What It Means To Be A Disciple Of Christ

By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)

Recently, I read this quote from a fantastic book: 

“After Jesus rose from the grave, He left His followers with a simple command: “Go into all the world and make disciples” (see Matt. 28: 19). The church should be known for this. If we are going to call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ, we should be making disciples. But most Christians today are not known for making disciples. We have developed a culture where a minister ministers and the rest of us sit back and enjoy “church” from a comfortable distance. This is not what God intends for His church. Every Christian is called by God to minister. You are called to make disciples.” (Francis Chan with Mark Beuving, Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples, 9 (Kindle Edition); David C. Cook) 

In the church, many have forgotten (or have never been properly taught) what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  

In this article, we are going to study what the Bible teaches about this subject.  

Defining Our Terms 

What does the word “disciple” mean?  

William Barclay has well written: 

“Akolouthein is the common and normal Greek verb which means to follow. It is a word with many uses and with many associations and all of them add something to its meaning for the follower of Christ. First, let us look at its usage and its meaning in classical Greek. (i) It is the common and the usual word for soldiers following their leader and commander. Xenophon (Anabasis 7.5.3) speaks about the generals and captains who have followed the leader for whom they are fighting. (ii) It is very commonly used of a slave following or attending his master. Theophrastus, in his character sketch of the Distrustful Man, says that such a man compels his slave to walk before him instead of following behind him, as a slave would normally do, so that he can be sure the slave will not dodge away (Theophrastus, Characters 18.8). (iii) It is commonly used for following or obeying someone else’s advice or opinion. Plato says that it is necessary to find out those who are fitted by nature to be leaders in philosophy and government, and those who are fitted by nature to be followers of the leader (Plato, Republic 474c). Some people are fitted to give leadership; others are only fitted to accept it. (iv) It is commonly used of obeying the laws. To follow the laws of a city is to accept them as the standard of life and of behaviour. (v) It is commonly used of following the thread or argument of a discourse. When the argument has got into a difficult position Socrates says: ‘Come now, try to follow me, to see if we can get this matter adequately explained’ (Plato, Republic 474c). (vi) In the papyri akolouthein is very commonly used for attaching oneself to someone in order to extract some favour which is desired. One writes in advice to another: ‘stick to Ptollarion all the time…. Stick to him so that you may become his friend.’ The idea is that of following a person until the favour desired is finally extracted from him. Every one of these usages has light to throw on the Christian life. The Christian is in the position of the soldier who follows Jesus Christ, and who must immediately obey his leader’s command. The Christian is in the position of the slave, who must obey as soon as his master speaks. The Christian must ask for the advice and for the ruling of Jesus Christ and must have the humility to follow it, whatever it may be. The Christian is the man who desires citizenship of the Kingdom of Heaven, and, if he is to receive it, he must agree to live according to its laws. The Christian is the learner and the listener who must listen to the words of Jesus, and who must follow their thread, so that day by day he may learn more of the wisdom which Jesus is ever wishing to teach him. The Christian is always in the position of one who needs and desires the favour and the grace and the help which Jesus Christ can give to him, and who follows Christ because in Christ alone he finds his need supplied.” (William Barclay, New Testament Words, 594-618 (Kindle Edition); Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press) 

We also must realize that the word “disciple” carried the idea of personally trusting a particular person and his teaching: 

“Math teu (make disciples) is the main verb and the central command of verses 19-20, which form the closing sentence of Matthew’s gospel. The root meaning of the term refers to believing and learning. Jesus was not referring simply to believers or simply to learners, or He would have used other words. Math teu carries a beautiful combination of meanings. In this context it relates to those who place their trust in Jesus Christ and follow Him in lives of continual learning and obedience. “If you abide in My word,” Jesus said, “then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8: 31). It should be noted that some disciples were not true (see John 6: 66).” (John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 49990-50006 (Kindle Edition); Chicago; Moody Press) 

From this, we see that there are several fundamental principles about being a disciple, including: 

Being Ready To Learn From The Master And His Word; 

Trusting In The Master And His Word;

Loving And Clinging To The Master And His Word; 

Being Willing To Obey The Master You Follow;

Being Willing To Sacrifice For The Master And To Go Wherever He May Send.  

With these things in mind, lets study three of the things which Jesus teaches us about being His disciple.  

To Be A Disciple Of Christ, You Must Put Jesus First 

In the Gospel of Luke, the Lord tells us;

Luke 14:26-27-26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.

27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

Now, what does it mean to “hate” our fathers and mothers and wives and children and brothers and sisters, etc.?

Many people would read this and clonclude that the Lord wants us to literally HATE our families.

Yet how can this be since we are to love everyone? 

Romans 13:8-10-8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.

