What is discipleship?

When we think about discipleship, our minds go to the twelve disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Drawn from all walks of life, they accepted him as not merely their Master, but as their Lord, the Christ.  Thus they were prepared and willing to learn of him.

A       Discipleship begins with learning

the meekWhat does “disciple” mean?  – It is related to the word “discipline”.

Gk “Mathetes”.  Literally “a learner”, also indicating thought accompanied by endeavour (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).  A disciple was not only a pupil, but an adherent; hence they are spoken of as imitators of their teacher: John 8:31; 15:8. (Vine) Unger’s Bible Dictonary says “A disciple is one who professes to have learned certain principles from another and maintains them on that other’s authority.” Hence Paul could say “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ”. 1 Cor 11:1

Mary, one of the women who ministered, not only to him but also to those who came to the Lord, sat at the feet of Jesus.  (Luke 10:39)  The Lord commended her spirit, because she had her priorities right.   She had “chosen the better part”.  Only by learning FIRST, can a disciple then DO.   The first thing we must do, if we want to be a disciple, is to learn. “Faith comes by hearing the word of God”  Romans 10:17.

Three examples of the “learner”

  • Matthew 17:10-13: The disciples could go to Jesus and ask him questions.
  • Mark 4:33,34: The disciples received private instruction, “when they were alone”
  • Luke 10:22,23: Only the disciples heard the special message, “privately”.

Learning, requires us to lay aside former beliefs or mindsets and “open” the ears  to receive the message.   We have to develop responsiveness before we can truly and completely absorb the message.  Unless we do, “we cannot hear” (John 8:47, 43;  5:24-29).    Learning (hearing) also requires tenacity, so that when there are difficulties in understanding, the disciple does not easily give up or leave.  “To whom shall we go.  Thou have the words of eternal life” said Peter, when the Lord asked him if he would also leave him, as others who had found some of the Lord’s teaching hard to understand (John 6:67,68)


B       The power of Bible Truth

give answerIt is necessary to know the Word of God:

  • “He that comes to God must believe that He is, and is a rewarder of them that DILIGENTLY seek him” (Hebrews 11:6)
  • It is critical to “know” God.  John 17:3
  • Knowledge is the first pre-requisite (2 Timothy 3:15-17)
  • Knowledge must be diligently sought for (see the example of the disciples at Berea Acts 17:11;  Proverbs 4:5-13).   Unless we know, we will not be convinced disciples.
  • Knowing the gospel empowers a believer. “The gospel is the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16)
  • Knowing the word of God provides the motive power which will change his life.  It “effectually (energeo) worketh in you that believe” ie it is the storehouse, the energising influence. (Thessalonians 2: 13)


C       Changing Masters – Christ is Lord

No man can serve two masters”  (Matthew 6:24)  Once we know, we have to make a choice.  We have to choose, and follow completely and devotedly.  Paul speaks of making a choice: to be the servant of sin or the servant of righteousness (Romans 6:16-18)

To follow Christ, the list of priorities must be radically changed.  “Whosoever renounces not all that he hath, cannot be my disciple” ( Luke 14:33).  Mastery is only gained by setting Christ first and foremost in the affections and goals.  When Christ is master in our life, then we can have no space to “do our own thing”.  We have to guard the heart from temptation.  “Looking to lust” surely leads to sin (Matthew 5:28; James 1:14,15)

Sometimes the battle has to be fought over ONE thing.  The young man, who came eagerly to the Lord, had great possessions.  Jesus “loved him”, but touched him on the “raw nerve” and identified the area of his weakness.   The young man found that despite wanting to know  Christ, (“what shall I do?”), his possessions had a hold over him.  “One thing thou lackest” said Jesus (Mark 10:17-21).   The young man was not prepared to pay the price of discipleship.


D       The Disciple Follows and Obeys

word of truthWe cannot follow Christ, unless we have a clear picture of what it is all about. The disciples had a misconception of the work of Christ, because they had not truly understood the message of the Scriptures.  They had a wrong perception of the work of Christ.  The basis of knowing Christ is in the OT and Jesus directed them to the OT Scriptures after his resurrection (Luke 24:26,27,44).  It is a great mistake to think that understanding Christ solely comes from reading the gospels.  As Jesus said “all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, the prophets and in the psalms concerning me” (Luke 24:44).  They had only discerned the work of Christ as conqueror and King of the world;  not his suffering and death.  When reading the New Testament, it is necessary to refer back when there are quotations or allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures.  It is not possible to fully understand the message without doing this.  It should be remembered that the Lord and the Apostles had ONLY the Old Testament when they taught and when they spread Christianity into the Roman world.


Three examples of the “follower”:

  • Matt 10:24,25 cp Rotherham (v25) “Sufficient for the disciple that he become as his teacher” ie live, follow the teacher.  In Ephesians 5:1, the  word “imitator” is used .  The Greek word is “mimitase” – be a mimic, copier, where the word for disciple or learner is “mathetes”.  The word “imitator” clearly shows that following Christ means patterning our life on his.
  • Luke 14:25.  Many people are happy to be learners.  To be a follower, one has to become committed to the cause of Christ, to always keep Christ in our view that we might by guided by him.  (v26 Note that “hate” means to ‘rank lower’).  Christ must take precedence over all other matters.
  • John 13:33-35 – The following then has a marked influence on all that we do.   Disciples become known by their conduct.  “As I have loved”, said Jesus, for none had seen that kind of love before.

The Lord wanted the love he had exhibited to his disciples, reflected in their behaviour.  “ He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me… If a man love me he will keep my words…” (John 14:21,23).

Peter tried to turn Christ from the coming death, because he did not understand the work.   He had to learn that discipleship involved taking up the cross – self-denial.

Peter wanted to do it HIS way (Matthew 16:21-23) , and his suggestion caused a problem for Christ, therefore he told Peter “Get thee behind me, Satan”.


Discipleship involves self-denial:

Matthew 16:24-28:

V24 To follow Christ involves self-denial
V25 Self-preservation, self-defence, promotion of self; these result in the losing of one’s soul (life), as far as God is concerned.  Man tends to want to promote self or his achievements. Psalm 49:10-12,14
V26 In gaining “the world”, one loses his life.  The world is the enemy of God 1 John 2:15-17.
V27 Christ will come and take “the world” over politically, and give life to those who have followed him.  This refers to the prophecy of Daniel (7:10).

Next article: The Call of the Disciple – the good news of salvation has attracted many to the divine invitation