I used to teach at a small seminary. One semester a student requested to audit my apologetics class. I agreed to let him simply audit the classes, but I stipulated that although he would be a guest in the course, he would be responsible for attending all the classes (unless excused) and taking the weekly quizzes--even though they would not count toward any final grade. I never heard from the student again. Distressingly, his response reminded me of so many Jesus followers who only want to “audit” the Christian spiritual life.
Can I Make It Fit?
After accepting Christ and becoming children of God, some Christians think that their new belief system must conform to their lifestyle and fit their schedule, rather than recognizing they are responsible for growing in Christ-likeness, and that Jesus wants them to conform their lives to him. After all, it’s Jesus who says, “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matt. 10:38).
We can’t buy into a secular worldview that everything (including the God of the universe) revolves around us. And we can’t merely “audit” the Christian faith, thinking that our entry point of salvation (or justification) alone is “all there is” to the Christian experience. Jesus makes very different demands on his disciples.
So What is a Disciple?
Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus returned to heaven (his ascension) in the presence of his eleven disciples (Judas was dead). In this final appearance to them, Jesus told his followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). But what exactly is a disciple?
A disciple is the “follower” or pupil of a teacher--in this case, Jesus. According to the book of Acts, within the newly emerging Christian church, the term “disciple” meant new believers who confessed Christ and committed to following him (Acts 6:1, 2, 7; 9:36; 11:26). So the first step to becoming a disciple is personally accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior.
A Christian disciple is first a child of God (John 1:12). And since they belong to God’s family, disciples are expected to continually become more like Jesus (Rom. 8:28–29).
Characteristics of Disciple
The 15th-century churchman and theologian Thomas À Kempis wrote in his The Imitation of Christ, “Jesus always has many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross.” Becoming a follower of Jesus is no easy task. Why?
Jesus expects total commitment from his followers, and he likens this faithfulness to taking up his cross (Matt. 16:24–25), referring to Jesus’ death by crucifixion.
- Disciples are to “die” to their old way of sinful, selfish lifestyle and intentionally choose to follow (John 10:27), serve (Rom.12:11, Col. 3:24), trust (John 14:1), and obey Christ (John 8:31, 14:21)
- Disciples must worship God alone and immediately respond to Christ’s commands, no matter how challenging they are (Matt. 4:20)
- And they are not to live for themselves (2 Cor 5:15)
They are also called to act like Jesus in how they relate to others:
- Unashamedly sharing the gospel message with those who don’t know Jesus (Mark 8:38, 16:15)
- And mentoring (“discipling”) other Christians as well (1 Cor. 11:1)
Is This Too Hard?
Does this sound intimidating? All of this is worse than intimidating. It’s impossible. Unless we have God’s own power within us to forgive our failures and to give us wisdom and strong hearts that are able to choose more and more what Jesus himself would choose.
And guess what? That’s exactly what you have. Jesus’ blood forgives you every time you fail (1 John 1:9), and God’s Spirit within you gives you the power to overcome your sinful habits and walk in line with God’s direction (Rom. 8:13).
Disciples aren’t perfect. They fail. But they always return again and again to the one they are following: Jesus. And he gives them forgiveness and strength to keep loving, serving, and following him in growing ways.
How Do I Grow?
Being a disciple also involves continuing to grow in personal faith (Rom. 1:16-17) through spiritual disciplines such as prayer and devotional Bible reading. These help us “renew our minds” (Rom. 12:1-2) and communicate with God.
But being a disciple isn’t just about how our inner selves change; it’s also about how we relate to the real world.
A Disciple in the Real World
What does it look like to be Jesus’ disciple in our current culture? It means living a distinct life that’s different from others who don’t follow Jesus but also being engaged in that world in the ways Jesus would be.
We want the world to see our distinctive prayerfulness (Luke 11:1), patience (1 Tim. 1:16), and purity (1 John 3:3). And we want to not only proclaim the gospel but live it--meaning that our lifestyle reflects integrity (Matt. 5:13-16) and love (1 John 4:7–21) that attractively engages outsiders.
Even though we live in a sinful and secular world, we want to demonstrate uncommon gentleness (Matt. 11:29), humility (Phil. 2:4–5), and service towards others, even when we are criticized, persecuted, or rejected (Luke 6:35).
It’s important, however, that our evangelism extends beyond “lifestyle evangelism” (generally living as a distinct Christian) to actually sharing the gospel with others: sharing Scripture faithfully and uncompromisingly (Heb. 3:1-2) without being unnecessarily offensive (John 20:21).
Lastly, disciples are in it together. We need to have other fellow members within a local church body that we can treat as a family (Mark 3:34–35) by loving (John 15:12) and forgiving them (Col. 3:13) as we grow and live on mission together.
You Are Like Jesus to the World
Christians must be “disciples” of Jesus. That means our thoughts, words, and actions reflect him. A Christian is a mind through which Christ thinks, a heart through which Christ loves, a voice through which Christ speaks, a hand through which Christ helps.
Over one hundred years ago, a friend of the famous British orphanage director George Müller asked him, “Would you not advise young Christians to do something for the Lord?”
“No,” was Müller’s reply, “I should advise them to do everything for the Lord.”