What Is A Disciple?
(A Learner, A Follower, and A Reproducer)
There have been many descriptions of a disciple over the years. The above comments by Howard Hendricks were made over forty years ago and my mind keeps returning to them as I consider this subject. To reflect on this more fully we need to turn to our Lord’s comments on these three aspects of discipleship.
Learning is addressed in Matthew 11:28-30. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” In the middle east at the time of Christ the older oxen bore the weight of the work while the younger oxen in training was simply fastened to the older oxen by means of the yoke. The direction of the oxen as they pulled together was determined by the course of the older oxen, not the one in training. The Lord used this symbol of union to illustrate spiritual truths of our relationship with Him. These conditions for learning then, include closeness of association, observation, and participation in all His activities. The desired effect was to produce in the learner consciousness of His presence, dependence upon His power, and a commitment to His purpose. This process is described in II Corinthians 3:18. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (KJV)
Jesus describes the importance of following Him as being necessary to discipleship in several locations in scripture. The Gospel of Luke contains multiple references to this aspect of discipleship, including Luke 9:23, 9:57-62, and Luke 14:25-35. In Luke 9:23, the Lord relates that prior to following Him, one must deny themselves and pick up the cross. The inner hidden choice of denial of self must be followed by open identification with the cross in our lives. He dealt with three obstacles to discipleship in Luke 9:57-62. The first of these was material possessions, the second was other relationships, and the last was turning back. In Luke 14:25-35, the Lord again mentions three hindrances to following Him which are our possessions, other relationships, and our personal freedom. Sometimes the simple songs we sing as children capture truth vividly for us. The truths of Luke 9:57-62 were made evident to me some years ago when my wife and I took two of our grandchildren out to lunch at a nearby restaurant. Our granddaughter, who was four at the time, stood up in the booth and began singing the following in her clear soprano voice.
I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to
follow Jesus, No turning back. No turning back.
The world behind me, the cross before me, the world behind me, the cross before me, The world behind me, the cross before me, No turning back. No turning back.
Though none go with me, I still will follow, Though none go with me, I still will follow, Though none go with me, I still will follow, No turning back. No turning back.
Her message was clear and understandable. All that remained for us to do was to say Amen, collect an offering and give the Benediction to the surrounding tables!
Our Lord’s words to us on being a reproducer are found in Matthew 28:18-20. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” One of our speakers at a recent navigator conference, Bill Hull, remarked that they were simply told to “make more of what you are.” To make more of what we are we need to be available, to be vulnerable, and to persevere. First of all, we need to manage our time wisely so that we are available to others. Jim Morris stated repeatedly that “Discipleship is more caught than taught.” Our contact should be such that we can say with the Apostle Paul. “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9) Our lives, furthermore, must be so transparent so that others can clearly see that Christ is living in us. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (II Corinthians 4:7) We also must learn to persevere with others. “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Luke 8:15) Our work with others is not completed until we can see four generations through their lives. “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (II Timothy 2:2)
In Matthew 28:17 it is noted that “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” Those who worshiped had their eyes on the Lord. Those who doubted had their eyes only on themselves. Jesus said that “All authority is given to Him.” With our eyes on Him, we need never doubt His ability to make disciples through us as we learn, follow and reproduce our lives in others.
In Christ, Richard Spann