What is a disciple?

Think of a disciple. Any disciple.

Ok, who did you think of? Peter? James? John? or one of Jesus’ other close followers? How about Paul or Barnabas? Or maybe you thought of your pastor, a missionary, or a really dedicated Christian friend?

How about yourself? Did you put yourself in that same category?

Today, it’s a common misconception to think of the call to discipleship as something above and beyond the call of the typical believer. But the call to discipleship really applies to all believers, not just a few. In fact, the word “Christian” really means “disciple”.

In the earliest days of the church, every believer was known as a disciple. The word “Christian” wasn’t invented until years later in Antioch (Acts 11:26), but even when it was used, it always referred to those who not only believed in Christ, but also made it their life ambition to follow Him.

What does this mean for you? It means that if you consider yourself a believer in Jesus Christ, then you need to also consider yourself a follower, a disciple, of Jesus Christ. If you don’t know what this means, take a look at the examples of the original 12 disciples of Jesus. They spent a lot of time with Jesus. They listened to His words and talked with Him. They watched what He did and learned from Him. Their whole life revolved around their master, Jesus Christ.

Of course, Jesus was not the only one to have disciples. Andrew was originally one of John the Baptist’s disciples (John 1:35-40, Matthew 9:14), and Paul was a disciple of the Pharisee Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). There were even disciples of false messiahs living at the same time as Jesus’ earthly ministry. All of these would spend much of their time following their masters around, learning to think and become like them. The word disciple means “learner”, and the disciples’ focus and goal was to learn from and become (in character and goals) as much like their master as possible.

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

The Bible records many people who followed Jesus. But not all of His followers were true disciples:

Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased.

– John 6:2

Jesus was definitely popular with the crowd. These followers were curiosity seekers, Jesus’ “tag-alongs”. They followed Him because He said interesting things and performed amazing miracles. To them, Jesus was a man of God, but that was all He was. His parables were interesting stories, but their meanings eluded them ( Matthew 13:11). The crowd followed because they felt like it – they liked having their ears tickled, and it was the thing to do at the time. But they were not real disciples.

And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.

– Matthew 19:2 (KJV)

Some of those who followed Jesus did so to have their needs met. Sometimes the need was physical – a lifelong handicap, a disease. Sometimes it was the need for deliverance from demon possession. Sometimes it was a legal need (Luke 12:13). These people had real needs, and Jesus usually met their needs. But once they got what they wanted, either they stopped following Him, or they became one of His “tag-along” followers. These people received some real benefit from Jesus, but they were still not true disciples. Jesus was just a means to their end.

So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret,

– Luke 5:1

Some people followed Jesus to hear the word of God. Their focus was probably to know about God, and to live a good moral life, one that pleased God. To hear the word of God is good, and to do so with the intention to obey is also good, but this is still not what it means to be a true follower of Jesus.

What set the 12 disciples apart from the crowd was their relationship with Jesus. They not only spent a lot of time with Him, they interacted with Him. Jesus gave them responsibilities and they were accountable to Him. Jesus not only loved them, they loved Him. In the same way, your relationship with Jesus needs to be the focus of your discipleship.

I like to make a distinction between a relationship to Jesus, versus a relationship with Jesus. If you are saved, if you have placed your trust in Jesus to save you, you are a child of God by adoption (Romans 8:5, Ephesians 1:5). God is your heavenly Father and Jesus is your big brother (Romans 8:29). You are related to God. But just as you can have a poor or non-existent relationship with your parents or siblings, you can be a child of God, and at the same time live as if you weren’t. This is a very poor type of spiritual relationship. You are still saved (because your salvation is not based on your relationship with but your relationship to God), but your growth will be stunted.

The focus of this class is to show you how to improve your relationship with Jesus, how to grow in Him. Growth and discipleship go together. You cannot grow spiritually unless you follow Jesus, and all followers will grow.

The types of followers of Jesus that we have been looking at so far shows a progression, from curiosity, to need-meeter, to desiring to hear the word of God. This is the normal path of progress for all believers. You probably heard about and become curious about Jesus. You then realized you had the need to have your sins forgiven and you came to Him to meet that need (which He did), and you learned more about Him. But God wants more for you than just these things. Discipleship’s focus is an ever-closer walk with Jesus Christ – to become like Him, and to be ever conscious of His presence and sensitive to His guidance.

