What is a disciple?

As I look at different social media posts it becomes really clear to me that people do not understand what a disciple of Jesus is; even those who claim to be Christian. I wonder, from where do they get their understanding of the Bible? Certainly not from the Bible if they read it thoughtfully and critically. They just don’t think of discipleship as a way of life. To be clear, we have lost the meaning of the name Christian and replaced it with something of our own making. One that would fit the description given to the church at Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22); they were neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm. Instead of being either cold or hot, they were in the middle, accommodating; or, shall we say, tolerating sin. What does Jesus say that He is going to do with the Laodicean church? He is going to spit them out of His mouth (Rev. 3:16). In other words they are not going to enter the kingdom of God. This serves as a warning.IMG_9833

The followers of Jesus were called Christians for the first time at Antioch (Acts 11:26). The Greek word for Christian is Χριστιανούς which literally means “follower of Christ.”

Disciple” in the Greek is μαθητής [mathetes /math·ay·tes/], which literally means “a learner, or pupil.”[1] It means “a person who learns from another by instruction, whether formal or informal—‘disciple, pupil.’”[2]

In Luke 14:26, Jesus tells us that a disciple must set aside family relationships for Him. The word He uses in this verse for disciples to set aside family relationships is the word “hate.” “Hate” in the Greek is μισέω (miseō), which means “to hate, detest; love less, formally, hate; a semitic comparison referring to divine choice of clans.” (Ro 9:13+)[3]

Jesus says that if we do not “hate” our family members and even our own lives, then we are not His disciples. Jesus is not speaking of the emotional sense of the word “hate,” but rather He is speaking of His will for us to set these things aside for Him and to put Him first. Compare this with what He said in Matthew 10:37-39. Here He says that if we “love” family members more than Him, we are not worthy of Him. Jesus goes on to say, in both Matthew and Luke, that if we do not pick up our cross and follow Him, then again we are not worthy of Him.

In Luke 14:33 Jesus says that we must forsake all that we have, and if we cannot, then we cannot be His disciples. The word “forsake” in the Greek is ποτάσσω [apotassomai /ap·ot·as·som·ahee/]. It means “to set apart, separate; to separate one’s self, withdraw one’s self from anyone; to take leave of, bid farewell to; to renounce, forsake.”[4] It means “to willingly give up or set aside what one possesses—‘to give up, to part with one’s possessions.’”[5]

Jesus makes some serious demands that if one were to follow Him, one must submit oneself completely to the will of Jesus Christ. In other words, to follow Jesus you must deny yourself and set aside your own will and your own rights to your own life and submit to Jesus.

This leads us into what discipleship is. For Jesus, the cross was the test of His obedience to the will of God. That’s why we must be willing to pick up our own crosses daily if we are to follow Jesus. “Discipleship connotes that you are being prepared for a particular lifestyle more than for a specialized occupation.”[6] The disciples “had no life apart from what they were being trained to do.”[7] “Discipleship is not a program. It is not a ministry. It is a lifelong commitment to a lifestyle.”[8] Discipleship is “a commitment to change, a willingness to be transformed into the image, style, and behavior of the leader.”[9] This is exactly what we read in Luke 14:26-33. Discipleship is the teaching and learning of the Bible; this will continually transform our lives so that we may look more like Jesus instead of like our sinful selves before we accepted Jesus as Savior.

It is clear from what Jesus says about His followers that a Christian is a disciple of Jesus. As disciples, Jesus calls us to a radical lifestyle of living for Him; a life that is devoid of our selfish nature that causes us to live for ourselves.


 

[1] Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001.

[2] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, vol. 1, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 327.

[3] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[4] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001).

[5] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, vol. 1, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 565.

[6] George Barna, Growing True Disciples: New Strategies for Producing Genuine Followers of Christ (Colorado Springs, Colo.: WaterBrook Press, 2001), 17.

[7] George Barna, Growing True Disciples: New Strategies for Producing Genuine Followers of Christ (Colorado Springs, Colo.: WaterBrook Press, 2001), 19.

[8] Ibid., p. 19.

[9] Dr. Michael R. Mitchell, Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples: World-Class Christian Education in the Church, School and Home (Nashville: CrossBooks Publishing, 2010), 5.

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About Peter van Brussel

Peter is the Director of For His Glory Prison Ministry. Peter holds a BA in Pastoral Studies from Southwestern College, a MA in Theological Studies, and a M.Div. from Liberty University. Peter is married to Niki, and has two children. He has been saved by grace and seeks to share the Gospel with those who have been forgotten.
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