The word “disciple” is one which is used a lot within Christian circles. The Greek word from which it is translated appears over 250 times in the first five books of the New Testament alone. During the expansion of the early church, Christians were commonly referred to by the term (Acts 20:30 and 21:16). Recent trends in the evangelical church have placed great weight on discipleship. There seems to be a lot of talk about being a disciple, and making disciples, but few have a real grasp of what such talk means. What’s involved with being a disciple? Consider three characteristics. Each comes from the teaching of Jesus.
In John’s gospel, Jesus is recorded as saying, “If you continue in my word, you are really my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). In the eyes of our Lord, a disciple is a person who knows His teaching and obeys His teaching. If you aren’t hearing God’s Word and heeding God’s Word on a regular basis, you aren’t living as a disciple. I think of a popular game from childhood — “Simon says.” There was a variation of the game called “follow the leader.” In each, contestants had to observe and mimic the actions of a point person. Discipleship functions in a similar way. Disciples observe and follow the cues of Jesus. If you want to be a disciple, make time to get to know Jesus through His Word. Then, with the Spirit’s help, set out to obey the lifestyle which He emulated.
is another hallmark of discipleship. Jesus once said, “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). In Jesus’ estimation, love is the greatest of God’s commandments (Matthew 22:37-40). It is the motive, means, and measure of true Christian maturity. If we don’t have love, we are nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2). Though traces of self love will always remain until the end of all things, disciples are characterized by an ever-increasing love for God and others. If such love isn’t growing in your heart, do some soul-searching. You may need to recommit yourself to real discipleship.
Real disciples lead other people to become disciples. Jesus conveyed this reality in His famous Great Commission. Shortly before ascending into heaven, He instructed His disciples to be busy about leading others to become disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). In John’s gospel, He said, “My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples” (John 15:8). The metaphor of fruit provides a picture of growth and reproduction. Jesus shows that true disciples reproduce themselves. Are you a thriving disciple? How can you tell? Ask yourself this question — “Is there anyone who is following Christ today because of my influence and witness?” If not, you need to grow in your discipleship. Look for ways to share Christ with others. Find a person whom you can mentor and train in the basics of the faith. Pass on what you have learned from Christ (2 Timothy 2:2). The call to be a disciple is a call to make other disciples.
Dr. Patrick Latham