Jesus’ command was to make disciples of all nations, but what is a disciple? How do you become one?
Jesus commanded the first disciples to make disciples of others (Matt 28:19-20), but what is a disciple? It comes from the Old English discipul which comes from the Latin discipulus, meaning, “pupil, student, follower,” and said to be from discere (“to learn”) from which we get the word “discern.” From that comes from the root word, dek which means “to take, accept.” The word disciple comes from a lost compound word, discipere , which means “to grasp intellectually,” so what is a disciple? A disciple is someone called to live “in” Christ, be equipped to live “like” Christ, and sent to live “for” Christ. Our calling includes salvation and abiding in Christ (John 8:31–32), but it also includes “equipping” the church for spiritual formation and growth to live like Christ (2 Timothy 3:16–17), and then “sending” the equipped to make disciples of others (Matthew 28:18–20, John 15:8, John 13:34–35), but you cannot make disciples without evangelizing. One pastor told his church, “Evangelize, or fossilize.”
Like His Master
If we are to make disciples of others, then we must follow through on teaching them the very same things Jesus taught and commanded the first disciples (Matt 28:20), and those teachings are found within Scripture and not just in the gospels. For example, Jesus compares doing things for the least of these to doing it unto Him (Matt 25:40). That’s one of His commands. That includes visiting the sick and those in prison, feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty, and even clothing the naked, or providing just a few bare necessities of life (Matt 25:35-36). One man I know drives to a larger city every Sunday afternoon and parks his van in the First Baptist Church’s parking lot. This man brings them water, toiletries, blankets, books, Bibles, and things that we use every day that we take for granted. He is doing it for them but He’s really doing it to Jesus. God works to help the poor but uses people as a means to do so. God is using this man. He is a disciple that you can know by his fruits (Matt 7:15-20). Jesus ministered to thousands of the poor, and so that is our calling too, because “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).
Counting the Cost
Jesus once gave an example about counting the cost in Luke 14 and it was in the context of becoming one of Jesus’ disciples (Luke 14:25-33). He was comparing how radical our love for God must be, compared to that of others. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). The cost is high when you become a disciple of Jesus, but payday is off the charts (Rev 21:1-4). To be Jesus’ disciple means you seek Christ and His righteousness, first and foremost (Matt 6:33), thus Jesus concluded, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). We know who to make disciples of and how to make disciples of others, but they themselves must count the cost. They must ask themselves, “Is Jesus most precious,” or is what’s most precious determined by the time and money we spend on things or people? Is there more Facebook than being in the Book? What’s most important to us? We do realize that part of the cost will be broken or severed relationships; not on our part perhaps, but when those we used to run with go into places where we do not go anymore, we must separate ourselves from them and the things of the world. The Apostle John, in quoting a voice from heaven, wrote, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues” (Rev 18:4). That’s a quote from Jeremiah which he writes several times in chapter 51 as a warning about keeping one foot in the world and the other in the church.
When we seek to be one of Jesus’ disciples, and to do what He commands us to do, this means, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-38). Remember, Jesus prayed for those who nailed Him to the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34a), and Stephen the deacon did something very similar. As they were stoning him to death, “he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). Disciples are to be like their Teacher, and Jesus is our Teacher, but more than that…He is our Master. He is Lord and He is still mentoring me through His Word, by His Spirit, and through the Sacraments, together with the Body of Christ. We can make disciples of others, but only if God calls to choose them (John 6:44), and the truth is, we don’t know who they chosen are, at least until they profess Christ publically, but the point is, we do not save anyone. God alone saves (Eph 2:8-9). We are called to use the Word of God and the Spirit of God, and God Himself makes the children of God by the Spirit of God…but He is pleased to use us as a means to bring them to Christ.
Becoming a Disciple
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; become His disciple; learn what Jesus taught; obey what Jesus taught; live what Jesus taught; be equipped to seek out others to become disciples; seek out others to become disciples; they become disciples; disciple them to live as Jesus did; teach them to obey what Jesus taught; equip them to go out and seek others who might become Jesus’ disciples (Matt 28:18-20).
Why don’t we see more discipleship taught in our churches or more members being equipped to make more disciples for Christ? It may be that church leaders are not equipped to do that. They might not know what discipling really is. It’s not really mentoring, but being used by God to bring others to Christ and then teaching them what someone taught us after we believed. It might be members are being resistant to giving up a Saturday afternoon or a Wednesday evening to participate in what God calls pure religion (James 1:27) and may not have counted the cost. Every member has been sovereignly placed within the Body of Christ to perform a function so that all the members can cooperate with the Head, Who is Jesus Christ, and then do those things unto Him that we are called to do. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ,” so discipleship is never done alone or as a solitary Christian. There are nearly 40 “one another’s” in the New Testament, showing we need one another, and they need you! It’s impossible to be discipled in isolation, at least within the context of the imperative command that is the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is a writer at Christian Quotes and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.