by Peter Amsterdam
I’ve been meditating recently on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. In my reading and reflecting on the question, I’ve come up with four basic elements to being a disciple, which can be expressed in four words: Love, Live, Preach, Teach—meaning that we should Love Him, Live Him, Preach Him, Teach Him.
I debated whether I should use the word “disciple” in this series, as different people define that word differently, and TFI has expressed what “discipleship” is in different ways over the years. I decided to use it, and to define what I’m referring to when speaking about discipleship. There are a few dictionary definitions of the word disciple:
- A follower of a person or idea.
- Someone who strongly believes in the teachings of a leader, a philosophy, or a religion, and tries to act according to them.
- One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another.
- An active adherent, as of a movement or philosophy.
A disciple is a follower of the teachings of another; someone who accepts those teachings and tries to act according to them, and who assists in spreading them.
So a disciple of Jesus is a person who accepts and follows His teachings, meaning he is an active adherent, applying them to his life; and that he assists in some manner, by participating in and facilitating, the spreading of the good news of salvation—the message of Jesus.
There is more to being a disciple than believing in Jesus. All disciples are believers, but not all believers are disciples. That’s not meant to be a judgment; it’s just a fact. Believers accept Jesus’ teachings as true; they believe in Him, believe that He is their Savior, and they are saved. Jesus made it clear that belief in Him is sufficient for salvation when He said in John 3:16 that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” It’s a wonderful thing to be a believer! It brings with it everlasting life, eternity with God.
Walking the path of discipleship means that someone makes the choice to add action to their belief. It’s going beyond the acceptance of the teachings and involves choosing to follow the teachings, to apply them in daily living. That path leads to becoming active in spreading the teachings.
The word disciple comes from the Greek word mathetes (pronounced ma-tay-teis), meaning a learner. In the New Testament the word disciple is only used in the Gospels and the book of Acts. It’s a word that shows the contrast between the teacher and the learner. It also implies that the learner is an adherent of the teachings of the teacher, that he accepts the teachings not only in belief but in life, by applying and following them.
Not all believers become disciples. Disciples, however, are key to the spreading of Christianity, to fulfilling the commission Jesus gave to His first disciples, those originally tasked with bringing the good news to the world of their day. As disciples today, we are tasked with bringing the Gospel to the world of our time.
I’ve been thinking about the role others played in my becoming a Christian—both those who spoke to me about Jesus when I wasn’t receptive, and those who later witnessed to me and led me to the Lord. I realized that each of the people who played a role in my salvation, whether planting the seed, watering it along the way, or leading me to the Lord, also had others who had done the same for them. Your situation was probably similar. Our salvation depended on others telling us or teaching us about Jesus, and those who told us were probably dependent on someone else giving them the message at some point in their lives.
Each instance of one person introducing Jesus into the life of another, who in turn reaches someone else, is a microcosm of the history of Christianity. Christianity continues because disciples assist in spreading the teachings of Jesus. The spiritual lineage or genealogy is carried on from person to person, generation to generation, because of those who believe, follow, and spread the teaching.
Some people can trace their physical lineage back centuries. Others, especially if they are descended from royalty, can trace it back as much as a thousand years. Our Christian genealogies trace back two millennia. Every Christian is a distant spiritual relative of the first Christians, of those who knew Jesus, who were the first to preach the good news. They preached the Gospel, they taught others, they grounded them in the faith, and then the process was repeated over and over again, century after century. Christianity exists today because those throughout history have done what Jesus taught the first disciples to do—to preach the Gospel and make disciples. So the presence of disciples in the world is vital to Christianity’s continuation. Faithful witnesses can never fully know the fruit they may bear years, even generations, into the future.
From the beginning of Christianity until today, disciples the world over have continued to live their faith and to share it with others. But most disciples simply live their faith and share that faith with others, with little fanfare, credit, or fame. When you think about it, we know very little about most of Jesus’ twelve apostles. We know about some more than others, like Peter, John, and Matthew, since they wrote or were written about. But how much do we know about what Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Jude, or Simon did when fulfilling the commission of the Lord? We know very little, and what is known is considered tradition, mostly without tangible proof. Christian tradition states that they preached the Gospel and were martyred for it. They went to various lands, preached Jesus crucified and resurrected, and made disciples who carried on giving the message to others.
A disciple is someone, famous or not, flamboyant or not, known or unknown, who believes the teachings of Jesus, and strives to put them into practice in his or her life, which includes spreading and teaching the Gospel in some manner. Disciples are incredibly important, as it’s through them that other people are introduced to Jesus and salvation. It’s through them that Christianity grows, that the Gospel is preached in all the earth.
In the following articles in this series, whenever the words disciple, disciples, or discipleship are used, it’s in the context of the preceding definition and explanation.
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