If you ask most Christians, ‘Are you a ‘disciple’ of Jesus Christ?’, they will probably answer with a definite ‘yes’,
and what they most likely mean is that they have ‘received Jesus’ into their life and are ‘saved’, and probably also go to church.
We use terms like ‘Christians’ or ‘believers’ to describe those who have received Jesus, and are now ‘followers’ of Christ and many think that now that they attend church they are ‘disciples of Jesus Christ’
But is THAT what it means to be a ‘disciple’ of Jesus Christ?
Is being a DISCIPLE the automatic result of believing in Jesus or receiving Jesus?
I propose to you that receiving Jesus is THE FIRST STEP to being a disciple, rather than the full part of being a disciple. Many have taken the first step to becoming a disciple and have not followed through. If you only take the step into believing on Jesus and stop there, you are not a ‘disciple’ according to what the definition of a ‘disciple’ is.
Once you become a BELIEVER in Jesus, you then have to progress into becoming a DISCIPLE of Jesus Christ.
What we think a word means today and how that word was used in Bible times can often be different. When we read something in the Bible, it can really help us to see what it meant to the person speaking or those being spoken to, instead of just placing on it our own understanding of what it means. This is the case with the word ‘disciple’.
Our modern understanding of what a disciple of Jesus is clouds our ability to see what being a disciple meant to Jesus.
To find out what JESUS defined as ‘disciple’ as, let’s turn to what He taught on the subject. In the following verse, Jesus Himself tells us what makes someone His disciple:
John 8:30-32 (NKJV)
:30 As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.
:31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.
:32 “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
The first important point to note from these verses is ‘who’ Jesus is talking to. Jesus did not speak these words to unbelievers, or to people who opposed His ministry. He is talking to , ‘those Jews who believed’.
These were people who had already taken the step to believe Him. They were already ‘believer’s’ having come to a point where they accepted what he was teaching as true.
Notice verse 30, ‘As He spoke these words, many believed in Him’
Then verse 31 follows on this thought, ‘THEN Jesus said to those who believed Him…’
The people Jesus speaks to about being His disciple had heard Him teaching and chosen to believe what He was saying. Then Jesus goes on to say something specifically to this group that had now believed.
Now, according to what many think these days, the fact that these people believed, would now make them ‘disciples’, but Jesus did not indicate that. Jesus spoke to this group of believers, and said to them, IF you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed…’
The ‘if’ here is very important. It shows a condition. In other words, what He is about to say is conditional.
‘if’ what? – If you abide in my word… you are my disciples.
Jesus clearly shows that He did not regard them to be disciples yet. In Jesus mind, whether they progressed from just ‘believing in Him’ to being a ‘disciple’ was connected to how they handled His Word.
Being a disciple is a life long journey that occurs once a person has taken the step to believe.
What is it about His Word that makes people a ‘disciple’?
Jesus states in John 8:31 (NKJV) that a disciple is someone who abides in His Word.
The KJV uses the phrase ‘continue in my Word’ I believe that brings out an important part of what being a disciple is. It is not just an initial step, but there is a CONTINUANCE involved.
What are you to ‘continue’ in?
Jesus specifically says that a disciple is one who continues in His Word.
In other words, if a person stops ‘continuing in the Word’ and moves away from His Word, their journey as a disciple is affected too. This does not mean they no longer believe, nor does it mean they lose their salvation, but rather that they deviate from being a disciple.
At this point, it would help us to give a general definition of what a disciple is. Many people say they are Jesus’ disciples or followers, but what is a disciple?
One dictionary defines a disciple as:
‘a follower of person or idea: somebody who believes in and follows the teachings of a leader, a philosophy, or a religion ‘
Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘a disciple’ as
1. A learner; a scholar; one who receives or professes to receive instruction from another; as the disciples of Plato.
2. A follower; an adherent to the doctrines of another.
We often think of ‘disciples’ in terms of Christianity, but really it is a broader term which we have taken and applied specifically to Christianity. Being someone’s disciple means you follow what they teach.
Being a Disciple speaks of being a FOLLOWER. To be a disciple of Christ is to be a follower of Christ.
But this raises the question: In order to follow Christ, WHAT is it that you are to follow?
Is Jesus physically present and visible for us to follow now?
Does being a follower of Jesus mean you can see Him with your physical eyes and as a result you walk around all day behind Him, following Him?
That is not what it means here! We cannot see Jesus to follow Him like that, but really in referring to a ‘disciple’ that is not what is being spoken of anyhow!
Being a disciple – or a follower – is something specific. It means to follow THE TEACHINGS of another. If you are someone’s disciple, then you don’t necessarily walk around all day following them everywhere, but instead you follow after what they TEACH – their word.
A True disciple is one who follows the teachings of another.
This involves discipline and diligence to find out what they teach, to agree with it, then to apply it.
A person is a disciple to the degree they follow the teachings laid down by another. Being a disciple does not mean you just agree with the teachings, but that you actually follow and DO them!
