“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
This Scripture is commonly known as The Great Commission. If you know Jesus as Savior, then you have been tasked with going into the world and making disciples of all the nations. This is truly a great responsibility and one that will continue until Jesus comes.
The question that comes to mind is what is a disciple and why is it even necessary to make them? Discipleship is the next step after preaching the Gospel. It is the process of helping someone go from convert to follower. For everyone who comes to faith in Christ, this is the progression that Jesus expects. So let’s look a little closer at what a disciple is.
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What Is a Disciple?
The word disciple simply means to be a student or a follower. A true disciple of Christ is one who has committed themselves to learn from and follow Jesus Christ. To be a true follower of Christ there must be a commitment to learn what he has said. There is also however a commitment to do what he has said. If all you do is read about and study what Jesus said but you never put it into practice, then you are not really a disciple.
So how can you know for sure if you are a disciple? Below are three questions every disciple of Jesus must answer yes to. Take some time to read through this list and honestly assess your own heart.
1. Do You Love God First and Love God Most?
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
We often recognize that we should love God first. However, it is not enough to love him first, you must also love him most. Your love for him must be bigger and greater than your love for anyone else. In Exodus 20:3 God said “You shall have no other gods before me.” This means if you love any person or anything more than God you have placed that person or thing before him. This is idolatry. If you are going to be a disciple, then you cannot love anything more than God.
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2. Are You Willing to Pick Up the Cross?
“And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).
When you think about the cross, there is one word that comes to my mind and that is surrender. At the cross Jesus surrendered his life for ours, but more importantly he surrendered his will to fulfill the will of the Father. This is critical to what a disciple is. You cannot be a true disciple without surrendering your will, your desires, your passions, and choosing to take up God’s.
Think of it in this way. You are a disciple when what you want (your will) becomes less important than what God wants (His will). If you are not willing to surrender your will, then you are telling God that your way is best and better. At that point you are no longer being a disciple. Remember Jesus Christ laid down and surrendered his will. If you are going to follow him, you must do the same.
3. Are You Willing to Let Go?
“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything, you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:33).
The third question to consider when you think about what makes a disciple, is are you willing to let go? I have a question for you, what are you holding on to? For some people they don’t recognize that there is a sacrifice that comes with following Jesus. This sacrifice means giving up your rights to do what you want. It is a reality that you own nothing, but are a steward of everything. When you have this mindset, it becomes easier to sacrifice. I heard a pastor say that you should hold everything with an open hand allowing God to put in and take out what he wants. When you recognize that you are a manager and not an owner it becomes easier to give up everything to follow Jesus.
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Who Were the 12 Disciples?
“These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him” (Matthew 10:2-4).
As you can see, the original 12 disciples were men from different walks of life. Among them were fishermen (Andrew, Peter, James, and John), a tax collector (Matthew), a zealot (Simon), even a traitor and thief (Judas). What is fascinating about these men is that there was nothing special about them when Jesus called them. In fact, these were not the religious elite of the day. They were ordinary men whose lives were transformed by Jesus. This transformation allowed them to do extraordinary things.
The reason this is so important is because this gives us hope. What Jesus is looking for is ordinary people whom he can empower to go forth and do extraordinary things for him. What Jesus requires from you is what he required from these men. In their case, they left everything to follow Jesus. This does not necessarily mean that Jesus is going to ask you to give up your career and leave everything behind to follow him, but he might. Regardless of what he asks, being his disciple means saying yes to what he asks you to do. That yes opens the door for God to accomplish his purpose for your life.
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How Can We Also Be Disciples of Christ?
The road to discipleship begins at the place of salvation. From the moment you give your life to Christ the journey of discipleship begins. However just as you choose salvation, you must choose discipleship. It does not happen automatically. Discipleship is becoming mature in your faith.
Unfortunately, everyone does not reach a place of maturity. The good news however is that the length of time you have been saved does not determine your maturity. If you want to, you can grow, mature, and become a true disciple regardless of whether you got saved early in life or much later. You must simply decide like the old song says, to follow Jesus – no turning back.
Why Should We Have a Discipleship Relationship with Other Believers?
One of the things to remember is that Jesus saved you for a purpose. Yes, heaven is the reward but he has work for you to do before you get there. If he just wanted you to go to heaven, then he would save you and take you to heaven. The fact that he does not do that means he has things for you to do. This is why discipleship becomes so important.
Part of the responsibility of helping people grow into followers of Jesus is to also help them discover why God has saved them and what their purpose is. Beyond that it is also to help others learn how to represent Christ to the world. This is why how you live and the things you say and do matter so much. It is also why we can’t just say we are disciples, we must live like it. The more you follow, the more you obey, and the more you become like Jesus, the better you will represent him. When this happens you become a true reflection of Christ which will ultimately bring glory and honor to God in the earth.
I want to close this article with a verse from James which I believe sums up what it means to be a disciple.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).
The true heart of a disciple is not just in the learning. It is in the doing. Not doing to win God’s favor or approval, but doing to be obedient to what God desires. When you reach the place where you seek not only to be a learner or student but to really follow what God wants you to do, then and only then will you know what it means to be a disciple.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, author and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He has spent more than 30 years serving the body of Christ in various capacities and has just released his first book, The Pursuit of Purpose. If you have ever struggled trying to find God’s will, this book will help you discover the different ways God leads you into his perfect will. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.