What is God’s purpose in saving me?

If someone asked you why you became a Christian, why you asked Jesus to save you, you would probably have a pretty good answer. But a more important question to ask yourself is why did God save you? What purpose did He have? The Bible gives several reasons:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

– Ephesians 2:8-10 (WEB)

God saved you to do good works which He has prepared for you to do. God had planned this for you before you were saved – even before you were born!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.

– Ephesians 1:3-4 (LO)

God saved you to be holy and without blame. In the Old Testament, the tabernacle (a portable temple) had various items such as a table, candlestick, bowls, etc. that were set apart for use only within the tabernacle in worship to God. If you were baking a cake, you could not go to the tabernacle to borrow an item for your own use. These items were holy – they were dedicated to God and Him only. (You could not even borrow any temple items to make something for God, as He also prescribed how each item was to be used.) As a believer, you are holy also, set apart for God to use. You are not to live for yourself, you are to live for God in the way He directs.

Without blame does not mean without sin. Nobody is without sin, but you are to live in a God-honoring way, sincerely, without hypocrisy.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.

– 1 Peter 2:9-12

You are a special person, chosen by God to be a member of His royal priesthood. You have direct access to God and act as an intermediary between God and the world. This means you are to bring God’s message to the world, and that you are to seek to bring those in the world to God. Do you realize what a great honor this is? As a member of God’s kingdom, you are to live like it, for the purpose of bringing glory to Him.

By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

– John 15:8

God saved you to bear fruit which brings glory to Himself. Fruit is the good result of God’s work in you (1 Corinthians 3:6), and you are to bear much fruit for God’s enjoyment.

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

– Romans 8:29-30 (RKJNT)

God’s purpose is that you be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus, and that purpose God works out from beginning to end. (See also Romans 13:14, 1 Corinthians 15:49, 2 Corinthians 3:18.) This passage specifically uses the term “Son” because just as Jesus shares the same nature as God the Father, you are also to reflect that same nature (character), because you are also a child of God.

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

– John 17:20-23

Jesus prayed for you, me, and all believers that we may be one, not only with each other, but with God. This relationship is what the ideal marriage relationship is a picture of. We are to have each other’s interests at heart.

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, … Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.

– Philippians 3:8-15

You were saved to know Jesus Christ – not just to know about Jesus, but to know Him personally, like a close friend or lover. This is discipleship’s focus – an ever deeper knowledge of the One who loves us.

In summary, God’s purpose in saving you is to bring glory to Himself, for you to become like Christ, and for you to know Him. All believers are to be disciples. This is not something that God intended only for a select few.

What does being a disciple entail?

There are certain characteristics that all disciples share:

“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

– John 3:18 (RKJNT)

When you were saved, you came to Jesus to have your need for forgiveness met. This was the most essential step. All disciples begin by trusting Jesus Christ for salvation. Without salvation, discipleship has no meaning, and there is no power to grow in Christ. Besides, if you can’t trust Jesus to save you, why would you want to follow Him?

And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.

– Matthew 4:18-22

After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.

– Luke 5:27

When Jesus called His disciples, He told them “follow Me”, and they immediately left what they were doing and followed Him. Jesus gave them a new priority (i.e. Himself) and they immediately stopped what they were doing and followed Him. He did not tell them for what reason He called them (other than the cryptic “I will make you fishers of men”), and they did not ask. Discipleship is unconditional.

Your goal must be Jesus Himself – knowing Him. It must not be living a good, moral life, helping others, or any personal end. Jesus is not a means to an end, but is the end Himself. A disciple wants to know Christ better, and wants Jesus to work in and through him. A disciple’s attitude is to do whatever it takes to follow Jesus.

Do we give sufficient attention to the theme of gaining Christ? It is our joy and privilege to know Him as God’s unspeakable gift, but none knew this more fully than the apostle Paul. But was he satisfied with this knowledge? Or was Paul’s soul-consuming desire, at all possible cost, to gain Christ; and thus to know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings? Oh that Christ may be so known by us as a ‘living, bright reality’ that our one desire-our one absorbing heart-passion may be that we personally gain Christ-that we personally know Him as the apostle longed to do.

