In the first of this three-part series on discipleship, I issued a challenge for all Christ-followers: it is every believer’s responsibility to make disciples. It is a clear mandate given to us by Jesus just before He ascended to His Father in heaven. Jesus finished His mission. He lived a perfect life, died on the cross for the sins of the world, and then rose from the dead, defeating death and the grave. If someone’s last words are among his most important, then certainly Jesus’ final words fall into that category. Jesus’ last earthly words were: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
If we are going to make disciples, then it’s important that we understand what discipleship looks like in the life of believers. It might be easier to first discuss what discipleship is not. Discipleship is not a group of people who get together to study the Bible as an end in itself. It is not about gaining knowledge for the sake of gaining knowledge alone. Neither is it just about making sure we avoid doing wrong things. Sometimes it seems as if the litmus test of discipleship is being able to proclaim what we don’t do in order to be good witnesses for Christ. The Bible tells us in James 1:22-24: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. We are called to do something, not just study or memorize something. If our study of the Word doesn’t bring about transformation in the way we live our lives on mission, then we are just like that man who looks in the mirror and later forgets what he looked like.
As we consider what discipleship is in the context of the Great Commission, the end result must always be that a disciple is willing to “go.” This simply means going to people, not just expecting them to come to us. Here are some characteristics of a disciple toward which we should lead others:
A disciple is someone who follows Jesus and gives allegiance to Him above all else. Jesus called His first disciples saying, “Follow Me and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Simon, Andrew, James and John all had an amazing response. They literally dropped everything and followed Jesus. They did not waffle back and forth, take time to debate or even pray about it; they just did it. This gives an example of the kind of heart attitude we should have and how it is reflected in our actions. Notice how the call is connected to the mission—follow Me (be disciples) and I will make you become fishers of men (disciple-makers).
A disciple is one who is a student of Jesus—who learns from the life of Jesus. Follow Jesus through the gospels and you will see a man who has perfect balance in His life. There were times when He got alone with His Father, times when He got alone with His disciples, and times when He tended to the needs of the crowd (Mark 1:35, 6:30-34). Jesus also spent enough time with the sinners and tax collectors (modern-day traitors) that the religious people questioned His character. Yet the Bible is clear that while Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, He is without sin. His is the life we want to emulate.
A disciple is one who is on mission, sent into the world to minister in both word and deed. Luke 10 records for us how Jesus sent 72 people in pairs ahead of Him to different towns where He would later visit. He told them that their work would not be easy and that they would be like “sheep among wolves.” Mission work is not for the faint of heart. Jesus does not lead us to the safe places. Being on mission to make disciples means we get involved in the lives of others and that can get messy. It involves the words we speak and the manner in which we meet needs along the way, like the “Good Samaritan” did. People need to see the Gospel on display outside the church walls so that they, too, can repent and believe in Jesus.
In short, discipleship is about leading others by example and doing life together. It is about following Jesus, learning from Jesus, and then being an outpost for the Kingdom of God in the context of where we live. Whom are you leading by example and doing life with? Can you say, as Paul did, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11)? Remember, we can focus on our past failures or we can ask God to empower us to get involved today. Let’s get after it – together.
Coming soon—Part 3 of this series: “Discipleship – How Do You Know You are Being Successful?”