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During the first years of his earthly ministry, Jesus devoted time to form his apostles and the disciple. He was a very patient teacher and devoted a lot of his time to instruct, form, teach and show to his people how to walk with God. Twelve of all his first followers later became his close circle and had further “trainings" and became the apostles. We cannot be all apostles, but we are all called to be the disciples of Christ.

Jesus was known for his miracles, but more importantly it was his teaching that was the force of his ministry. He came with a whole “new” way of living for the lord who caused so many to stumble and others to re-discover the life in God. The Pharisees must have been very angry as their disciples must have stopped following them and was now following Jesus. In fact, their anger was surely based on the fact that so many people were turning to the teachings of Jesus rather than to the normal Jewish teachings. Their concern was that those teachings will become the new sets that will be adopted by the people, and this would cause their demise.

The question we face today is whether we are disciples or not,  do we understand what this means, are we similar to those disciples who lived during Jesus’ time and the early church time?  If not,  Why?

If we want to talk about discipleship,  we will need to have a short study of this word and how it came to being and what it really meant.

We hardly find any use of this word in the OT except for 1 Chron. 25:8 and  Isa. 8:16.  In those references, it normally means someone who is following a teacher,  in Chronicles it referred to those who were attached to the temple’s musicians as learners or scholars who were being trained for the various offices. In Isaiah,  the reference is to those who are following the word of the Lord of Hosts, those who are following the commandments of God.

In the Greek environment, the word “disciple” was used to describe any adherent of a particular teacher or religious and philosophical school. His task was to study and learn from his masters, then he was expected to be the one who will be passing along the sayings and the teachings of his masters or teachers.

The Jews have a different use of the word disciple in the sense that for them, it meant one who was committed to the interpretations of Scripture and religious tradition given to him by the master or Rabbi. This was done during several meetings, where the disciple would be taught, instructed,  and follow memorization, recitation techniques that will allow him to pass on the teachings without any distortions in the original. The disciple would finally become fully devoted to his master and his teachings.

When we come to the NT, there are various uses of this term, we can find the disciples of John the Baptist (Mark 2:18Luke 11:1John 1:35), Of the Pharisees ((Matt. 22:16Mark 2:18), and of course  the most commonly of all disciples,  the disciples of Jesus. Since the arrival of Jesus, the word disciple has been more used to describe those who are following Jesus, but not only following, but as we have seen, be a real student, adherent,  someone who will follow his teachings, sayings and would live by that and would be the one responsible to pass along the teachings and sayings of Jesus.

What are then the characteristics of a “disciple” ?

I think that firstly,  the disciple has to be a good listener. He must be someone who takes time to listen to what the teacher is saying, What he is talking about and what message he is bringing.

Secondly, a disciple must be a believer. It is hard to find anyone who does not believe in something but continue to follow and behave like a disciple. The disciple must have believed in the message and teachings of the master or teacher. For him, everything that the teacher is saying is true, and he firmly believes in those truths enough to be willing to follow the teacher and engage in a constant exposure to what the latter has to teach.

Thirdly,  he must be a very committed person. When we read about those who followed Jesus, we read about the thousands of people who continuously followed him. We have the first disciples who followed him night and day and wherever he was, they were. Dedicated in the sense that once they have heard the first teachings, and they have been captivated or touched by the teachings; they were dedicated to make the most of every single thing the teacher has to day or show. This meant being present at every speech or teachings of the master. The disciple would place the study and the following of his master as the priority of priorities. Remember that the early disciples of Jesus,  left everything to follow him.

Fourthly, The disciple has to be someone who is willing to be taught and has a very humble heart. He must be someone who accepts that he does not know everything and that the master is the master, and his role is to learn from the master and his teachings. He must be willing to be disciplined to his masters “rules” and way of doing things. He must be someone who understands that his ways are not good, but the master’s way is the good one to follow.

Fifthly, The disciple must be someone who puts what he learns into practice. Everything that he is learning, he believes in that. He thinks that it is the truth and the reason he is studying or following is because he will himself proclaim or teach those values. What a better way that to live what you are being taught?  If we study any of the disciples, they all had this in common, that they started to live the way their master was telling them. The firm belief they had in the teachings and sayings, made them change their behavior and way of life to adopt the one that their master was teaching. In any case, it is what was really expected of any Jews or Greek disciples.