– Hudson Taylor

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

– Luke 9:23

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

– Romans 12:1

A disciple denies himself to follow Jesus. You cannot truly follow Jesus conveniently. This sometimes turns people off because it can be hard to do, or even to desire to do. Jesus told a rich man to sell all he had, distribute the money to the poor and follow Him. The rich man became very sad over that (Luke 18:22-23).

Selling all you have is not a general prerequisite for becoming a disciple. Jesus didn’t tell Peter, Andrew, James, John, or His other disciples that when they were called (although they did voluntarily – Matthew 19:27). But to be a disciple means being willing to do whatever Jesus requires of you for you to follow Him, and this may include selling all. At the least, you are to consider yourself a steward, not the owner, of all you possess. If you intend to follow Jesus, you will make sure that nothing and nobody gets in the way. This is what water baptism symbolizes: Having been identified with Christ’s death on the cross, you have died to self. You are now to live for Jesus.

This does not mean that Jesus expects perfection. Peter was a true disciple, he left everything to follow Jesus, but he failed many times, even denying his Lord. His failings did not get in the way of his trying and Jesus never cast him away. Jesus instead restored him. Discipleship is a learning, training experience.

“There are many professing Christians who are willing to do almost anything in religion that does not require self-denial. They are so far from realizing that self-denial is a condition of discipleship, that they do not even know what it is!”

– Charles Finney (quoted in No Compromise, The Life Story of Keith Green)

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

– Matthew 6:33 (MKJV)

A disciple doesn’t deny himself just for denial’s sake. Denial of self is for the purpose of advancing God’s kingdom. The disciple puts the needs of the kingdom ahead of his own needs. Does that mean if you follow Christ you go without your needs met? Not at all. If you follow, then God will see to it that you have everything you need (i.e. food, clothing, shelter, etc).

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty.” Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

– 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

– Romans 12:2

But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

– Galatians 6:14

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.

– Colossians 3:2

No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.

– 2 Timothy 2:4

teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,

– Titus 2:12

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

– James 4:4

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

– 1 John 2:15 (ESV)

To be a disciple means separation from the world. This does not mean avoiding contact with non-believers, because Jesus called you to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). But it does mean that you are no longer to act and think as the world does. You have been called out of the world system, having been set apart – made holy – sanctified. You are to have an influence on the world, but the world is not to have an influence on you.

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

– 2 Timothy 3:12 (WEB)

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.

– 1 Peter 2:21

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it

– Mark 8:35

To be a disciple also means suffering for it. In the early church (and in many places in the world today), becoming a follower of Christ was not something that was taken lightly. Persecution by Jews and gentiles alike happened regularly. Many suffered and died for what they believed. In contrast, today in our country, it’s easy to believe in Jesus. It doesn’t cost much. It seems very unlikely that you will suffer for being a Christian. However, when you compare the quality of the spiritual life of persecuted believers versus non-persecuted, you’ll find that the persecuted believers are more likely to be leading mature Christian lives, and they tend to have a stronger faith in and closer walk with God, and they even have greater joy.

If you follow Jesus, you will suffer, because He did. This suffering may be physical, emotional or psychological. You will suffer for doing good (of which Jesus said you are blessed, happy – Matthew 5:10-12), and you will suffer because you are known as a Christian. But your suffering is not worthy to compare with the future glory to be revealed in you (Romans 8:18). This is why the 12 disciples gladly suffered and died for the gospel. (All died martyrs deaths except John who survived being boiled in oil.) There’s a good chance you will not die for Christ, but all of us will suffer in some way for our faith and walk. There is a cost, but the cost is worth it.

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it — lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

– Luke 14:28-33

“Men are still offended at Jesus; they hear gladly His ‘Follow Me’ and enthusiastically leave all to follow, but when the way becomes narrow, and to follow costs shedding of blood, they begin to waver. As long as it means peace and joy we will follow Jesus, but when it costs us dear we are tempted to go back and walk no more with Him.”

– Oswald Chambers

As you see, being a disciple requires commitment, and an awareness of the cost (i.e. your all).

