A disciple is a follower of a specific teacher or a particular doctrine. Discipleship involves continually learning from someone who knows more than you do, and then constantly passing on what you know to someone who knows less, in continual intentional replication, with the lessons extending beyond the classroom theory to being put into practice in the marketplace of society.
Historically, within Christendom, ‘a disciple’ refers to the twelve men who were with Jesus during His earthly ministry; however, in the wider context it includes any believer of Christ, who rather than being just a casual follower determines (actively decides) to live by His teachings (Mt 7:21-27; Jas 1:22). Being vitally connected to Jesus is the key to initiate life changes which include putting personal preferences aside, denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily, following Christ and “Doing whatever He says” (Lk 9:23; Jn 2:5, 15:4-17). This radical call of Jesus differs from the ‘nice and easy’ gospel that is often presented nowadays where Jesus is just an ‘add-on’ who doesn’t impact the individual’s life or lifestyle in any significant way; nor is it about observing customs, the keeping of rules or studies to complete. Many were happy to receive healing and assistance from Christ but not prepared to pay the price of commitment for they were ‘easy come, easy go’ casual observers (Jn 6:1,2,60,66). They are in contrast to the believers in the book of Acts, and in numerous countries today, who follow Christ at a real cost, often sacrificing their lives.
Our lifestyle reveals the reality of our claim to know Christ
although we naturally want comfort, He wants character. The flesh wants self-preservation – not the ‘living sacrifice’ and trials that actually produce an eternal weight of glory as we say ‘No’ to the natural desires and ‘Yes’ to the Spirit (Rom 12:1; Tit 2:12; 1 Pet 1:7). These opportunities for the flesh to ‘die’ include situations where we are ignored or ridiculed. We are to have a different mindset – seeing life from God’s perspective, not from the human ‘looking after me’ mentality. This is why the Bible says, “Count it all joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (Jas 1:2-4). These experiences are God’s instruments to shape us for eternity. Do we permit them to achieve that goal?
Being a disciple is an ongoing process, not a once-only decision, with the discipleship journey going far beyond the conversion experience to a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus. Many teens are ill-equipped to face the challenges they will encounter when they leave home because of a lack of grounding in the faith. Although painful to the old self-centred life, with some reneging, for those who persist the rewards are glorious (Mt 13:3-8,18-23, 19:28-30, 25:21,23; Lk 9:62). God starts ‘a good work’ in us, but we are required to press on by laying aside what hinders, putting to death every trace of the old ungodly character and cultivating the new (Phil 1:6, 3:12-16; Col 3:1-17; Heb 12:1). Once a person has been ‘born again’ it is about strengthening their connection to Christ so they become increasingly like Him, and committed to helping others to know and follow Him too (1 Thes 5:11; Heb 3:13). Share your life with your fellow pilgrims on the way to eternity, encouraging them informally or in a mentoring relationship. There should not be any control, manipulation or dependency in the relationship just an intentional pointing them to Christ who is The Teacher. We should be self-motivated, disciplined and accountable to other believers but we are not to judge them in non-essential areas as each disciple is in their own individual, God-designed character development programme under His ever watchful and loving eye.
Teach others what you have been taught – 2 Timothy 2:2
By building on the foundation of a solid, humble, obedient relationship with Jesus, discipleship involves imparting principles, truths and doctrine through systematic instruction, with practical training in the context of daily life, to be victorious and advance the Kingdom of God (Lk 6:47,48; Act 2:42, 6:4,7, 18:26; 1 Cor 3:10-15; 1 Tim 4:8,13; 2 Tim 3:15-17, 4:2). Jesus said, “If you live by my teaching you really are my disciples” so read, study, memorise and meditate on the Bible, as well as receiving regular instruction from your local church and input from other spiritually sound sources to radically transform your values from those of the Kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of God’s dear Son (Jn 8:31; Col 1:13). Spiritual gifts should also be developed for the benefit of the body of believers.
As disciples we should have a passionate burden for the lost which includes those overseas who haven’t heard of Christ as well as our ‘neighbour’ whom we can engage in intentional relationship. By entering their lives with unconditional love, we can earn the right to dialogue on spiritual issues. Our lives are a witness (either for or against the values of Christ) which should create in the unsaved a desire to know more about this Jesus, leading to a salvation experience – a definite crossing over from death to life (Jn 5:24).
A true disciple of Jesus must turn away from wickedness and not give greater devotion to anything other than God (Ex 20:3; Mk 12:30; Lk 14:25-33; 2 Tim 2:19). See the immense privilege of being a disciple of Jesus and make Him happy that you were chosen by living a godly life (Jn 15:16; Eph 1:4). Like the Israelites we will wander if we grumble and don’t co-operate with what God is doing, thus hindering what He desires to do in our lives. Until the day we die, we should be in the process of transformation in our thinking, behavior, emotions, and reactions to situations, besides helping each other become mature disciples by informal, genuine and committed relationships. Paul said, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thes 2:8).
Consistent obedience, love for others, a godly lifestyle and the outworking of the fruit of the Spirit are some of the indicators that a person is a disciple and they are in the process of becoming more like Jesus who went about doing good (Jn 13:35, 15:8; Act 10:38; 2 Cor 3:17,18; Gal 5:22,23). Jesus led from the front, “He began to do and teach” and we follow His example (Act 1:1).
True Christian discipleship involves intimate ‘oneness’ with Jesus
with each believer a priest to their fellow believer and a missionary to unbelievers. View life as a challenge – how to apply the teaching of Christ to live victoriously – rather than an ordeal to tolerate until we reach the safety of heaven.