Christian Discipleship

Part Three

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five


So what exactly is a disciple? A disciple is someone who is motivated to incorporate the disciplines and attitudes of someone the disciple adheres to – in the case of Christians, it is  Jesus Christ. The disciplines of Jesus Christ affect our lifestyle activities. While the attitudes of Jesus Christ affect our cognition, or the way we perceive and think about the world we live in. If our disciplines become more like Jesus Christ, our attitudes (cognition; thoughts and perceptions) will become more like those of Jesus Christ.   

Please note that Christians should never be or refer to themselves as disciples of other Christian men or women, regardless of how spiritual those other men and women would appear to be. Christians have a strong tendency to adhere themselves more to the audible voices and physical faces of those they highly respect, rather than to the actual person of Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul makes this abundantly clear in his first letter to the Church at Corinth. “For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ." Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”  (1 Corinthians 1:11-13) We also see this tendency clearly in the number of denominational variations of Christianity in all three of the major divisions of Christianity in existence today. While it is more evident in Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and the variety of National Orthodox Churches  are all encumbered with these issues.  

Jesus Christ is the central and only focus of all discipleship principals and processes that we incorporate into our lives. This issue of becoming someone else’s disciple was one of the key problems the apostle Paul had to address the Corinthian Church with.

These early Corinthian Christians were missing the point of those who were attempting to create an environment of spiritual growth through a mentality and practice of Christian discipleship. They were adhering more to the leader / teacher than they were to Jesus Christ who these leaders and teachers were instructing them into proper relationships with. The writer of the book of Hebrews says it best in this verse when he wrote; “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)

It is important to see that the writer of Hebrews tells these Christians to imitate the “faith” of those who were leading them, and not the actual person in whom the faith was observed. In reality he was saying, imitate the source of their faith – Jesus Christ. This is because their leader’s conduct was a result of their discipleship in the Christian faith.

The question is often asked, “So what’s the difference between a student, a disciple and an apostle?” It is actually a very good question because often all three are perceived to be one in the same from a very superficial reading of the New Testament.

A “studentis someone who desires specific knowledge from a specific source of teaching or instruction. Many people in Jesus’ day were looking for a teacher of the Law (the Old Testament Torah / the books of Moses). They were looking someone to give them the ultimate shortcut to good moral practices that would make them look better in the eyes of others than in reality they actually were.

There are many people going to church today because they are looking for the spiritual shortcuts which will allow them to live non sacrificial lives as “masters” and not as “servants”. This is because they want to be a Christian on their terms. I is then that they usually turn out to be just students and not disciples. Unfortunately, many will also reject the Gospel message completely.   

Jesus was the best teacher any student could ever learn from. But, that was not the only reason He walked amongst us. The primary reason Jesus Christ was born into humanity was to redeem the world from its sinful condition. His lifestyle and teachings were ultimately the glorious by-product of His sacrifice on the cross for our sins. 

A “discipleis someone who is motivated to incorporate the disciplines and attitudes of someone the disciple adheres to, just like it was discussed earlier on. There are some who start out with the mentality of being a student, and then eventually move into a relationship with Jesus Christ and thus start to become a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

Obviously, not all students of the teachings of Jesus become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior. The students who don’t become disciples are the ones that eventually disregard or deny the deity of Jesus Christ. They may also perceive the teachings of Jesus to be equal in value with the teachings of noted people like Aristotle, Socrates, Buddha, Mohammad or any other noted philosopher or religious leaders.      

An “apostle” by definition is “someone who is sent with a specific message”. Jesus originally chose twelve men from amongst His disciples. There were probably a group of about 120 regular followers/ disciples of Jesus throughout His earthly ministry. (Reference Acts 1:15).

What needs to be understood is that not all disciples are apostles - but all apostles are disciples. Mark’s Gospel records this process and apostolic definition very accurately. And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons. And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, "Sons of Thunder"); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot ; and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him. (Mark 3:14-19)      

It is very interesting to note the actual text reads “that He could send them out to preach and to have authority”. This is the definition of an apostleship. These twelve would eventually be sent out into all of the known world of their day with the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That message of the Gospel that they would preach would display the authority of God in their lives.  

This passage does not imply that one must become an apostle to be able to preach the Gospel or be sent out to others with that specific message. What it does say is that Jesus does select and give specific abilities to certain people to lead that perpetuation of His Gospel in the communities in which they reside and work in on a daily basis.    

So, how does someone actually become a recognizable disciple of Jesus Christ? Contrary to what most church pastors and leaders teach, it is a two stage event, and not just a single event. First someone must come to that “crisis point” and make a cognitive choice to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. This is not a religious experience. It is an informed act of that person’s intellect to accept the free grace of God displayed in the redemptive sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for each and every one of us in His own death, burial and glorious resurrection.

Secondly, someone affirms their desire to be a disciple of Jesus Christ by practicing a continued effort to become more like Jesus Christ every day of their lives. It’s that easy. There are no minimum standards, no social status requirements, and no monetary gifts or physical abilities required.

Perfection is not even a requirement. Discipleship is all found in the posture or the intent of our hearts. Many people in the Church today believe that all Christians are disciples. They go to great lengths to create environments where people gathered in groups can collectively experience that “crisis point” which begins such a journey.  It is often referred to as “making a decision for Christ” or “getting saved” . Indeed, every person who is a true disciple of Jesus Christ has had that crisis point decisive split second to act on. However, the reality is often seen in who that person making that cognitive choice is in two weeks, three months or six years down the road.

In Matthew 7:16 Jesus says that “you will know them by their fruits”. He doesn’t say you will know them by the power of their cathartic experience that occurred at their particular crisis point decision. One of the better ways to discern the level of discipleship activity in a Christian’s life is to see what their by-products (fruits) are.           

The more we practice this continued effort, the easier it becomes to be transformed into the image and reflection of Jesus Christ. The book of Hebrews shows this mentality toward our own discipleship and its relationship to the Bible in the following passage; For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)  

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