If you have put your faith in Jesus, you are a Christian disciple! Obviously, you are thrilled by that news, but what exactly does that mean? For example,
- What is a Christian Disciple?
- Do I need to do anything now that I am a Christian disciple?
- If so, what are the characteristics of a Christian disciple?
- How do I grow as a Christian disciple?
- And how should a Christian disciple interact with the surrounding culture?
To begin with, the English word “disciple” comes from the Latin root discipulus. In other words, it means pupil or learner.
In general, a disciple follows another person or another way of life. And accordingly, as a follower, they submit themselves to that teacher or lifestyle.
At the same time of Jesus’ ministry, other teachers had disciples. For example, the Pharisees (Matt. 22:16; Mark 2:8,18; Lk 5:33) and John the Baptist (Mt 9:14; Mark 2:18; Luke 11:1; John 1:35).
Most importantly, Jesus’ disciples saw his sinless life. miracles, death, and resurrection.
Consequently, what about Jesus’ disciples Jesus today?
To rephrase the question, “What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus in 21stcentury America?”
Do We Only Want to Audit the Christian Life?
As an illustration, let me share an experience from teaching at a seminary. One semester a person who was not a student approached me. He asked to audit my apologetics class.
To be sure of his commitment, I agreed to let him audit the classes. However, I stipulated several responsibilities.
For example, he needed to attend all the classes unless excused. Further, I asked him to take the examinations without a recorded grade.
Essentially these stipulations were an attempt to assure his class engagement. I never heard from the student again.
Obviously, my requirements were beyond his expectations. His response reminded me of Christians wanting to “audit” the Christian spiritual life.
Can I Make Being a Disciple Fit My Expectations?
Unfortunately, after accepting Christ, some Christians have a very selfish perspective. Self-focused Christians believe their faith must conform to their lifestyle and schedule.
They fail to realize that Jesus wants them to conform their lives to him instead. Most importantly, growing in Christ-likeness is our goal.
After all, it’s Jesus who says, “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matt. 10:38).
Consequently, we cannot carry our secular worldview into God’s kingdom.
Correspondingly, a perspective that believes that God revolves around us is absurd.
Not to mention that it is wrong to think that we are not responsible for how we live after salvation.
In light of Christ’s command, auditing the Christian life on our terms is not an option. To sum up, Jesus makes very different demands on his disciples.
So What is a Christian Disciple?
Significantly, forty days after his resurrection, Jesus returned to heaven. His return is called his ascension.
His eleven disciples witnessed his ascension (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 Christian disciple is a “follower” of Jesus. For example, the Book of Acts records what it meant to be a disciple in the early church.
To illustrate, disciples proclaimed Christ as Lord and committed themselves to follow him (Acts 6:1, 2, 7; 9:36; 11:26).
So the first step to becoming a disciple is accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior.
To begin with, a Christian disciple is a child of God (John 1:12). Additionally, as a member of God’s family, disciples are to continually become more like Jesus (Rom. 8:28–29).
Characteristics of a Christian Disciple
To explain discipleship, Thomas À Kempis, a 15th-century theologian, captured it well. In The Imitation of Christ, he wrote, “Jesus always has many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross.”
In reality, becoming a follower of Jesus is no easy task. Why?
Jesus expects total commitment from his followers. In fact, he refers to his crucifixion. That is, he likens this faithfulness to taking up his cross (Matt. 16:24–25). For instance:
- Disciples are to “die” to their sinful, selfish lifestyle. And instead 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)
- Above all, 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)
Therefore, Christian disciples are to act like Jesus in how they relate to others. For example:
- 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 Being a Christian Disciple Too Hard?
Does being a Christian disciple sound intimidating? It is worse than intimidating. It’s impossible!
Because we need help to meet God’s requirements.
Most importantly, we need the help of the Holy Spirit and the Bible. We can only do what Jesus commands as we grow in intimacy with him.
The Holy Spirit gives us the power to overcome sinful habits and walk in line with God’s direction (Rom. 8:13). In addition, God’s word continually draws us into a closer relationship with him.
To be sure, Christian disciples aren’t perfect. We fail. But Jesus’ death on the cross guarantees forgiveness every time we fail (1 John 1:9). So we always return again and again to Jesus. And his forgiveness and strength keep us loving, serving, and following him.
How Do I Grow?
Being a Christian disciple also involves growing in personal faith (Rom. 1:16-17) through spiritual disciplines. For example, these include prayer and devotional Bible reading.
In particular, spiritual disciplines help us “renew our minds” (Rom. 12:1-2) and communicate with God.
On the other hand, being a disciple isn’t just about how our inner selves change. It’s not all about us. It’s also about how we relate to the real world.
A Christian Disciple in the Real World
What does it look like to be Jesus’ disciple in our current culture?
In essence, it means living a different life that’s distinct from others who don’t follow Jesus.
Conversely, we also need to engage with the world in the same ways Jesus would be.
In either case, we want the world to see our distinctive prayerfulness (Luke 11:1), patience (1 Tim. 1:16), and purity (1 John 3:3).
Additionally, we want to proclaim the gospel, as well as living it.
By the same token, our lifestyle reflects integrity (Matt. 5:13-16) and love (1 John 4:7–21) that attracts outsiders.
Indeed, we live in a sinful and secular world. But by all means, we should display uncommon gentleness (Matt. 11:29), humility (Phil. 2:4–5), and service towards others.
And despite criticism, persecution, or rejection, we should live to honor Christ (Luke 6:35).
But even more, our witness needs to extend beyond “lifestyle evangelism.” Living a distinctive Christian life is not enough.
Emphatically, we should be sharing the gospel with others. And thus, our evangelism should be faithful and uncompromising (Heb. 3:1-2) without being unnecessarily offensive (John 20:21).
Lastly, disciples are in it together. We need each other. We need fellow members within a local church body to be a family (Mark 3:34–35). With the result that we are loving (John 15:12) and forgiving (Col. 3:13). Under those circumstances, we can grow and live on a mission together.
Now It’s Your Turn to Be Like Jesus to the World
Being a Christian disciple has you excited!
You know what it means and what you need to do.
Furthermore, you know you can achieve what is impossible on your own through God’s Word and the Holy Spirit.
So why are you waiting?
Start now growing as a Christian disciple who has:
- A mind through which Christ thinks.
- A heart through which Christ loves.
- A voice through which Christ speaks
- A hand through which Christ helps.
You can do it!
More than a friend approached the famous British orphanage director George Müller. He asked, “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.”