If we are called to be disciples, and we are called to make disciples, then it is worth asking for the sake of clarity, “What is a disciple?”
We here will be focusing on the answer in its Christian context, because the idea of being somebodies disciple is not originally a Christian term. During the time and in the places where Jesus lived, it was common for teachers to have disciples. Anybody could have a disciple, which was basically to describe the relationship between a teacher and a student, except it is more than that. A disciple saw his teacher as more than a teacher, but also a role model. A disciple wanted to be just like his role model or teacher. So in this way, many Rabbis had their own disciples.
Over time, it has become assumed that when we are referring to a disciple, we mean only a disciple of Jesus Christ. A person who desires to be like Jesus, and to please Jesus, and to follow His teachings. It is in this context that I will be focusing.
So what are the characteristics of Jesus’s disciples?
- A disciple wants to make more disciples. A mature believer will desire to reproduce, and a disciple is not a disciple until they are trying to make more disciples. That does not mean we are always successful in each attempt, because we can do nothing about another’s free will to deny the good news we are trying to spread. But in each of our actions, we desire that the lost become saved, and the saved become disciples.
- A disciple is going to try to be more and more like Jesus every day. That does not mean we will perfectly reflect Him, but we will certainly be trying. And we will get better at it the more we mature.
- We will have experienced a transformation. In Luke 14:27 Jesus says that “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”. This idea of “carrying a cross” said something clearly to the original audience of the letter, because they would have known that the Romans occupying their government required one sentenced to death by crucifixion to carry their own cross to the hanging site. It would be like somebody giving you a shovel and telling you to dig your own grave today. It is a sign of submission. Jesus is saying that we must submit the old sinful part of ourself to death, and we will be made alive again in Christ as a new creation. If we have not died to our old self, and have been transformed, we can not be his disciple.
- We must be willing to give up everything. In Luke 14:33 Jesus says “If any of you does not give up everything, you cannot be my disciple”. How much are you willing to give up for Jesus? Many would say they would give up their very lives, and indeed many are called to. But if you would say this, I would know if it is truth by examining how you live for Christ. If you would die for Him, and give up as big of a thing as your life, then surely you are living for Him in the little things too. If He asked you to give up your job, or your social media, or your TV, to spend more time with Him in His word or in prayer, would you? How much of your time have you given up for Jesus?
- If you are a disciple, you will do good works in the name of Jesus. Jesus says in John 15:8 “This is to my Fathers glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”. What Jesus is saying here is that you will glory God by doing good deeds, which is evidence that you are Jesus’s disciple.
- I will know you are a disciple by your love. Jesus says in John 13:35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”. It is our love for God’s image, mankind, that overflows from Him, and onto us, and from us onto the people around us. The love of God in us is one of my favorite characteristics of discipleship.
- A disciple will be obedient to the teachings of Jesus. Jesus says in John 8:31″If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”. John, a true disciple writes elsewhere in 1st John 5:3 “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome”
Sadly, not every believer is a disciple. Many Christians are perfectly content to consume on Sunday mornings, and consider their ministry done by putting a dollar at most in the collection plate for somebody else to work with. But Jesus has called us all to be His disciples, and to go and create disciples.
Let us use this opportunity to reflect. Am I a disciple of God, or am I an immature Christian “Pew Potato” just coming to consume, and disinterested to be asked to participate in Kingdom service?