9 For the commandments, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” “YOU SHALL NOT MURDER,” “YOU SHALL NOT STEAL,” “YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS,” “YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

How can we literally hate our parents when the Bible teaches us to honor our fathers and mothers (Exodus 20:12)?  

Perhaps the answer lies in studying that original word used in Luke’s account that is translated as “hate.”

Notice some different translations of this passage: 

Luke 14:26 (CEV)-You cannot be my disciple, unless you love me more than you love your father and mother, your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters. You cannot come with me unless you love me more than you love your own life.

Luke 14:26 (Amplified)-If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his [own] father and mother [in the sense of indifference to or relative disregard for them in comparison with his attitude toward God] and [likewise] his wife and children and brothers and sisters–[yes] and even his own life also–he cannot be My disciple.

These translations are picking up on something important that we often miss in limiting ourselves to one translation of the Bible: sometimes the word “hate” simply means “to love less.”  

For example: 

Genesis 29:30-31-30 Then Jacob also went in to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah. And he served with Laban still another seven years.

31 When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.

The word used here is the same in the Greek Old Testament as the word used here.

The idea of “hated” carried the ideas of “loved less.”  

“Fourth, the Hebrew word for “hated” really means “loved less.” Indication of this comes from the life of Jacob himself. For the Bible says Jacob “loved also Rachel more than Leah…. The Lord saw that Leah was hated” (Gen. 29:30—31). “The former implies strong positive attachment and the latter, not positive hatred, but merely a less love.”88 The same is true in the New Testament, as when Jesus said, “ ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother … he cannot be my disciple’ ” (Luke 14:26). A parallel idea is expressed in Matthew 10:37: “ ‘Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.’ ” (Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free: A Balanced View Of Divine Election, 85 (Kindle Edition); Bloomington, Minnesota; Bethany House Publishers) 

If we would be a disciple of Jesus, we must be willing to put Him first in our hearts and lives.

In fact, we need to be ready to put Him above family, friends, and even our very lives.

Notice that we are told that we must be willing to “take up our cross” and follow Him.

In the first century, this was a picture that everyone understood would include two main ideas: 

First, there is the notion of being hated by others.

The ones who were condemned to the death of the cross were mocked and abused terribly by onlookers. There was insult, mockery, personal offense, and hostility by our fellow man.

Jesus endured this, and He and His Apostles told us to expect it from those in the world: 

John 15:18-19-18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.

19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

John 16:2-They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.

John 16:33-33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Many of the attacks against God’s people will come from those who believe they are following God in persecuting His people!

As such, we should not be surprised when we are hated by the world for the cause of Christ. When people hear about our allegiance to Jesus and His Word, they will often insult and slander us.

Names like “Campbellite” and “waterdog” and “legalists” are often attached to Christians by the ignorant and the lost.

Jesus tells us that we need to be prepared to be hated by those in the world.  

Second, the idea of taking up our cross means casting aside earthly attachments.

To the person who was being crucified, there was the understanding that the world itself was nearly ended.

In other words, the person who was taking up their cross was at a point where his life was nearly ended. He understood this; as such, the world itself had lost its power over the one thus condemned.  

Romans 6:3-14 (ERV)-3 Did you forget that all of us became part of Christ Jesus when we were baptized? In our baptism we shared in his death.

4 So when we were baptized, we were buried with Christ and took part in his death. And just as Christ was raised from death by the wonderful power of the Father, so we can now live a new life.

5 Christ died, and we have been joined with him by dying too. So we will also be joined with him by rising from death as he did.

6 We know that our old life was put to death on the cross with Christ. This happened so that our sinful selves would have no power over us. Then we would not be slaves to sin.

7 Anyone who has died is made free from sin’s control.

8 If we died with Christ, we know that we will also live with him.

9 Christ was raised from death. And we know that he cannot die again. Death has no power over him now.

10 Yes, when Christ died, he died to defeat the power of sin one time—enough for all time. He now has a new life, and his new life is with God.

11 In the same way, you should see yourselves as being dead to the power of sin and alive for God through Christ Jesus.

12 But don’t let sin control your life here on earth. You must not be ruled by the things your sinful self makes you want to do.

13 Don’t offer the parts of your body to serve sin. Don’t use your bodies to do evil, but offer yourselves to God, as people who have died and now live. Offer the parts of your body to God to be used for doing good.

Colossians 3:1-3-1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.

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

3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

If we would be true disciples of Christ, we must Jesus first.  

To Be A Disciple Of Christ, We Must Be Willing To Learn And Obey God’s Word 

Let’s notice a passage which teach us about the importance of learning and obeying the Lord in order to be true disciples of Christ.  

Matthew 28:19-20-19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Here we see that teaching is a definite step in becoming a disciple of Christ, and in continuing to be a disciple of Christ.

Notice that the text has an imperative (a command), i.e. MAKE DISCIPLES.