Finally, the disciple is someone who is totally ready to die for his master. This type of disciples, is only true for those who follow Jesus. History can tell how many Christians have been killed and martyred since the resurrection of Christ and the beginning of the early church. What they all have in common even with the apostles, is that they did not reject their master. They did not reject the teachings they received, and they were ready to sacrifice themselves so that the teachings would remain. Without they sacrifice and dedication to pass along those teachings, we would not be here today, in liberty to practice our Christian faith.

This is precisely what my question is today. Based on what it means to be a disciple,  are we real disciple?

Are we the same kind of Christians to those that heard the good news for the first time and set  out to listen and live what Jesus was teaching?  Are we taking the time to read our master’s teachings and sayings?   Do we believe in what our master has taught us?  Are we dedicated to the teachings and sayings, are we believing and dedicated enough to put into practice what we learn from our master?  Most of all, are we ready to die for our master?

If we cannot answer those questions positively, then we need to assess ourselves really. Because being a disciple implies all of these things. We must not be living a life of a lie, where we think, we are disciples, when we are simple being Pharisees.

We are not the disciples of some mere human philosophers, politicians or other star. We are the disciples of our Lord God,  Jesus Christ.  We do not need to walk a lot, to wait for the letters of the apostles today; we have the Bible. We have everything at hand.

If we cannot be true to him, if we cannot follow him,  if we cannot believe in his teachings and live to it, if we are not ready to pass along his teachings and saying;  Can we still call ourselves disciples?

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Comment by Jonas Andrulis on April 17, 2014 at 6:10am

I was captivated by what it meant to be a disciple ever since I heard Jan Carlos Ortiz speak and write on the subject in the 70's. I've read many books on the subject but found it still seemed elusive to me until I heard Dallas Willard put it into a more understandable context of "becoming an apprentice or student of Jesus" and "think well enough of Jesus to trust what he said" He also mentioned that if we put into practice for 6 months "Do not worry" that we will find the truth to His Words. (I have been doing just that, accompanied with the mental struggle it  presented at times, and found that I have not once to date have had any reason to doubt that Jesus is trustworthy and his words are truth). I made a commitment a year or two back to be Jesus's disciple and examined myself to see if I truly believed that the Father Son and Spirit are God.  at that time I then committed myself in telling the Father that He is my God. My understanding is that discipleship is not governed by a formula but it is a way of "Life".  This is confirmed by Jesus's words "I came that they may have life". I agree with the points about the characteristics of a disciple but I think that they are still limited in what can be conveyed in regard to this matter. Personally I have and still struggle in the area of "dying to self" and in total abandonment/surrender, but my experience is that I am sustained by God's grace through His love for me which keeps me pressing on to holiness and imitating Jesus. There is much written from days past uptill the present that is of tremendous resource to me. What I believe is that the Spirit leads us all differently in this area of discipleship "as He wills".

Comment by Michael Slone on April 16, 2014 at 5:07pm

Lorne Sanny has a classic message "The Marks of s Disciple" on the Discipleship Library site.

Comment by Marc Shepherd on April 16, 2014 at 8:19am
No. We are not disciples, neither do we have any idea what it means to be a disciple. Our culture simply does not have any idea whatsoever about the spiritual attributes and worldview discipleship requires. Nothing..absolutely nothing...in our culture has anything with roots in a spiritual worldview. Therefore, why should we expect members of that culture to have anything related to spiritual concepts including discipleship? What makes matters worse that even our churches have no concept of discipleship. Everything centers around a good speaker and praise and worship. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that most Christians are not disciples.

To get a good idea as to what discipleship involves one simply needs to look to the East. While I do not believe or endorse Hindu or Buddhist doctrine, those two ancient religions have a very deep grasp of a spiritual worldview. Discipleship is total commitment. Everything in those cultures is dedicated and wrapped in a shell of spirituality even if the view of spirituality is not conisistent with the teachings of Christ.

When western Christians start looking at life in spiritual terms, then and only then will be begin to build the foundations of true discipleship.
Comment by Janice S. Garey on April 16, 2014 at 2:12am

Interesting thoughts and convicting questions about discipleship.

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