Am I a faithful Disciple?

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What does it really mean to be a disciple and how do I know if I am one?

For Christians, the word disciple perhaps evokes an image of 12 average Jewish men who left their homes and occupations to follow a man named Jesus through the dusty countryside of Israel. When invited with the words, “Come, follow me,” these followers literally dropped whatever they were doing and followed Him for three years.

Defining a Disciple

The Latin word discipulus means “student, learner, or follower.” The term has been used throughout history. The ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, had a young disciple named Plato, and Aristotle was Plato’s disciple. Today, the term is mostly reserved for followers within Christianity and Eastern religions, such as Buddhism.

The word disciple occurs over 230 times in the Gospels and the book of Acts. The word mathētḗs (μαθητής) is translated disciple, learner, or pupil, and is a derivative of the Greek word manthánō which is the verb to learn.

Among Christians who say spiritual growth is important, more than one-third say they prefer to pursue spiritual growth on their own (37%). - Barna Research Click To Tweet

Simply stated, a disciple is someone who follows the instructions of his or her teacher. Jesus commanded His disciples, in what is known as The Great Commission, to go and make more disciples, but to also provide instruction:

“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 have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Is every Christian a Disciple?

Within Christianity, the label disciple isn’t only reserved for the 12 apostles—the first followers of Jesus. Those who follow after Jesus and have placed their faith in Him are disciples. In the scriptures, besides the first 12, Jesus appointed and called many more disciples to join His work:

“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:1-2 ESV)

We affirm from these texts that every Christian is called to be a disciple and be on mission in the world to make more disciples. Ironically, it wasn’t until they were in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). The terms disciple and Christian may be used interchangeably by some, but they each hold distinctive meanings.

Only 1 percent of Christians say “today’s churches are doing very well at discipling new and young believers.” - Barna Research Click To Tweet

Is every disciple a Christian?

Some scholars believe that, during His earthly ministry, Jesus’ number of disciples grew to about 500 and included men and women from all walks of life, to include fishermen, religious leaders, government employees, and even a former demon-possessed woman. The Gospel of Luke reveals a large group, “And He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples…” (Luke 6:17 ESV) While the number isn’t specific, ‘a great crowd’ gives us a clue that this is above just a normal gathering of people.

“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” (John 12.26)

Remember, after Jesus fed the 5000, some of the crowd remained and pursued Jesus to hear more from this Rabbi. Some of them didn’t like what they were hearing. In fact, they complained about it, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this?’ (John 6:60)

A disciple is one who responds to the call of Jesus in faith, resulting in a relationship of absolute allegiance and supreme loyalty through which Jesus shares his own life and the disciple embarks on a lifetime of learning to become like his Master.

A disciple is one who responds to the call of Jesus in faith, resulting in a relationship of absolute allegiance and supreme loyalty through which Jesus shares his own life and the disciple embarks on a lifetime of learning to become like his Master. - William Kynes Click To Tweet

Some of His teachings were so difficult that many of these “disciples” turned away. John notes, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:66 ESV) This account suggests that not all disciples are necessarily Christians, nor are they considered true followers of Jesus. Remember how we defined disciple earlier: a student or learner. Just as you can study the Bible and not be a Christian, you can also be a learner of Jesus, but not actually be a true born-again believer.

How do I know if I am being a faithful Disciple?

A faithful disciple isn’t about perfection or trying to gauge who is the most spiritual. We all enter this place of faith only through the grace of God. Discipleship is about followership that finds their purpose in a relationship with Jesus—it is not simply about religious activity or sin management. We need the gospel because we could not do this on our own. The gospel is all about God’s redemptive plan for humanity and his love for us. At its core, it does what we couldn’t—meeting the expectations and requirements that a Holy God has for His people. Jesus met all of these on our behalf, so please don’t make discipleship about checking the boxes or some legalistic matrix of righteousness.

“So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’ (John 6:67-68 ESV)

Peter, along with the other eleven, chose to remain. Yet, even from among the 12, Jesus identifies one who is not a true disciple. He calls him out in this same text:

“Then Jesus replied, ‘Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!’ (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was going to betray him).” (John 6:70-71 ESV)

The faithful disciples were the ones that not only believed, trusting Him as the Son of God, but also remained faithful in following Him. This affirms the point that all Christians are disciples, but not all disciples are necessarily Christians.

To be sure, a true Christian should be a disciple of Jesus…one would think they are synonymous. Right? Perhaps we need to make clear what is involved in becoming a disciple.

1. You are a committed Christian

  • You must believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and died on the cross for you.
  • You must repent of your sins and receive, by faith through grace, Jesus as Lord and Savior to inherit eternal life.
  • If you’ve done this, thank God, by His mercy, you are a Christian…but, unfortunately, far too many stop here. We’ve only just begun this journey in faith and following Jesus. Many believe that now that they’re saved, they are good to go. They have embraced treating salvation as a get-out-of-hell-free card, but here’s the point–we weren’t simply saved from something; we were saved for someone.

2. You are an obedient follower of Jesus

  • You are striving to learn and follow the will and Word of God in a life-long journey which began with baptism. (Deut. 13.4)
  • We are saved for a relationship with Jesus. A disciple longs to know Him & live for Him. (Phil 3.10)
  • Studying the scriptures leads us to a deeper knowledge of who He is and what He taught so that we may faithfully obey Him and put into practice what we learn. (John 8.31) This doesn’t assume we obey perfectly. We will always wrestle with sin until Jesus returns, but we are still called to obedience.

3. You are demonstrating love for others

  • Love for others is the primary mark of a disciple of Jesus. It is the proof of having met Jesus and become His follower. (John 13:34-35)
  • Love is evidence that you are filled with God’s Spirit. (Gal 5.22-23)
  • Love is a driving characteristic of God’s people—Jesus summed up the entirety of the law in this way–“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22.37-40)

4. You are engaged in Biblical community with other Jesus followers

  • God’s will is for every believer to experience biblical community to grow in faith: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV)
  • The Holy Spirit empowers each member of the community to practice spiritual gifts for the building-up and equipping of the family of faith to full maturity. (Eph. 4:11-13)
  • Faithful disciples have a heart to worship together (Col. 3.16, Eph. 5.19)

5. You are a disciple-maker

  • You are actively sharing the gospel message through relationships and developing others in this new life by teaching and modeling what it means to be a follower of Christ. (Phil 1.6)
  • Disciples should ask the Spirit to lead them to someone who is searching or younger in the faith. Then walk them through the scriptures, give Godly counsel, pray and help them know the will of God, teach them sound doctrine; to love, to serve, to give, and send them off to do the same with others.

Every believer is called to be a disciple of Jesus…walking in love and truth. As you grow in faith, invite someone along on the journey! Ask your church for help in discipling another. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom as you lead the way!

What would you add?

While we are limited in the amount we write, we’d love to hear what you would add to this subject.

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James Armstrong

Founder and Executive Editor, James brings a passion for helping believers and the church rediscover the call to discipleship as the primary mission of the Church. He is currently writing his PhD dissertation in Systematic Theology on Mysterion and its implications for the Church. James founded Becoming Disciples as a platform to equip believers around the world to fulfill the Great Commission.
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