What Does the Bible Say About Discipleship?
Part One: Becoming a Disciple of Christ
Introduction to Discipleship
In this three-part series on what the bible says about discipleship, we will be exploring what it means to be a disciple of Christ, how we can disciple others, and how to use modern technology; the internet, blogs, and social media to teach, mentor, and disciple other believers.
In Part One, we will be exploring discipleship on a personal level.
How do we go from being believers to true disciples?
Jesus prayed, “I made known to them Your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)
Let’s first define what a disciple is.
The word disciple comes from the Greek word mathétés which means pupil, learner, student, or apprentice.
If we think of an apprenticeship, we think of spending time, sometimes years, under the tutelage of a master in a particular field of study or work.
For a Christian apprentice, the master is Jesus, and the field of study is the Gospel.
We are called to be His apprentices; to study, to learn, and to put into practical application all we have been privileged to learn from the Master.
A good apprentice learns to do what the teacher does or to become what the teacher is.
This is the true calling of the believer, to enter into an apprenticeship with Jesus in order to do what Jesus does and say what Jesus says—this is discipleship—to become like Jesus.
The Church Today
So why isn’t this happening more in the Church today? Dallas Willard says in his book, The Divine Conspiracy :
“Churches today are full of people who haven’t been invited to become disciples. Being a Christian has come to mean going to church and being saved when you die. The ministry of the church is given over to “making the final cut” and solving our daily problem, not discipleship.”
If we are called to the higher purpose of discipleship, why aren’t we heeding the call?
Perhaps many Christians are not sure what discipleship even looks like. We will look at a few of the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus.
Are you ready to start your apprenticeship?
Characteristics of a Disciple
I believe there are many characteristics of being a disciple of Christ.
In Part One of this series, we will look at the following:
- passionately committed to Christ
- bearing good fruit
- understanding the cost
Let’s look at our first characteristic.
1. Discipleship and Being Passionately Committed to Christ
The First Disciples
I like the way Dr. Gary Burge describes discipleship in the context of our commitment to Christ:
“To be a disciple means having the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living in us. It means having a supernatural, interior experience that is completely unlike anything available in the world. It is a way of believing and a way of living, but these are nurtured by the life-giving connection with Jesus Christ.”
When I think about how we are to be fully and passionately committed to the cause of Christ, I can’t help but think of the disciples that chose to walk with Jesus.
Simon Peter and his brother, Andrew, were seasoned fishermen who were casting their nets into the sea. When Jesus came toward them He said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
Immediately they dropped their nets and followed Him.
This is the part of the story that I find amazing and shows us real commitment to following Jesus as a disciple.
What was it about this stranger that assured them that they could lay it all down; their jobs; their livelihoods, their families, and their futures to follow Him?
Remember they did not know Jesus yet. He had not brought sight to the blind or hearing to the deaf.
He had not healed the leper or made the lame walk.
Jesus hadn’t fed the 5000, or raised Lazarus from the dead.
He was a stranger, but there had to have been something about Him.
I believe that the Holy Spirit spoke something into their hearts to allow them to see something unique in the eyes of Jesus that told them He could be trusted.
There must have been something about the tone of His voice that made Peter and Andrew look at the sea and instinctively know that Jesus was the Captain; that He knew the route, for it was He that created the sea itself.
Many of Jesus’ disciples had the same experience as Peter and Andrew. They gave up everything to follow Him.
They stayed with Him, listened to Him, watched Him perform miracle after miracle, and watched Him die and rise from the dead.
The disciples were the original apprentices to the Master, Jesus. They may or may not have realized it, but Jesus was preparing them to be like Him in the world.
They had to learn to be disciples so that they could then, disciple others.
What Jesus Says About Being a Disciple
Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even their own life-such a person cannot be my disciple.”
“Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Is Christ saying that if we follow Him that we must hate all others in our lives?
What Jesus is telling us is that our love for Him must be so strong that all other love is like hatred in comparison.
