What is discipleship?
A dictionary would say a “disciple” is anyone who follows another person. That is, one who wants to be like another person and so imitates the life, attitudes, and example of that person. When Christians talk about discipleship, they mean someone wants to follow Jesus – to be a disciple of Jesus. How does one become a Christian disciple? This happens when a Christian cares enough to tell someone about Jesus, and that one responds by believing in Jesus. Christ has asked His disciples to tell others about Him.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (NASB) Matthew 28:19-20
A disciple is one who realizes he or she is a sinner and needs God’s forgiveness. Disciples want His forgiveness, and as a result have asked Jesus to forgive their sins. They turn their lives over to God. A disciple is one who wants to be at peace with God. We say a disciple believes or depends on Jesus. That is how a person becomes a disciple – a Christian. Shortly after Jesus’ death and return to life many believed that Jesus was God and followed Jesus. They were called Christians. Proof of this is found in a comment by king Agrippa.
And Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” (NASB) Acts 26:28
What Is Discipleship?
What does it mean to be a disciple – a Christian ? The answer to that question is given in a previous questions and answer along with the spiritual guidelines that Jesus used for making Christian disciples. When a person becomes a Christian, he or she enters a spiritual world as a spiritual baby. We have much to learn and a lot of spiritual growing to do. That was Jesus’ point when He said,
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master. (NASB) Matthew 10:24-25
That is what discipleship is all about – becoming like the master. Discipleship is not knowing your Bible and it is not witnessing. Discipleship is not just praying, going to church, or being a servant of God. We sometimes call that service. It is about becoming like Jesus. Notice that Jesus said, “It is enough . . .” It is enough to be like the master! Anything else falls short. Being a Christian is not entering into a social club. It is following Jesus! A Christian who does not want to follow Jesus is not a Christian. That is what the following verse says.
Therefore I make known to you, that . . . no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (NASB) 1 Corinthians 12:3
A real Christian calls Jesus “Lord” and follows. A person who does not want to follow Jesus but wants to be with other Christians or be at church has only joined a Christian social group. These people are not really Christians.
Follow An Older, Spiritual Person
Discipleship is learning to become like Jesus. Discipleship is illustrated in the following event.
One weekend, three young fellows decided to take a bicycle trip into the countryside. Although inexperienced, they covered forty miles in three and one half hours and congratulated themselves on their good time. The next morning, as they prepared to head back to their starting point, they were met by a good friend, who had just cycled the forty mile trip that morning and was ready to head back. He was an excellent cyclist, and with him pacing the young cyclists back to town, they made the return trip in just two and one half hours.
In the same way, young Christians need the “pacing” of an older disciple – Christian. God has told us this is the best way to grow spiritually. A younger person may have had great “spiritual experiences” and know the Bible, but it is impossible to know if his or her spiritual life is real or what the outcome of that life will finally be. In the book of Hebrews God says we need to follow older Christians.
Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. (NASB) Hebrews 13:7
This passage is about discipleship. Here the Holy Spirit calls us to remember our leaders, but not just any leaders. He asks us to remember those leaders who taught us the Word of Truth and who were exceptional Christians. God calls us to follow someone who has a proven Christian life. This is not just any leader. It is a leader who has taught you the Word. It is a leader whose life has been carefully evaluated over time. That is the meaning of the Greek word for “considering” – evaluation!
Once we find this person, God calls us to follow him. The Greek word for “follow” is MIMEOMAI which means to “imitate” or “mimic.” One day I was listening to a man teaching Philippians 3:17. He warned his listeners to not follow several people in his congregation. He explained that the apostle Paul did not mean that they should follow him but Jesus. At that point the teacher went on to say that we should not follow anyone but Jesus. Now that sounds spiritual but, my friend, that is not biblical. The Holy Spirit is saying that we are to follow someone.
A Christian disciple becomes more and more like Jesus with time. Here are some character traits one should see in their life if he or she is a good disciple – if he or she is following good earthly examples of Jesus.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control . . . (NASB) Galatians 5:22-23
In the British Museum, there is a Greek writing tablet on display. Its date of origin is earlier than the Christian era and it is the equivalent of a child’s writing tablet. A headline has been written on it at the top by a master. The student was then asked to write the second line by attempting to trace the master’s line. Each following line was reproduced by copying the previous one. Each new line was worse and worse. Each new line differed more and more from the master’s line.
That is happening in the church. Often the person we are following is not someone we should follow. Hebrews 13:1-7 gives us a pattern for selecting someone to follow. The question is not are you following someone; the question is who are you following? God answers the question. The person must be a leader who knows and has taught the Bible. Now that eliminates many people. The person must be someone whom you have studied and carefully evaluated. Does this person model love for strangers, prisoners, and the brethren? Has the person been faithful to their spouse and does the person depend on God to meet their needs? Does the person know their Bible, or only know about the Bible? Does the person have great faith? Great faith is obedient and is willing to suffer for Jesus. Come and imitate a man or woman of great faith and become a Christian whose faith is focused on Jesus!