It is important for us today to recapture what it means to be a disciple of Jesus because we live in a world where many people identify themselves as Christians yet they live a different life. The central question is who exactly is a disciple of Jesus? What does the Bible teach about becoming/being a disciple of Christ? What does it mean to follow Jesus?
For your knowledge, the Bible uses the word “disciple” 282 times, “believers” 26 times and “Christians” only 3 times. The number the word “disciple” is repeated shows us that there is more to learn on what it means to be a disciple. In the Great commission, Matt 28:19-20, Jesus commissions his followers to go into all the world and make disciples.
The passages (Matt 10:1-7; Lk 10:1-12) we have read details the call to be disciples of Jesus. We become disciples of Jesus by responding positively to his call. Jesus called his disciples and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. He then sent them out into the world as apostles, (the purpose of their preparation) to preach.
It was a common phenomenon in the 1st century for a spiritual leader to have disciples. John the Baptist also had disciples. Matt 9:14. Pharisees had their own disciples, Matt 22:16. Jesus had many disciples other than the twelve disciples, Matt 10:1; Lk 22:11. Many of his followers were Jews, Jn 6:66; Lk 6:17. Some of Jesus’ disciples followed him secretly, Jn 19:38. Some were true and some were false dsiciples.
What Does it mean to become a disciple of Jesus?
- It means being a learner– The word “disciple” is from the Greek word “mathetes” meaning a “learner” or “student”. It is one who follows another person’s teaching.
Jesus’ disciples were called to a new and different life. In fact the life principles they were taught were upside down and a paradox of what they knew. The way up is down (humility); the first shall be last; to be filled we must empty ourselves; to live we must first die; to find we must first lose; and we gain not by adding more but by letting go. This needed learning.
The disciples of Jesus were fishermen, but they were called to be fishers of men. That also needed learning. No wonder they are sent for an internship in the Luke’s passage.
Therefore a true disciple of Jesus needs to embrace learning as a lifelong activity. Disciples of Jesus never arrive; instead they are in constant process of learning and becoming.
Disciples of Jesus learn to love unconditionally, they learn to forgive without taking inventory, they learn to discern the will of God; they are students of the word of God. They learn how to live the newfound life in Christ. They learn how they can please their Master.
Disciples also learn from valley of life and mountaintop experiences of life. They learn from successes and failures; from young and old. They will say, ”When I went through that circumstance…. God taught me this and that…”
Learners have a teachable Spirit, they have inquisitive minds and learners have a receptive heart for God’s word. It is because of learning attitude that the disciples implored on their Master, “Lord, teach us to pray” Lk 11:1. Learners are always growing and transforming.
The good news for disciples is that we have an invitation from Jesus to learn from him; Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light, Matt 11:28-30.
The problem with the know-it-all believers is that they are not teachable. Such people do not listen, even when warned of an impending danger. They can’t be corrected. The book of proverbs calls them fools. You warn them of a ditch ahead of them they will downplay it as a small pothole!
Therefore disciples of Jesus are learners all the time. If you are not growing then you have expired and if you are expired then you are not of use to the kingdom of God. If you have stopped learning you have stopped marveling at the greatness of God.
- It means being submissive to Christ (and to authorities)-
The disciples of Jesus found a new Master when they responded to his call. The Roman Empire had many lords and Caesar was one. Submission to Christ means following him no matter what. It means subjecting our will to his will. It means realigning our plans/mission to God’s plans.
Submission means obedience; and obedience to the words of Christ. Jesus instructed, “if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” Jn 8:31-32; The man who says “I know him” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him– 1 Jn 2:4-5. Christ wants the life of his disciples to be totally submitted to him in obedience to his word.
When a Christian says “I am born again and Christ is my Lord” he actually says two things. He is saved (in reference to the past activity of justification) and secondly, Christ is Lord (in the sense that he presently rules over my life). The point I want to make is that many Christians were saved but presently they do not have Christ as Lord over their lives. The lordship of Christ is something we choose every other moment; we choose to submit to Him or to follow our own will. Disciples of Christ live a life of submission to Christ. T
Submission also involves submission to the authorities instituted by the Lord-either at home, workplace, government, or in the church. Peter, a disciple of Jesus, later exhorted the church to be submissive: Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right-1 Pet 13-14.
In submission to the will of the Father, the disciples obeyed the Great Commission and preached the gospel from Jerusalem, to all Judea, all Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
- It means bearing fruit–
After teaching them and showing them miraculous signs, Jesus sends out the disciples to share the gospel and heal people. Fruit here may represent new converts, or even fruit of the Holy Spirit. Whichever way you take, the point is clear, true disciples of Jesus bear fruit. They are like the tree planted by the river which yield its fruit in and out of season.
Jesus taught that: This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples Jn 15:8. What do you call people who claim to be Christians yet they are unproductive? I don’t know, what I know is that they are not disciples.
Beware of unfruitful Christian life. Unfruitful believers are like a clouds without rains, a well without water…a tree without fruit. We live in a world that we are very cautious about judging others; but the truth is that you will know the disciples by their fruit. Fruitfulness is a sign of true disciples.