The text then tells us two participles which instruct us how to make the disciples:

GOING, TEACHING, BAPTIZING.

Furthermore, there is the added command of OBSERVING the teaching of Christ.

As such, we see that to be a disciple of Christ, we must be active in four things:

GOING-TEACHING-BAPTIZING-OBSERVING.  

Notice four things with me.  

First, Christianity is a religion that is focused on “going.”

If you are a disciple of Christ, you have the obligation to GO. Too many believers believe that their obligation to follow Christ is fulfilled on Sundays and Wednesdays.  

“Well, I have been at worship services this week, that takes care of my discipleship.”

Oh most people would not SAY such things, but many certainly live like this.  

Church, God has given us a mandate to GO. Where?

Into all the nations!!

In the New Testament, the Apostles were commissioned to start where they were and then to expand outward: 

Acts 1:8-8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Second, if we are going to be disciples, then we must be willing to LEARN and TEACH. Notice that in the text disciples are made by “teaching” (KJV).  

Friends, you cannot become a disciple unless you are taught the Word of God.

In the same way, you cannot make disciples unless you teach them the Word of God. Many in our world attempt to engage in lots of programs to grow churches, and yet the Bible is clear that it is only by teaching the Word of God that disciples are made.  

John 6;44-45-44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.

45 It is written in the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT BY GOD.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.

Please notice that Jesus here teaches how the Father draws us to Him.

How?  

Through the teaching of the Word of God, we are drawn to Him.

Everyone who has “heard” (literally, keeps on hearing) and learned (literally, keeps on learning) from the Father comes to Me.  

The only way you will personally be able to make disciples is to get involved in teaching them the Word of God.

We need to sit down with our friends and family members, ask to have Bible studies and address questions that they have, and show interest in them.

Only by teaching will disciples be made.

Third, notice that this passage teaches us that in order to become a fully initiated disciple, one must be baptized into Christ.

The Greek of the passage is absolutely clear that baptism (along with teaching) is what is involved in making disciples of Christ.

Why was this the case?

The answer lies in the phrase “in the name” of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In the first century, this was a legal phrase that had reference to a slave being transferred “into the ownership” of someone else.  

“The Greek phrase “into the name of ” (εἰς τò ὄνoμα) occurs mainly in commercial or legal documents and carries the idea of “into the ownership or possession” of someone. The Hebrew phrase “into the name of ” ( ) carries the idea of “with reference to,” defining the intention or purpose of the act, or even in some instances “in worship to.” 446 A Hebrew background has greater probability with reference to Matthaean usage, but the practical results may not have been greatly different. Something done by a person as an act of worship toward another brought the first person into a relationship of belonging to the object of the act, and someone to whom a person belonged or was obligated received acts of homage from that person.” (Everett Ferguson, Baptism In The Early Church: History, Theology, And Liturgy In The First Five Centuries, 3005 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) 

“Another controversy of the religious world concerns the purpose of baptism. Many people, correctly rejecting the false doctrine of salvation upon the basis of works of human merit, have erroneously concluded that no works-of any type-are involved in salvation. Hence, they have overlooked the clear connection between baptism (which is not a work of human merit; cf. Titus 3:5) and forgiveness of sins in such passages as Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21, etc. One interesting passage in this connection is Matthew 28:19, 20 where the Lord’s followers are instructed to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” What did Christ mean by baptizing them “into the name” of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Many scholars were uncertain. Then archaeologists began to uncover numerous Greek papyri containing the phrase eis to onama, “into the name.” It was a technical expression denoting “into the possession” of someone. A slave was sold into the name, i.e., into the possession, of his owner. So, as Moulton and Milligan comment: “The usage is of interest in connection with Matthew 28:19, where the meaning would seem to be ‘baptized into the possesssion of the Father, etc.'”. What a thrilling concept! When one, in believing penitence, turns to the Lord by the obedient act of being immersed in water, by that submission, he becomes the possession of the divine Godhead.” (Wayne Jackson, Biblical Studies In The Light Of Archaeology, 56; Montgomery, Alabama; Apologetics Press). 

Fourth, if we want to be a faithful disciple, we have to apply ourselves to observing all of Christ’s commands.

As Jesus told His followers earlier: 

John 8:31-Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.

To Be A Disciple Of Christ, We Must Be Active Member Of His Church 

The last thing I want to notice with you about being a disciple of Christ is that being a disciple means that you are an active member of His church.

Notice what the Bible tells us:

Acts 11:26-And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

    Let’s notice several things.  

    First, the disciples are clearly here identified as being members of “the church” and as being called “Christians.”

    A true disciple of Christ is a member of His church, and-because of that-he is a Christian.  

    Remember that it is teaching and baptism by which one becomes a disciple (Matthew 28:19).

    With that in mind, we recall that those in Jerusalem who gladly received His Word were baptized ; and the Bible tells us that these were then added by God to His church (Acts 2:41, 47).

