3. Delving Deeper – What is a Disciple?
Before He ascended, Jesus commanded ”God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18-20 The Message).
In these verses Jesus commanded his disciples to make other disciples. In order to fulfil this command, He assigned the three tasks of going, baptizing and teaching as an obligatory activity of daily life. Baptism was symbolic of becoming under the lordship of the Trinitarian Godhead. Baptism leads to teaching, which is a core part of disciple making. Teaching was not just to be an oral activity, but an active helping of everyone including the weakest. These instructions to Jesus’ disciples are just as applicatory to us today.
Discipleship of Jesus means that Christians are to train, be trained, instruct and be instructed in the way of life Jesus showed. To listen to some Churches today, it is all about just believing and nothing to do with training, instruction and following Jesus’ way in life. Even though scripturally sex is only to be within the confines of a committed heterosexual marriage, a lot of people who would call themselves evangelical Christians believe that it is fine to have sex before marriage. They have fallen into the belief, that belief is enough. They are being taught that church is all about having a high entertainment value. A disciple of Jesus Christ is not just somebody who believes in Him. Rather it is following Him and letting Him permeate every aspect of life. Church is not about entertainment as its primary goal, but rather it is about worshipping God with awe and majesty and learning how to follow Jesus more closely. That is why Jesus commands us to take up our cross daily.
The word disciple derives from the Latin word discipulus, which itself is formed from the Greek word for pupil or learner, mathētēs. The New Testament uses this word not only of Jesus’ followers but also those who followed of Moses (John 9v28); the Pharisees (Mark 2v18); John the Baptist (Mark 11v2) and of Paul (Acts 9v25). Therefore a Christian disciple in its base form is a follower of Jesus, or a learner of Jesus. A learner is a person who is undergoing constant life change and being transformed increasingly like Christ. A disciple is somebody learning to be like Jesus in every facet of life, practising His presence with him or her and so engaging their life with Him so that He truly lives through them. Dan Kimball assigns a measure whereby all discipleship is compared – is the disciple loving God totally and is the disciple loving people openly (Matthew 22v37-40)? Disciples are called to remain in this world, and to be growing and maturing. Being a disciple is not about how much you have of God, but rather how much of you, God has. That is a mark of being a disciple – handing control of life over to God. This is partly why the New Testament churches were seen as radical communities. They were places filled with people dedicated in every aspect of life to Jesus Christ.
Are you growing and changing into the very likeness of Jesus as a disciple? Are you merely a believer? Is your Church community radical and teaching true discipleship or are they merely for entertainment and belief?
For more to think about please do read Philippians 2.
Some books recommended regarding discipleship
Bonnhoeffer, D., The Cost of Discipleship, London: SCM Press, 1959
Colson, C., The Body, Milton Keynes: Word Publishing, 1992, 46
Drane, J., Faith in a Changing Culture, London: Marshall-Pickering, 1997, 173
Kimball, D., The Emerging Church, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003
Longenecker, RN (Editor)., Patterns Of Discipleship In The New Testament, Cambridge: Eerdmanns, 1996
Moltmann, J., God for a Secular Society London: SPCK, 1999
Oak, JH., Healthy Christians Make A Healthy Church, Fearn: Christian Focus, 2003
Stancliffe, D., God’s Pattern, London: SPCK, 2003
Stevens, RP., The Abolition of the Laity, Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 1999
Watson, D., Discipleship, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1981
As ever, any feedback is appreciated. If you have any questions about anything at all, please do feel free to ask!.