Thursday, April 11, 2013

What is a Disciple?

It is often wise, as Maria Von Trapp sang to us,  to start at the very beginning, 'cause that's a very good place to start.  So, if we are going to produce disciples, we need to understand, WHAT IS A DISCIPLE?

Lorne Sanny, former president of the Navigators disciple-making ministry, defines a disciple as someone who has three qualities: he is personally identified with Jesus Christ, she is consistently obedient to God's Word, and he is bearing fruit of two types.  First, there is Christian character.  Then he bears the fruit of leading others to Christ and helping them become mature disciples. 

Jesus Christ issued a simple call - it was the simple call of Jesus.  He walked up to ordinary fishermen and said, "Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19).  Or, I will show you how to fish for people.  The Message says, "Come with Me.  I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you.  I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass."  Then it says, "They didn't ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed." 

Are we asking questions, or are we dropping our nets and following?  Our mandate is none other than this first, clear call of the Lord.  It is the simple call of Jesus: Follow Me and I will make you a fisher of men and women. 

When Jesus left this earth, He gave us what is called the Great Commission.  That mandate, to make disciples, involves, going, baptizing, and teaching them to obey all things that Jesus has taught.  How will we teach others all the things that Jesus has taught?  It is through the process of discipleship, or disciple-making.

What is discipleship?  Discipleship is simply the term we use to describe the process of teaching a new Christian how to follow Jesus and become a fisher  of men, someone who can lead another person to Christ and teach them to follow Jesus.  Robert Coleman writes, "The Great Commission is not a special calling or gift of the Spirit; it is a command - an obligation incumbent upon the whole community of faith.  There are no exceptions."  In Matthew 28:18-20, as Jesus ends His earthly ministry, He basically told us, "Continue in the simple call of Jesus."         

Wise churches evaluate all that we do in the light of the simple call of Jesus, the call to make disciples.  On that great Day of judgment, we will not be evaluated on how big were our budgets, on how beautiful our buildings, on our public image nor our many programs.  What will matter and remain on that day will be the answer to the question: Did you make disciples?

A shoe factory has one purpose: to produce shoes.  Regardless of the manpower, the effort, the money spent, if the factory does not produce shoes, it is missing the mark!  Likewise, a church can be very active in a variety of endeavors and still not be producing disciples.  

One leading evangelical British minister warned American believers, "Mark my words, North American Christians: Your large church buildings will be as empty as the cathedrals of Great Britain within a span of twenty-five to fifty years if you do not change your methodology."  Churches have methodologies as wide as Jonah's whale!  The methodology we must return to is that of Jesus.  His method was men and women: leading them to salvation, making them disciples, and teaching them how to become fishers of men.  Our ministry is people: spreading God's amazing love to them with the intention of making them fully devoted followers of Christ. 

Discipleship takes place through a number of avenues: family discipleship, one-on-one (or man-to-man), small group, systematic preaching-teaching, and personal growth. But the goal remains to produce disciples. 

There are five types of people in the world:


Many churches are full of converts, those who have been born again into the kingdom of God.  However, Jesus told us to make disciples.  The word disciple means "learner" or "follower."  Learning has to do with knowing.  Following has to do with obeying.  Jesus described this well in John 14:21, "If you love me, you will obey me, and if you obey me, I will manifest myself to you."  That verse describes the life of a disciple.  He loves Jesus.  Because He loves Him, He obeys Him (as a follower).  And as he obeys Jesus, the Lord makes Himself known to the disciple (as a learner).  So as you obey Jesus you come to know Him better.  That is the pathway of intimacy - that is love. 

DISCIPLES ARE     . . .      

LEARNERS, knowing Jesus intimately,    and   FOLLOWERS, obeying Jesus immediately

The Four Characteristics of a Disciple

The learning and following of disciples is expressed through several characteristics.  These qualities of life will be found in a growing disciple . . .

1.  Abides in the Word of God (John 8:31-32)

Jesus said that IF YOU ABIDE (CONTINUE, REMAIN) IN MY WORD, THEN YOU ARE TRULY MY DISCIPLES.  A convert has not yet learned to abide, to live a lifestyle that is soaked in the Word of God.  The psalmist describes the person who meditates on the Word of God DAY and NIGHT (Psalm 1).  God told Joshua that the key to his success was meditating on the Book of the Law day and night. 

A disciple has learned to feed himself - he is not dependant on other people, his preacher, his teachers.  He gleans from these sources, but He knows how to go to the true Source.  He or she is a person of the Book.  As a growing disciple, he is learning have a grip on the Word of God by . . .

