“Go therefore and teach (make disciples of) all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).
The above statement was made by Jesus to His apostles shortly before He ascended to heaven. Commonly called “The Great Commission,” notice the main thought of Jesus’ command: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” To “make disciples,” therefore, is the GOAL of evangelizing the world for Christ.
Are you a disciple of Jesus? More than likely you believe in Jesus. You might even be one to attend church services regularly. But is that what it means to be His disciple?
The purpose in this study is to make clear what is involved in being a true disciple of Jesus Christ. To begin, let’s define the word “disciple.” The word “disciple” literally means A LEARNER, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. It denotes “one who follows another’s teaching.” But a disciple was not only a learner, he was also AN ADHERENT. For this reason disciples were spoken of as IMITATORS of their teachers.
So what is the goal in being a disciple? As stated by Jesus himself: discipleship is to be like the teacher (Luke 6:40). “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.” To be Christ’s disciple, then, is to strive to be like Him!
According to the apostle Paul, this coincides with God’s goal in the redemption of mankind, that they be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.”
Do you have a strong desire to follow Jesus and become like Him? Unless you have that goal, it cannot be said that you are truly His disciple! There are also some “identifying marks” of discipleship given by Jesus which can help us to further identify a true disciple of Jesus.
What are the marks of a disciple? A disciple is “one who abides in Jesus’ words” (John 8:31). This would imply being a diligent student of the teachings of Christ. It also requires one to be a “doer” of the Word (Matt. 7:21-27; James 1:21-25). In view of this, a true disciple would not fail to study the Bible diligently or willingly refrain from opportunities to study with others (e.g. Bible classes, church services, gospel meetings).
A disciple is also “one who loves the brethren” (John 13:34-35) with a love patterned after the love of Jesus (“as I have loved you”). A disciple would love the brethren with a love that is visible to the world (“by this all will know”). Therefore, a true disciple would make every effort to get to know his brethren, take advantage of occasions to encourage and grow closer to them (e.g., attending services on Sunday and Wednesday nights). Remember, a disciple is one who wants to become like his teacher. Was Jesus willing to sacrifice time and effort for His brethren? Of course, and so will we… IF we are truly HIS disciples!
A true disciple is also “one who bears much fruit” (John 15:8). Notice the word “much” (also found in verse 5). Jesus is not talking about an occasional good deed, but a lifestyle which prompts people to glorify God! (Matt. 5:16). This is so important, that failure to bear much fruit will result in being severed from Christ (John 15:1-2). How can one be a disciple if he or she is cut off from Christ? The point should be clear: to be a disciple of Jesus Christ means more than just a casual church member. It requires COMMITMENT, especially in regards to: the teachings of Christ, the love of brethren and bearing fruit to the glory of God.
The kind of commitment involved is seen further when we consider the “high cost” of discipleship demanded by Jesus in (Luke 14:25-33). Jesus must come first (Luke 14:26). Jesus must come before anyone or anything else, including members of our own family (Matt. 10:34-37). Jesus must come first—before one’s own self. (Luke 9:23-25).
We must be willing to suffer for Christ. (Luke 14:27). Trying to live godly lives in an ungodly world, we may find that following Christ sometimes involves enduring ridicule and persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). Even if we are blessed to escape such things, we must still be willing to expend time and effort in promoting the cause of Christ in positive ways. Putting it simply, we must forsake all to follow Christ. (Luke 14:33). In other words, Jesus must be KING and LORD of our lives. Nothing can take precedent over Christ and His Will for us. This kind of “high cost” of discipleship demanded by Jesus caused many people to turn away from following Him. But Jesus wasn’t trying to attract large crowds, He wanted disciples!
Is the COST worth it? I believe so, for consider some of the REWARDS of discipleship. There is the promise of “future blessings.” We shall be saved from the wrath of God which is yet to come upon the world for its sins (Rom. 5:9). We can look forward with joyful anticipation of eternity with God, free from sorrow, pain and death (Rev. 21:1-8).
Not only do we have these to look forward to, but there are also “present blessings.” Jesus offers a PEACE the world cannot give to calm the troubled heart (John 14:27). His words inspire JOY to lift our spirits out of any depression (John 15:11). He also offers to those who follow Him the ABIDING LOVE OF GOD, which can cast out fear (John 15:9; 1 John 4:18). And he makes it possible for us to be members of the family of God, which is able, if need be, to replace our physical family (Mark 10:28-30). There are many other blessings we could mention that are enjoyed by disciples of Jesus; but these suffice to demonstrate that though discipleship is costly, the rewards far exceed the cost!
Now that we understand the nature of discipleship, its cost and rewards, I hope that we want to be true disciples of Jesus Christ. But how does one begin? For the answer we return to our beginning text—Matthew 28:19-20. According to Jesus, the beginning of a disciple involves baptism (Matt. 28:19).
Why baptism? Remember the goal of discipleship: to be like Jesus. He was holy and sinless, yet we are to be like Him. Fortunately, baptism is described as an act of faith which puts us in contact with the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ so we can be forgiven (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4). It is also the means by which one “puts on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). So baptism is the logical starting place for true discipleship!
But what is baptism? It is an act of submission which must be preceded by faith in Jesus and repentance for our sins (Acts 2:36-38; 8:36-37). This precludes infant baptism, for infants are incapable of believing and repenting. It is also an act of submission which involves a burial in water, in which one then rises to walk in newness of life through the power of God (Acts 8:38; Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12). This precludes sprinkling or pouring as a mode of baptism, because neither of these involves a “burial” nor an immersion (which is the meaning of the Greek word “baptidzo”). When done according to the Word of God, baptism then becomes an act of faith on our part which results in a wonderful working of God in our lives! Our sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus (Acts 22:16; Eph. 5:25-27). We are “regenerated” and “renewed” by the Spirit of God so we can now live for God! (Tit.3:5-6). It is truly a “rebirth” involving both water and the Spirit (John 3:5).
Baptism is only the beginning. Teaching and obedience must follow (Matt. 28:20). This brings us back to the very definition of discipleship, for Jesus clearly states that we are to be TAUGHT (that is, to be LEARNERS), and we are to OBSERVE (that is, to be ADHERENTS or DOERS). In this way we embark on a life devoted to learning and doing all that Jesus has commanded us to do.
In conclusion, we note that only those scripturally baptized and demonstrating the “marks” of discipleship, despite the “costs,” can truly be called disciples of Jesus! Only they can realistically look forward to the “rewards” of discipleship, and take consolation in the promise of Jesus: “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, then the prospects of “A Closer Walk With God” and more fruitful service as a disciple should be of great interest to you. My prayer is that this lesson will help spark that desire in you.