What is a Disciple of Jesus? #1
Are you a Disciple?
If you asked most Christians, ‘Are you a ‘disciple’ of Jesus Christ?’, they would probably answer with a definite ‘yes’.
What they most likely mean is they have ‘received Jesus’ into their life, are ‘saved’, and probably go to church.
We use terms like ‘Christians’ or ‘believers’ to describe those who have received Jesus, and are now ‘followers’ of Christ, many think that this also makes them ‘disciples of Jesus Christ’
However, is THAT what it means to be a ‘disciple’ of Jesus Christ?
Is being a Disciple the Automatic Result of Receiving Jesus?
I propose that receiving Jesus is only THE FIRST STEP to becoming a disciple. Many have taken this first step, but have not followed through to actually becoming a disciple. If you only take the step of believing on Jesus and stop there, you are not yet a ‘disciple’ according to what the definition of a ‘disciple’ is or what Jesus said.
Once you believe in Jesus, you then have to progress into becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Bible Meaning or Modern Meaning?
What we think a word means today and what that word meant in Bible times can differ. When we read something in the Bible, it can help us to see what it meant to the person speaking or those being spoken to, instead of just using 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.
What did Jesus Mean?
To find out what Jesus defined a ‘disciple’ as, let’s see what He taught on the subject. In the following verse, Jesus Himself tells us what makes someone His disciple:
: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.”
He is Talking to Believers
The first 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’.
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…’
These were people who had already taken the step to believe Him. They were already ‘believer’s’ who had accepted what He was teaching as true and believed Him.
According to our modern thinking, the fact that these people believed also made them disciples, but Jesus shows differently. Speaking to these believers, Jesus said: IF you abide in my word, you are my disciples…
The ‘if’ here is important and shows a condition. In other words, what He is about to say is conditional.
‘if’ what? Believers, if you abide in my word, you are my disciples.
Jesus did not yet consider them to be disciples yet. In Jesus’ mind, whether they progressed from just ‘believing in Him’ to becoming a disciple was conditional on how they handled His Word.
Becoming a disciple is a journey that occurs after a person has taken the step to believe.
A Disciple and The Word
What is it about His Word that makes a person a disciple?
Jesus stated that a disciple is a believer who abides in His Word. Abide means to live or dwell. So, a disciple dwells in the 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 a single step, but involves continuance.
What are you to ‘continue’ in?
Jesus specifically says 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?
We often think of ‘disciples’ in terms of Christianity, but really it is a broader term which we have taken and applied to Christianity.
One dictionary defines a disciple as:
- ‘a follower of a 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
- A learner; a scholar; one who receives or professes to receive instruction from another.
- A follower; an adherent to the doctrines of another.
One key meaning here is that a disciple follows someone’s teachings, instruction and doctrines. So, the teachings of the person you follow are central to the definition of a disciple. It’s not just about believing in someone, but about following what they teach.
Someone can believe in Jesus, but not actually follow what Jesus teaches.
Being a Disciple speaks of being a follower. So, being a disciple of Christ is being a follower of Christ.
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 following Jesus mean you can see Him with your physical eyes and, as a result, you walk around all day behind Him, following Him?
We cannot see Jesus to follow Him like that, but really being a disciple or follower does not mean that anyhow.
Being a disciple (or a follower) is something specific. It refers to following the teachings of another. If you are someone’s disciple, then you don’t necessarily walk around all day following them, but instead you follow what they teach: their doctrine and instruction, or their word.
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A True Disciple Follows the Teachings
This involves discipline and diligence to find out what they teach, to agree with it and 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.
So again, a person can believe in Jesus, but not actually follow, apply and live by what He taught. They are then just a believer and not a disciple. By definition, a disciple follows the teachings.
Jesus Showed This
This brings us back to Jesus’ own definition of ‘His disciples’. Jesus said, If you abide (or continue) in my Word (in other words: in what I teach), then you are my disciples.
Here, Jesus is saying 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 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 in order to be His disciples, because we have a record of what He taught. Since we have His Word, we can be His disciples by following what His Word teaches.
A Disciple Follows His Teaching
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 or His Word, what He said.
Being a follower of Jesus is not just a nice title. 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 which differ from what Jesus taught. You can be a follower of modern day Christianity, and not follow Jesus, if there is a difference between what they teach.
That may seem strange, but not everything being said from church pulpits is in line with what Jesus’ Word says and if you follow things that are not in line with what Jesus taught, then you are not following Him.
You only follow Jesus to the degree that you follow His Word.
So, 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 a true disciple and follower of Jesus follows 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.
A Disciple of Jesus or of a Church Idea?
The church is not firstly to be followers of church creeds, traditions, doctrines and ideas that have developed since the Scriptures were written and which differ from the scriptures. Rather, the church is to first and foremost follow Jesus’ Word and teachings.
Some (mistakenly) think that the church can constantly develop and evolve what it believes and teaches. In other words, they think it is acceptable for someone a few hundred years after Jesus to teach something within the Church that differs from Jesus’ Word and for that to still be considered ‘Christian’.
However, this is not ok, since by definition being Christian involves following what Jesus Christ laid down in His Word (through His own teachings and the Apostles He specifically commissioned to write His Word). Anything, at any time, that departure from His Word is a departure from following Him (and therefore cannot be properly defined as ‘Christian’)
Following His Teaching or Changing His Teaching?
You don’t follow someone by changing their teaching or drifting from their teaching. The only way to properly be a disciple of Jesus is to follow His Word without departure or deviation. Any deviation means you are no longer following His doctrine, Word and teaching, so are, therefore, no longer His disciple. At that point, you have become the disciple of the person who adjusted what Jesus taught, but have stopped being a disciple of Jesus.
You can believe in Jesus, but be someone else’s disciple by following teaching that differs from Jesus’ Word.
Being Jesus’ disciple is not just an empty meaningless phrase. There is a reality to what the word disciple means. So, to truly be Jesus’ disciple, you must follow what He taught in His Word.
This is the first mark of a disciple.
Following or Disagreeing?
To argue or to disagree with Jesus in any area means that in that area you are not following Him, but disagreeing with Him.
It’s up to an individual if they want to disagree because God gave us free will. No one is forcing you to agree. However, don’t claim to be Jesus’ disciple, while disagreeing with what He said because that goes against the definition of a disciple.
Also, don’t preach something in Jesus’ church that conflicts with what His Word says and claim you are preaching a Christian message. The Christian pulpit is not a place for personal ideas or teachings which differ from His Word. The church belongs to Jesus, so His Word should dominate the doctrines taught in the church.
Again, if you disagree with what Jesus said, that’s your choice. However, go preach it somewhere else, not in Jesus’ church and pulpit. Also, don’t call it ‘Christian’ when it differs from His Word.
Disciple or Departing?
Acts 20:30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.
In this verse, Paul warns about people who rise up within the church to make disciples for themselves (not disciples of Christ). In other words, they teach their own things and get people to follow their ideas, instead of Jesus’ Word.
We need to examine whether we are following Jesus 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 denomination departs from Christ and His Word is 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 into the reality of what being a disciple is. We need to realise that disciples of Jesus follow His Word, not someone else’s ideas.
Following a Denomination
We cannot follow someone else’s (including our own) opinion above Christ’s teaching and still claim to be following Jesus. You only follow Jesus to the degree that you follow His Word.
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 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 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
Paul didn’t just exhort people to ‘follow Him’, but instead to follow him, even as he followed Christ. He was not trying to just make ‘followers of Paul’ instead he was 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.
- #2: What it means to be a Disciple of Jesus
- #3: What it means to be a Disciple of Jesus