’s not a bad thing. When people get honest about sin, submit to Christ, and invite His power into their weakness, the results are nothing short of miraculous. Only God can do such heart transforming work!
Always remember, what you feed grows.
Show me your friends, I’ll show you your future. The axiom rings truer than most would like to admit because let’s face it, it’s not easy to set boundaries in relationships. A common argument by young people is to exclaim, “Jesus hung out with sinners, why can’t I?” But viewing Jesus’ relationship to sinners this way is much too short-sited. Yes, we should emulate His love for sinners, and His passion for engaging them, but time and time again Jesus did this on His terms as He taught them His truth. He was the influencer, the boundary setter, and the “go and sin no more” teller. He was a beacon of truth and light as sinners met Him and were lovingly invited into fellowship with Him for the purpose of their salvation – that is what Christians should seek to emulate.
The fact remains, who we spend our time with and how we spend that time will have a direct impact on our life as a disciple. Proverbs 13:20 offers this sobering insight: “He who walks with the wise will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
Disciples of Christ must wisely engage in purposeful relationships, seek out and listen to wise biblical counsel, and spend time with those who love the truth. This doesn’t mean that every believer must only associate with believers at all times – that would be ignoring evangelism. However, Christians must be noticeably different than those who do not follow Christ. Believers are to represent Christ in this world and bring His light into the darkness, not blend into it. Ask the following questions when analyzing your fellowship with others:
- Am I easily influenced into sin or do I have a proven history of influencing others? Do I change my behavior around certain individuals or am I the same person at church, work, and on the weekend?
- Are there unhealthy relationships in my life that I’ve allowed to carry me away from Christ? What am I doing about this?
- Do I have wiser, older, stronger counselors in my life who love me enough to point out my blind spots and speak the truth to me no matter what it takes?
- Are my friendships centered on pleasure and shallow pursuits, or on a unified effort to glorify Christ?
- Have I asked someone to help me stay accountable in my relationships?
Relationships are the gateway to either blessing or bondage. If Satan didn’t agree with such a statement than he wouldn’t bother to assault marriages with a 50% divorce rate across our country or seek to confuse the gender identity of millions. His strategy is to divide and conquer. If God didn’t care about blessing your relationships and protecting you from bondage, then the Bible wouldn’t offer countless chapters on how to have godly relationships, the joy of biblical sexuality, and the blessings of obedience.
Truth and time go hand in hand. If you’re a real disciple of Christ, they’ll be no denying the fruit that your life is bearing for His glory. This doesn’t mean that you’ll suddenly become perfect overnight, but over time, you will see that Christ is doing a marvelous work in your heart. Sins you used to habitually commit will not plague you anymore, your inability to exhibit self-control will gradually be outweighed by patience and prudence. This is the evidence of His power at work in your life through the Holy Spirit. Jesus taught, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in Him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
When it comes to Christianity, you’re either a fruit bearing tree or a withering branch desperately trying to look like it belongs. So what’s the secret to never becoming a Manzanita tree? Abide in Christ.
Look at your “branches” and honestly reflect on the following questions:
- Are patterns of habitual sin fading in my life and do others affirm this?
- Do I willingly serve Christ and others out of love and obedience or do I loathe such things?
- Do I give freely to others of my time, energy, and finances for the purpose of their growth in the Lord? Would my closest friend call me a “giver” or a “taker”?
- Have I mastered the art of surrender to Christ or have I crafted a façade that fools people into thinking I am a Christian?
- What am I doing to deal with answers that I am not proud of?
Count the cost. Take up your cross. And follow Him.