Photo by Monica Melton

What Does It Mean To Be A Disciple?

An Invitation to Sign Up for the Best Life There is

Jesus approached people in the midst of their ordinary occupations (fisherman, tax collector, etc.) and invited them to join Him in an extraordinary life – one centered around devotion to God, the rescuing of lost souls and the advancement of the kingdom of God. The invitation to become a disciple – a dedicated and passionate follower of Jesus Christ – still stands today. Have you accepted it?


If you were alive and encountered Jesus during the days when He walked upon the earth, do you think that you would have become one of His disciples? Those who chose to follow Him led some of the most adventurous, meaningful, influential and rewarding lives ever lived. Others who didn’t dare to step out of the ordinary preoccupations of the world “went away sorrowful” (Matthew 19:22), never having discovered the “great joy” (Acts 8:8) which attends a truly God-focused life.

One person who accepted the invitation to follow Jesus was a man named Matthew who worked for the Roman government as a tax collector in Israel: “As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him” (Matthew 9:9 – NLT).

There is something life-changing about coming to know Jesus Christ! He can change our mindset, our personalities, our goals, our manner of life and even our careers. Though you can never know how you would have reacted had you encountered Jesus during that time, the more important question is: How are you responding to Him now? Is He calling you into a deeper relationship with Him? Is He calling you to serve Him in a more surrendered and effective way? Is He inviting you to become a disciple?

God is Still Making Disciples Today

The days of the disciples are not over. Though we tend to categorize and canonize the earliest followers of Jesus as a special class of “saints,” Jesus is still calling people to walk with Him and to become His disciples today! In fact there is an urgent need for more genuine disciples of Christ. Here are a few facts to help you to understand why:

(1) The twelve original “disciples” of Jesus were not the only followers Jesus sent out. In Luke Chapter 9, Jesus “called his twelve disciples together,” gave them instructions and sent them out to witness for Him (Luke 9:1-6). But that was only the beginning of the ongoing process of disciple-making which has spread Christianity across the globe and continues to reach the unreached today. In the next chapter, Jesus “appointed seventy others” (Luke 10:1 – NKJV) and sent them on the same mission after telling them that “[t]he harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2 – NKJV).

(2) Jesus’ plan to reach the lost, to build His church (Matthew 16:18), and to establish His kingdom on the earth depends upon the process of discipleship which he advocated during His final instructions to his disciples– the marching orders which He gave to his followers immediately before He ascended to heaven:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 – NIV).

Are you a Believer, a Church-goer, or a Disciple?

Depending upon how one defines the terms, it is possible for someone to be a believer in Jesus Christ and even a faithful church attender, but not to be a genuine disciple according to the Bible. Are you growing in your relationship with God, studying His Word and learning to walk in its truth, helping others to find and follow God, and seeking to do His will wherever it may take you? These are all traits of a true disciple.

(3) If we take a simple definition of “disciple” and say that a disciple is “a dedicated and trained worker who makes serving God the primary aim of his life,” then we can understand how God’s plan for redeeming the human race is meant to operate:

(a) It is the main purpose of the Church and the calling of all Christians to reach the world for Christ by sharing the gospel both corporately (Mark 16:15) and in our individual lives (I Peter 3:15). This is commonly termed “The Great Commission.” This job is not finished and, in fact, the sad condition of our world today is, to some extent, due the Church becoming distracted from its main mission. There is a great need for a renewed emphasis on missions both at home and abroad.

(b) For this to happen, Christians must first be taught, trained and “discipled” themselves, so that they can be committed to the Commission, proficient in personal evangelism, able to teach the Word of God to others and inwardly transformed so as to reveal the nature and image of God to others (II Corinthians 3:18) by the way that they live.

(c) Those who are thus discipled (taught and trained to serve God effectively and brought to spiritual maturity) are then to disciple others (Matthew 28:19), teaching and training them to become disciple-makers themselves. This is how the Church grows and the kingdom of God is established upon the earth. In fact, this is the only reason why the still Church exists today over 2000 years after the ascension of Christ.

Paul describes this vital process of spiritual reproduction in his first letter to Timothy when he says: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:2 – NKJV).

What is a Disciple?

(A) The Greek word for “disciple” is mathetes and means a learner, pupil or student. No one who is not committed to learning the truths of the God’s Word through instruction and personal study of the Bible can claim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Hunger for the Word of God is a sign of spiritual health (I Peter 2:2), and knowledge of the Word of God is essential for real spiritual growth and transformation to take place. Jesus made these qualities a part of His definition of a true disciple. He said: “‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’” (John 8:31-32 – NAS).

(B) A genuine disciple of Jesus Christ should be a lifelong learner who is always learning something new from the life-changing truth of the Bible. A disciple is someone who seriously studies God’s Word in order to: (1) know God in a deeper way; (2) discover the true meaning and purpose of life; (3) learn God’s definitions of right and wrong; (4) identify and overcome personal sins; (5) learn how to live a victorious Spirit-filled Christian life; (6) become trained for the service of God; and (7) become able to teach and disciple others.

