In a perfect world everyone who takes the name of Christian would be a disciple. Being a Christian should be synonymous with being totally devoted to our Lord Jesus Christ. Unfortunately that is simply not the case. This is not a new problem either. Perhaps one could point to watered down religion or just too many choices of things to do outside of church for the root of this problem. The truth is though that even Jesus had people who followed Him but were not His disciples.
In John 6, the chapter begins with thousands of people gathered to hear Jesus speak and the feeding of the 5,000. Once Jesus began to offer the difficult teaching about the bread of life, many people left Him. When Jesus asked the Twelve if they would leave Him too, Peter responds in John 6:68-69, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
To understand who or what a true disciple is, we must set aside semantics for a moment and separate followers from true disciples. A follower is like a casual fan of a sports team. They are happy when their team wins and sad when they lose. But win or lose, life goes on and by the next day everything is pretty much back to normal. A fanatic’s life revolves around their sports team though. They are ecstatic when they win and devastated when they lose. The performance of their favorite team will definitely affect their mood the following day.
In terms of Christianity, God wants fanatics, not just casual followers. Our entire life should be invested in church so that we are very interested in its success. The major difference between following sports and following the Lord is that following sports is passive. No matter what a fan does, they won’t affect the outcome for their team. Church is active however. What we do as Christians absolutely has an effect on how our church performs. If our church isn’t doing well, it should bother us enough that we want to do something to improve the situation.
When Jesus instructed people to follow Him, He did not want observers who had an interest in what He was doing. He wanted people whose lives would be totally devoted to what He did. He didn’t just want people who would watch what He did; He wanted people who would do what He did. In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out His disciples to perform miracles and to do the things that He did. This wasn’t just reserved for the twelve men who are formally known to us as disciples. Jesus later sent out a group of seventy two to whom He gave similar instructions.
Jesus was never quiet about what it would take to be a true disciple. In Conditions of Discipleship there are numerous verses that tell us that a person must be completely devoted to Jesus if they are to be a disciple. Nothing is to come before Jesus, including personal possessions and even family. Moreover a person must take up their cross daily and hold fast to the teachings of Jesus. Being a disciple is not a onetime event but a lifetime of work.
There are three main requirements to being a disciple.
- A disciple knows what God expects
- A disciple does what God expects
- A disciple teaches others so that they know what God expects and then does it
We can’t be an effective disciple if we have no idea what God expects of us. So a disciple must be diligent in the study of God’s Word. This means more than simply attending church on Sunday morning. Personal study is needed to truly understand God’s will for our lives. We wouldn’t be in good physical shape if we only ate once a week. It is the same case with our spiritual condition. Hearing a sermon once a week will not leave us spiritually well fed.
Simply knowing what God expects is not enough to make us disciples however. It needs to be applied. This happens both consciously and subconsciously. Consciously, we realize that a certain behavior is expected of us and we make corrections in our life to conform with those expectations. Subconsciously, by hearing the examples of love in the Bible over and over again, we understand that this is normal for a Christian and become more loving without thinking about it. The adage “one bad apple ruins the whole bunch” works in the opposite direction as well. By being around other Christians who are living out God’s Word, we are trained to live it as well.
The third requirement is critical to discipleship. It is possible to be a very godly person by following God’s commands but if God’s commands are not shared with others, Christianity is only one generation from extinction. Fortunately we have the Great Commission. One of the commands that we have is to go and make disciples. If we are obeying God’s commands we will be making more disciples.
Being a disciple is not an easy task. It is more than simply following, it takes hard work and devotion. Jesus Christ must come above everything else in life. A disciple must learn the commands of God, then they must obey them. Finally a disciple passes that knowledge onto others and helps them to obey the commands as well.