    To be a disciple of Christ is to be a member of His church.  

    Further, to be a Christian is to be a member of His church.

    The word Christian is often applied loosely to anyone who professes a faith in Jesus; yet in the strictest sense, the word “Christian” has reference to those who have been added by God to His church when they have thus been baptized as believers into Him (Acts 2:37-47).  

    Yet notice something else.

    The Bible tells us here that these disciples were members of the church both universally and locally.  

    Sometimes the word church is used in a universal sense, to have reference to all the saved people of God in any area (cf. Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28; Ephesians 1:22-23; 2:16; Colossians 1:18).

    The word is also used to have reference to a group of Christians who assemble locally (1 Corinthians 1:1-2; Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1).

    In these local congregations, the disciples assemble together on the Lord’s Day-Sunday (Acts 20:7) to worship the Lord and to be edified by His Word (Hebrews 10:24-25; Colossians 3:16-17).

    It is in the local church that the work of the Lord for evangelizing the local community, and spreading the Gospel through the world, is planned and prepared (1 Timothy 3:14-15).  

    There are many in the church who do not want to be identified with a local congregation.

    They will travel from one congregation to another, and will never identify themselves with a local congregation.

    This is clearly against the Bible patten for faithful disciples.

    First, we are commanded to assemble with the local brethren (Hebrews 10:24-25).

    Second, the Bible tells us that Paul tried to assemble with the brethren at Jerusalem when he was first baptized (Acts 9:26).

    Third, the Bible commands elders of the church to shepherd the flock of God which is among them (1 Peter 5:1-5).

    If members of the congregation do not declare that they desire to be recognized as members of the local congregation, then how can elders of the church ever shepherd the flock?

    Fourth, when Paul wrote his letter to the church at Rome, he identified at least 26 saints (Romans 16:1-16).

    Many were from congregations in Rome that had congregations meeting in their homes.

    Clearly, Paul understood that there were local members in the congregations.  

    If we would be faithful and productive disciples of Christ, we must be members of the church both universally and locally.  

    Finally in this connection, I want you to notice with me that being a disciple of Christ means that we are active members of the congregation.

    The church here in Acts 11:26 was heavily involved in both evangelism and benevolence.

    Acts 11:27-30-27 And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch.

    28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar.

    29 Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.

    30 This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

    Being a disciple of Christ means that we are willing to be involved in the work of the Lord.

    Are we ready and eager to be involved in the work of the Lord?  

    Judges 5:2-When leaders lead in Israel, When the people willingly offer themselves, Bless the LORD!

    Psalm 110:3-Your people shall be volunteers In the day of Your power; In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, You have the dew of Your youth.

    It seems that in the church, there are many members of the congregation who are part of the “Tate” family:

    “Do you have any idea of how many members of the Tate family belong to your congregation? There is old man Dic Tate who wants to run everything, while uncle Ro Tate tries to change everything. Their sister, Agi Tate, stirs up plenty of trouble with help from her husband, Irri Tate. Whenever new projects are suggested, Hesi Tate and his wife Vegi Tate want to wait until next year. Brother Facili Tate is quite helpful in church business. Cousins Cogi Tate and Medi Tate always think things over and lend a helpful steady hand. And, of course, there is the bad seed in the family, Ampu Tate, who has cut himself off completely from the Body of Christ.” (Paul M. Miller, World’s Greatest Collection Of Church Jokes, 235 (Kindle Edition); Uhrichsville, Ohio; Barbour Publishing, Inc.). 

    If we want to be true disciples of the Lord, then we need to be active members of His church.  

    Conclusion

    Being a disciple of Christ means these three important things: 

    Putting Jesus And His Kingdom First; 

    Being Ready To Learn And Obey The Word Of God; 

    Being An Active Member Of The Lord’s Church

    The central message of the Word of God is the Gospel, or “Good News,” that God’s Son (Jesus Christ) came to this world to die for the sins of mankind (1 Timothy 2:6; Isaiah 53). Jesus died to pay for the price for each person’s sins because God desires for all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). He was buried, and arose from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). It is upon Jesus Christ and His Word that we can safely build our lives; only He is the solid foundation upon which His church is built (Matthew 7:24-27).  

    Why not today place your faith in Jesus Christ, repent of your sins, confess Him as the Son of God, and be buried with Him in baptism (Acts 2:37-38; 8:35-38)?

    When you obey God’s plan of salvation, He will add you to His church (Acts 2:47), and He promises to walk with you and to build you up through His Holy Spirit (Romans 8:12-13).

    When we fall short and sin as Christians (1 John 1:8), He will forgive us when we repent of that sin and confess it to Him in prayer (1 John 1:9).  

    If I can assist you in any way, please contact me.  

    The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.  

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