This brings us back to Jesus’ very own definition of ‘His disciples’. Jesus said, If you abide – or ‘continue’ (KJV) in MY WORD (in other words – what I teach), then ‘you are my disciples’
What He is saying here is that you are only His disciples to the degree you follow HIS WORD.
We asked previously ‘how’ do we follow Jesus since He is not here physically present for us to follow around all day. The answer is that you follow Jesus by following His Word. You are a disciple of Jesus because you follow what He said and taught.
We do not need Jesus physically present here in order to be His disciples, because we have a record of what He taught. We have His Word recorded. We can still be His disciples and follow Him, by following what His Word teaches.
A disciple of Christ is someone who follows His teachings, or basically what He said.
This is in line with what Jesus states here: He says, you are my disciples when you abide in my Word, in other words ‘in what I say‘.
How do you follow Christ?
You follow Christ by following His Word – what He said and taught.
So what makes a person a ‘disciple’ of Jesus Christ?
According to Jesus, and according to the basic definition of a disciple, it is someone who follows His teachings – His Word, what He said.
Being a follower of Jesus is not just a nice title or saying. If I say I am a follower of Christ it means I should be living by what He taught.
Going to church does not necessarily mean you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, if you are being taught someone else’s ideas in that church other than what Jesus taught! You can be a follower of modern day Christianity, and not follow Jesus! Some may think that sounds strange, but the truth is, not everything being said from church pulpits is in line with what Jesus taught – with His Word – and if you follow things that are not in line with what He taught, then you are not following Him!
You only follow Jesus to the degree that you follow His Word.
This opens up another very important issue:
To the degree I am not following what He taught is the degree I am not His disciple.
When Jesus Word says something and we say something else, then we are not following Him in that area since to be a true disciple and follower of Jesus means to follow His Word – what He teaches us in the Word.
Christianity is about believing in and following Jesus Christ. However to the degree that Christianity is NOT based upon what HE said is the degree that it is NOT following Him!
The church is not firstly to be followers of church creeds or doctrines, or ideas that have developed since the Scriptures were written, rather it is to FIRST AND FOREMOST follow His Word and His teachings.
Some think (mistakenly) that the church is to be constantly developing and evolving in what it believes and teaches. In other words, they think it is acceptable if someone a few hundred years after Jesus taught something DIFFERENT within the Church to Jesus’ Word, that it can still be considered ‘Christian’.
That is not possible, since by very definition being Christian involves following what Jesus Christ laid down, through His own teachings and the Apostles He specifically commissioned. Anything, at any time that is a departure from His Word is a departure from following Him (and therefore cannot be properly defined as ‘Christian’)
You don’t follow someone’s teaching by changing their teachings or drifting from their teachings! The only way to properly be a Disciple of His is to follow His Word without departure or deviation!
Being Jesus disciple is not just an empty phrase, or a generalisation. There is a reality to what this word ‘disciple’ means.
In truth in this article, we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what Jesus taught about what being His disciple means, but if you cannot get the first point we have made so far straight, then you are only in the first stages of being a disciple still!
The first mark of a disciple is that they FOLLOW Jesus teachings, or in other words what HE said and taught.
To argue or to disagree with HIM in any area means that in that area you are not following Him, but disagreeing with Him!
We need to examine whether we are following him, or disagreeing with Him and going with our own opinions in any area! The church is not to be built upon a whole load of different people’s opinions. By very definition Christianity is based upon Christ! (CHRIST ianity)
So to the degree any person, church – or even the church as a whole – departs from Christ and His Word is to the degree they are no longer following Him, and are therefore no longer ‘Christian’.
I made that statement very strong in order to shock you as a reader into the reality of what being a disciple is!
We cannot follow someone else’s (including our own) opinion above Christ’s teaching and still claim to be following Him! This is HIS church, not ours!
This includes not following traditions and religious views above the teachings of Jesus. You can be a disciple of a particular denomination and yet not be following Christ, if the teachings of that denomination are not in line with what He taught, and what His Word says.
Many Christians still need to come back to the teachings of His Word, rather than their own opinions or the teachings of other people besides Jesus Christ. If we are following other people, we are not following Christ!
Even the Apostle Paul had enough sense to say:
1 Corinthians 11:1 (KJV)
:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
Paul doesn’t just exhort people to ‘follow Him’, but instead to follow him, even as he follows Christ. Paul was not trying to just make ‘followers of Paul’ instead he was Himself being a follower of Christ and only wanted people to follow him to the degree that He followed Christ!
In other words to the degree another person does NOT follow Christ is to the degree that we must NOT follow them! We must stick with Christ’s Word first and foremost as what we follow, and only follow others to the degree that they follow Him!
This article is part 1 in a series on being Jesus’ disciples.
This article, along with others by the same author can be found at www.exceedingfaith.com
Unless otherwise stated, all scriptures used are quoted from the New King James Version of the Bible.
(C) 2008 Exceeding Faith Ministries International & O. Walton.
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