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What is a "disciple"?

In my October 17 post, I introduced the new mission statement of our church: "to make disciples of Jesus Christ who love God and love people, by reaching and teaching everyone."

Making disciples is not just the mission of our local church. It's the mission of every church across the world, and of every Christian who is part of the church. Simply put, believers are here to make disciples (see Matt. 28:19).

When I hear the word "disciple," I immediately think of Jesus' colorful little band of followers along the shores of Galilee. While these men were called "disciples," they were only the beginning. After the resurrection, Christ instructed them to go "make disciples" of all nations (Mt. 28:19). They were commanded to reproduce themselves. They began to fulfill this in the book of Acts (see Ac. 6:1; 14:21). And now, two thousand years later, we hold the baton. We must make disciples of the next generation.

But what exactly is a disciple? I believe the word "disciple" captures three ideas:
  • A disciple is a student of the Greatest Teacher. The word "disciple" (Gk. mathetes) literally means a pupil, learner, or student. We are students of the great Rabbi Jesus, who alone has the words of eternal life (Jn. 6:68). But the goal of any "disciple" was never merely intellectual knowledge to pass an exam. A student was like an apprentice. He was expected to increasingly imitate his master. Thus Jesus said, "A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his master" (Lk. 6:40). To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to follow Him, listen to Him, and walk in His footsteps, becoming increasingly holy, just as He is holy (1 Pet. 1:16).
  • A disciple is a sinner rescued by the Greatest Savior. Jesus was not just the Jewish version of Confucious or Socrates. He was more than just a wise teacher of philosphy and ethics. Jesus actually came to "serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mk. 10:45). As the pefect Lamb of God, He came to lay down His own life as a substitute for our sins. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to admit our sin and look to Christ alone for salvation. That's why Christ freely invited people who were weighed down with the burden of sin to "come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mt. 11:28).
  • A disciple is a slave of the Greatest Master. "What?" you say, "A slave?!" Yes, that's right. Christians are slaves of Christ. Jesus was very clear that there is a cost to become His disciple. "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own live, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross after Me cannot be My disciple ... none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his possessions" (Lk. 14:26-27, 33). Wow. Those are strong words. Having second thoughts about this whole "discipleship" thing? Just remember that the alternative to serving Christ is not freedom. It is serving another master: sin. And while Christ is a benevolent Dictator - always kind and fair - sin is the cruelest of masters.
So when Jesus instructs us to "make disciples" in Matthew 28, He's calling the church to teach people to follow Jesus, invite people to be saved through Jesus, and admonish people to become slaves of Jesus.

Sound impossible? By any human standard, it would be. But Jesus began His Great Commission with an equally great promise: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Mt. 28:18). Christ has all the spiritual firepower necessary to make this mission successful. So let's roll.

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