(C) Someone who makes the seemingly humble statement: “Well, I’m not much of a Bible scholar” is actually rebelling against God who tells us to “diligently” study the Word of God so as to obey it (Deuteronomy 6:17). What that person is really saying is “Well, I’m not much of a Christian.” Paul tells us to: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another” (Colossians 3:16) or, as the original Greek puts it, “let it be continually at home in you in abundance” (Wuest).

(D) A disciple is also someone who chooses to live by the specific teachings of the Word of God. Jesus told His followers: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 – ESV). We do not read the Word simply to obtain knowledge; we do it in order to learn how to live God’s way and to fulfill God’s purpose upon the earth! In the Bible are divine instructions which can transform every area of our lives (Romans 12:2) if we read them and actually put them into practice.

But many people have never fully explored what the Bible teaches – what the Apostle Paul referred to as “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27 – ESV).  They operate out of an self-written, self-abbreviated Bible containing only about four or five “verses” such as: (1) Go to church once a week (or once in a while), (2) act holy for 30 to 60 minutes, (3) put something in the offering plate, (4) greet people with a smile (5) shake hands with the pastor, and then head home or out to dinner having fulfilled your duty to God for the week.

But the life of a disciple is radically different than this. The real Bible contains 31,000 verses. It is not just a book to encourage our faith or give us a few inspiring thoughts to help us through the day; it is a training manual and compendium of spiritual instruction for those who desire to live a full-fledged, fruitful and productive Christian life. This involves a 24/7/365 communion with God, walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), growing in His likeness (Romans 8:29), and letting God use us to bless others.

In the historical context of Jesus’ time, a disciple was a committed follower of a certain teacher or “master” who would often live with and travel with that master, modelling his life after his master by learning from his actions and examples as well as his verbal teaching. Jesus’ disciples did not visit Him once a week on Sunday for an hour. They were constantly with Him and He was constantly teaching them in the middle of real-life situations. Similarly, a modern disciple is never separated from the presence of Jesus, since He lives in us through the Holy Spirit and is with us wherever we go, helping us in every situation that we face. He is our Master, and we should desire to please Him and obey Him in all that we say or do. Life is our school, and the Bible is our textbook.

(E) A disciple is also someone who is committed to the cause of Christ. We are not here on this earth simply to “please ourselves” (Romans 15:1) to or pile up “treasures upon earth” (Matthew 6:19) that we cannot take with us into the next world. We are here to serve God in the most important venture in the universe – the up-building of the kingdom of God. This includes both local and world evangelism and assisting the Church the process of making disciples and ministering to the needs of believers. This is a vast undertaking, and laborers are needed to give of their time, treasure and talents in order to fulfill it (Luke 10:2 – NKJV). As Jesus told his parents at the age of twelve, this should be our highest priority and we should all be about our Heavenly Father’s business (Luke 2:49 – NKJV).

(F) A disciple is someone for whom God’s will and the needs of God’s kingdom are Priority Number One. Jesus exemplified this attitude when he said: “I have come down from heaven, not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38 – NIV), and “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 –NKJV). In many different ways, Jesus defined a disciple as someone who is willing to lay aside all other concerns including “his own life” in order to follow Him (Luke 14:26). Jesus said, “[N]o one can become my disciple without giving up everything for me” (Luke 14:33 – NLT). This does not mean, necessarily, that we give up every material possession that we have, but that we must be able to place God’s interests ahead of ours if we are truly to follow Him.

(G) A disciple is an active follower, not a passive observer. Christianity is not a spectator sport. It is, in fact, a contact sport. We are to stay in contact with God, in contact with those around us who need us, in contact with the Church, and in contact with our mission in the world to preach the gospel and win the lost. Jesus said of Himself: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10 – NKJV). This means that He not only ministered to the lost people that he encountered, but that He went out of His way to find them. In fact, he came down all the way from heaven, while sometimes we find it hard to get out of our easy chairs!

(H) A true disciple is never content to remain at one level of spiritual development. Though we will never be perfect this side of heaven, there are always higher levels of intimacy with God, of passion, surrender, holiness, dedication, boldness, obedience and fruitfulness ready to be gained. Like Paul, the disciple can say: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus ahead” (Philippians 3:12-14). The key thing is that we are always striving onward and upward to become all that God created us to be. That is the attitude of a disciple!

Are you willing enlist as a disciple of Jesus Christ?

The pay is not always great, but the benefits are out of this world. The Christian life is not always easy, but there is no more blessed, meaningful, or fulfilling life which can be lived. One day, we will all stand before God and the Bible says that Jesus will acknowledge us, because we acknowledged Him: “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8 – NIV). And the joy both on earth and in heaven which comes with a life spent in kingdom service is incomparable (3 John 4). It is truly the best life there is – and the one which, when all is said and done, we will be glad that we have lived!

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