If you really want to know what a disciple of Jesus looks like then the best place to go is the New Testament. Specifically the four Gospels. The word disciple is used 269 times in the New Testament. Compare that to the word Christian which is used only three times! The word disciple is used 238 times in the Gospels and 11 times by Jesus himself.
Jesus uses the word disciple twice in Matthew 10:24-25.
In that passage Jesus equates discipleship with imitation.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.”
The point of the passage is that just as Jesus suffered persecution for his message so also will his disciples. No matter what, though, they were to take up their cross and follow Him, living as he lived and suffering as he suffered.
Discipleship is imitation.
The stakes are high. The disciple of Jesus is not just called to imitate him in some ways but in every way.
In the following verses Jesus tells his disciples,
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39)
According to Jesus, there is a cost associated with being a disciple. It’s not a purely intellectual pursuit. It’s an exchanged life.
The third time Jesus uses the word disciple is Matthew 28:18.
This is when Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission. You probably know the passage well. Jesus had already been crucified and raised from the dead. He had been with his disciples for about 40 days, teaching them more and more about the kingdom of God. Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he called his disciples to meet on a mountain.
Starting in Matthew 28:17 it says that when the disciples of Jesus saw Him
“…they worshiped Him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:17-20)
In this passage we get an added nuance about discipleship. Discipleship isn’t just imitating the life or character of Jesus. It is also walking in obedience to all that Christ has commanded.
This passage does not just contain a descriptive definition of what it means to be a disciple but also an exhortation to engaged in the process of making other disciples.
Disciples of Jesus make other disciples of Jesus.
From the very beginning, the vision of discipleship according to Jesus has always been about multiplication. For Jesus, the Kingdom movement that he inaugurated would be advanced when His disciples began to make disciples who would then make disciples.
The fourth time Jesus uses the word disciple is in Mark 14:14.
In this passage Jesus is simply describing a scene that will soon be experienced by his disciples. He sends them to someone’s house to prepare for the Passover meal and tells them that when they get there they need to say to the master of the house,
“The Teacher says, ‘Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?'” (Mark 14:14)
The fifth time Jesus uses the word disciple is in Luke 6:40.
Luke 6:20-49 contains Luke’s account of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. If there was ever a treatise on discipleship, the Sermon on the Mount would be it. In that sermon Jesus again equates discipleship with imitation.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40)
From these five instances we discover that being a disciple of Jesus is more than just learning information. Discipleship is imitation.
It’s displaying in your own life the character of Jesus and also the competencies of Jesus.
It’s living as he lived and walking in obedience to his commands.
This isn’t very different from the definition of discipleship we received in Matthew 4:19.
A disciple is
- Following Jesus,
- Being changed by Jesus
- And committed to the mission of Jesus.
What does that look like, practically speaking?
How does this vision of discipleship flesh itself out when it comes to your day to day life?
It is in answering that question that the remain six usages of the word disciple by Jesus are particularly helpful.
Interestingly enough, they follow in sequential order from the previous five. However, each time Jesus uses the word disciple in the following six passages, it is preceded by the possessive pronoun my. I call these the My Disciple Statements of Jesus.
We will look at those six statements next time.