When I was in college, it was the custom when the yearbook came out to ask one’s friends to autograph it. Usually they wrote a few words in addition to their signature, and when a girl asked for the autograph of a man she especially admired, she secretly hoped for some clue to his feelings toward her in the words he wrote. Jim Elliot signed his name in my Wheaton Tower and added only a Scripture reference: 2 Timothy 2:4.
“A soldier on active service will not let himself be involved in civilian affairs; he must be wholly at his commanding officer’s disposal.” The message was loud and clear. Any hopes I might have entertained, any feelings Jim himself might have had for me that he had not at that time expressed, must give way before the guiding principle of his life. He was not at liberty to plan the future, being at the disposal of someone else.
Any “soldier,” any candidate for Christian discipline, ought daily to report to his commanding officer for duty. At your service, Lord. What the soldier does for the officer is not in the category of a favor. The officer may ask anything. He disposes of the soldier as he chooses. The very thought strikes horror to the modern mind. “Nobody’s going to tell me what to do. Nobody has a right to dispose of me.”
This pattern of thinking has its powerful effect on Christians as well, so that we have come to imagine that discipleship is somehow an “extra.” We suppose that we can be Christians, going to church, saying our prayers, singing those sweet songs about loving and feeling and sharing and praising, without taking our share of hardship. Those who wish to make a special bid for sainthood, we tell ourselves, might try discipline (“it has its place”) as though it were an odd or fanatical life-style, not the thing for most of us.
It is as though we might be Christian without being disciples.
“Yes, I want to be a Christian, but no, I don’t want to be Your disciple, Lord. Not yet, anyway. It’s a bit much to expect.”
“Yes, I’ll be a disciple, but no, I certainly don’t want to leave self behind.”
“I’ll leave self behind if You say so, Lord, but don’t ask me to take up any crosses. I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable with that.”
“Follow You, Lord? Well, yes, sure—but let me have a little input, won’t You, about where we’re going?”
Nothing could be further from the spirit of the Gospel. The very reason Christ died “. . . was that men, while still in life, should cease to live for themselves, and should live for him who for their sake died and was raised to life.”
To be a Christian in New Testament terms is to be a disciple. There are no two ways about it. We have a Savior who has forgiven and saved us from the penalty of sin. Most of us would happily settle for that. But He died to save us also from our sins, many of which we love and hate to part with. Christ could not have done this if He were not Lord over all the powers of evil. Jesus Christ is Savior because He is Lord. He is Lord because He is Savior. I cannot be saved from my sins unless I am also saved from myself, so Christ must be “commanding officer” in my life.
**Excerpt originally published in “Discipline, the Glad Surrender” pp. 25-26.