READING the Word, HEARING the Word, MEMORIZING the Word, MEDITATING on the Word, STUDYING the Word, and APPLYING the Word

2.  Obedience (Matthew 7:21; John 14:21)

A disciple of Communism obeys the teachings of Communism.  A disciple of an outstanding voice instructor follows the instructions of that person.  A disciple of an ice skater coach follows the directions of that individual.  So, a disciple of Jesus obeys Him.  How beautifully the fishermen illustrate this characteristic for us in Matthew 4.  Did you see that when Jesus speaks to them, when He calls them, the Bible says, "And they immediately left their nets, and followed Him."  The New Living translation reads that they left their nets at once and went with Him. 

A good litmus test for your own discipleship is this: When Jesus speaks, do you obey Him?  When the Holy Spirit speaks through God's Word, do you obey?  When you know what the Lord wants you to do, is your obedience immediate, or do you ask a lot of questions?  The Message says, "They didn't ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed."  If we don't obey God, it is because we don't love and trust Him.

3.  Spirit-controlled (Ephesians 5:18; Galations 5:16; Acts 6:5)

When the disciples walked with Jesus, they literally walked with Him.  They woke up in the morning, looked at Jesus, and thought, "Today, I'm with Him!"  In our day, in the Church Age, God has left us the Holy Spirit, the One who comes alongside of us to help us, to comfort, to convict, to guide, and most importantly, to manifest the Person and Power and Purity and Presence of Jesus in, through, and around us. 

It is only the Christian who is filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit who can please God.  The fleshly, natural, carnal Christian cannot please God.  Only the spiritual man, empowered by God's Spirit, can carry out the will of the Father.  At salvation we get all of the Spirit of God.  The appropriate question then, for the believer is not "Do you have the Spirit" but "Does the Spirit have you?" 

In the great Shantung Revival in China, what some historians call the greatest revival and spiritual awakening of Southern Baptist history, Martha Franks, Bertha Smith and others witnessed that a key to that mighty move of God was when many believers realized that they were not filled with the Spirit of God: He was not able to flow out of their lives (John 7:37-39) because self was on the throne instead of Jesus.  The Spirit is poured out when Jesus is on the throne!  Bertha Smith wrote, "If He sees that we are clean, and that He is in complete possession of us, He will fill us just as He filled the tabernacle and the Jerusalem temple when they were dedicated to Him."

Are you filled by the Spirit of God?  Are you walking under His direction and in submission to His leading?  Smith said that "there can be no fullness of the Spirit without a life of yieldedness."  Are you yielded?  Are you resting in His ability? 

4.  Fruit-bearing (John 15:8,16)

In the Old Testament, the Lord filled His house with His glory.  And that glory evoked tremendous awe and worship from His people.  After God later removed His glory, it was not until Jesus Christ came to this earth that the glory returned.  Then, just before He went back to the Father, Jesus explained how that glory would remain in this world: "This is how My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples" (John 15:8.)  Today the temple of the Lord is filled with glory through the process of fruit-bearing.  Those Christians who are fruit-bearing disciples bring the Father glory.

First, we can bear the fruit of godly character.  As the Spirit controls us, He produces the fruit of the Spirit (Galations 5:22-23) and the fruit of righteous living through our lives.  So, when you bear patience, joy, love, gentleness, and when you obey God, the temple is filled with glory.  Second, as you give witness to others of Christ's work, you are empowered to be His witness, leading others to Christ and then helping them to be His disciples, God is glorified.  It is this process of making disciples of other people, taking converts and teaching them to obey, to walk with Jesus in the details of life, that brings the Father glory.  And is that not the simple call of Jesus?  Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.       

In closing, Matthew 4:19 gives us this picture of disciples.  They are abiding in the Word of God, that is, they hear and appropriate what Jesus says.  Then, they are obedient, and their obedience is immediate.  They are responsive to the person of Christ, as today we are to be responsive to the Spirit of God.  And they embark on the journey of becoming fruit-bearing disciples, fishers of men.

Oh, Father, bring Yourself glory in and through our lives.  Teach us to be Your disciples.  And make us Your vessels whom  You use to make disciples both here and around the world.  And keep our nose to that mandate.  We love you.  Thank you that as we obey you, you will make us know you more and more.  To your name be glory.

Pictures used by permission from Pixabay


1.  What is the simple call of Jesus?

2.  What is discipleship?

3.  What is a disciple?

4.  What are the four characteristics of a disciple?

5.  Today, what brings the Father glory?

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