Carrying the cross means death to self. Like the first disciples, Jesus is calling us to drop our nets and follow Him.
Follow Him in complete trust and faith as we walk with Him into the unknown; our ships sailing into uncharted waters, but knowing all along that we are with the One who created the sea itself.
Jesus cannot get the job done with half-hearted followers—we need to give it all to Him, we need to be fully committed to Him.
Those who are not willing to give up all will not be used by Him.
I want to be used by Him, but I know that I must also be bearing good fruit.
2. Discipleship and Bearing Good Fruit
“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
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”John 15:7-8
I like the way Beth Moore describes this relationship between the vine and the Vinedresser in her book, Chasing Vines:
“If you’re in Christ, He is your true vine, whether you realize it or not. But a whole new way of flourishing begins when you know it. When you count on it. When you live like it. When you let go of the vines you thought were giving you life.”
So why did Jesus say that we must bear fruit to prove to be His disciples?
It is not by accident that Jesus referred to fruit. Fruit has in it the seed for more fruit so that the process goes on and on.
We will look more at discipling others in Part Two of this series, but I want to touch on it here for a moment.
Jesus said we are the branches, but look at any tree or vine that bears fruit.
The branch doesn’t eat the fruit, others do.
“Spirit produced fruit will go on reproducing from one life to another. Your fruit, given to another, will plant a seed that allows them to bear fruit, and then they give their fruit away and so it continues.” (Warren Wiersbe)
Good fruit produces more good fruit and discipleship reproduces more disciples.
But your fruit must first be good fruit, and that only happens as you abide with Jesus.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” John 15:4
Abiding in Jesus takes us back to our first characteristic: Being Fully Committed to Christ.
Like the vine and the branches, they are all connected; it is a beautiful picture that Jesus is showing us, but even beautiful things can have dangerous thorns that we aren’t anticipating.
The life of a disciple is not an easy one, and it comes at a cost.
3. Understanding the Cost of Discipleship
Jesus invites us to come to Him. He tells us, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20
Salvation is free, but discipleship comes at a cost.
We have already looked at the sacrifices of self that we discussed in the first section of our text, but there is more.
We need only look at what happened to the original disciples to understand the cost:
- Stephen was stoned to death
- Peter was crucified upside-down
- James (brother of John) was killed by Herod by the sword
- Paul was beheaded
And many of the other apostles were said to have been martyred.
We know of many Christian disciples who have been martyred in the past, and many who continue to be persecuted and martyred today.
Discipleship and the World
Why is the life of a disciple of Jesus so difficult? Why is there such a cost?
Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you has its own. As it is, you don’t belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” John 15:18-19
Discipleship comes at a cost because we are no longer of this world. We are in it, but not of it.
And that is the choice. That is what is so hard for so many—giving up the world and worldly things to follow Christ and to be His disciple.
Perhaps that is why Jesus said that the gate is narrow and few go through it.
Maybe that is why Jesus said that the harvest is plenty but the laborers are few.
How many are willing to pay the cost?
When Jesus came to the earth as a man, He didn’t need the disciples. He could have accomplished every task he desired without them.
He chose to partner with them.
In the same way, God doesn’t not need us to accomplish all that He wishes to accomplish on the earth today, but He wants us.
Oh how I pray that you will let this sink down into your spirit today!
God wants you to partner with Him. God chose YOU!
No matter what the cost, there is no price that can be placed on doing the will of the Father.
He has placed you at this time and in this place for a reason. It is now up to you to decide if you will choose to partner with Him. It is time for you to choose to love the world or be hated by it.
Do you just want to sit by and hope that you “make the final cut”, or do you want more?
This is an important question, because unless you become a disciple, you cannot disciple others.
That is what we will be discussing next week in Part Two of our series: Discipling Others.
Be blessed as you choose to be a true disciple of Christ,
All photos courtesy of unsplash.com
All scripture references are from the English Standard Version (ESV)