I have a book called How To Build Your Own Self-Programming Robot . In the introduction, the author, David L. Heiserman, asks the question: “Why are you reading this book?” He then goes into the difficulty of the project. Building a robot is a big project. It takes time and discipline, and it may be frustrating and discouraging at times. After describing some of the difficulties, David asks again: “Why are you still reading this book?” because it is likely that many would have given up just from reading the introduction. David’s description of the difficulties serves the purpose of “weeding out” those who are not really serious about putting together such a large project. In a similar way, this introduction may cause you to re-evaluate your commitment to be a follower of Christ. This introduction is not to scare or discourage you. Yes, the cost is large, but there are many benefits to being a disciple. Don’t let the cost scare you – think about the benefits!

What are the benefits of being a disciple?

What makes being a disciple “all worth it”? There are many benefits. You’ve already seen that when you seek first God’s kingdom, all of your needs are met (Matthew 6:33). Here are some other benefits:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

– Galatians 5:22-25 (ACV)

As you grow in Christ, the fruit of the Spirit will become more and more evident in you. This means you will manifest more and more of the character of Jesus Christ. This fruit does not come about by concentrating on it (i.e. “I must be more loving”, “I need to be more joyful”), but by concentrating on the source of the fruit, Jesus. (John 15:4)

Notice that two of these fruits are peace and joy. You will have great peace and joy when you follow Jesus, even under persecution. Look up the word “joy” in the New Testament and you will find it associated many times with suffering:

And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,

– 1 Thessalonians 1:6

but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.

– 1 Peter 4:13

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,

– James 1:2

For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy;

– Colossians 1:9-11

It is not that the joy comes from the pain, but from Him who is the source of your joy, who is greater than the pain. This is the peace and joy that passes understanding. It cannot be understood… only experienced.

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

– John 8:12

When you follow Jesus, you will not walk in darkness but you will have the light of life. There is no more stumbling around in the dark. As a believer, you have God’s word and the Holy Spirit to guide and direct. Those who don’t believe and follow Jesus have only God’s word, but no understanding of it (2 Corinthians 3:14, 4:4, 2 Peter 1:5-9).

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.

– John 10:27 (Green)

As you follow Jesus, you learn to hear His guiding voice. You learn to trust Him more and can rest securely in Him. As your relationship with Jesus grows, you learn to rest in His grace which gives you eternal life.

“If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.

– John 12:26-29

God will honor you when you serve Jesus. Notice, also, that a servant’s place is with his Master, not the other way around.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

– Philippians 2:12-13

When you follow Him, He will work in your life the good that pleases Him. All you need to do is follow. Notice that the work that you do as a result of salvation is God doing the work. He works in you the willing to do what pleases Him, as well as the work itself.

About this class

This class is for those who desire to grow in Christ, both young and old believers. While this class is only for those who have placed their faith in Jesus, no one will be turned away.

We have already covered basic doctrines several times at Beatty Community Church in adult Sunday school. Therefore it is assumed that you already have an understanding of the foundational truths of what we believe. Now it is time to move on to the practical side of Christian life.

God-me-other triangle illustrationThe purpose of this class is to teach you how to develop healthy spiritual habits, how to feed yourself, and how to live for Christ. As you mature, you become less focused on yourself, less dependent on others for your spiritual needs, and more focused and dependent on God, and you will know God better and be used by Him more. By making this relationship the priority, your relationship with others will also grow (1 John 1:6-7), and you will encourage others to seek a closer relationship with God.

Having an understanding of correct doctrine and regularly practicing spiritual disciplines are both required for healthy spiritual growth. If you have a firm grasp of doctrine but you do nothing to build your relationship with Christ, preferring to sit back and let it all soak in, your faith is dead. If you have great zeal in living for Christ, but don’t spend time in God’s word, learning the basic truths about God, man, sin, salvation, etc., you will be more easily led away from the truth and eventually the faith. So what you learn in this course (or more importantly, what you learn in your own study in God’s word) put into practice. You cannot be a disciple by just reading, studying, and learning. You must take what you learn and make it a way of life.

While I cover a lot material in this class, much of it is not really in-depth, leaving you room for your own study. You’ll find that you better internalize what you learn when you dig into the scriptures for yourself instead of reading the results of someone else’s study. Treat this class as a starting point for your own personal study. I’m showing you the forest – you examine the trees.

If you can’t make a class, don’t worry: notes will be made available. Discipleship is not dependent on class-taking; it is dependent on Christ-following.

For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

– Colossians 1:9-14


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