“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
In talking about discipleship and defining it we are left with several major questions: How do we do discipleship? Can we do discipleship? Where do we go from here? How can we implement effective discipleship in our churches on a broad scale? We may have one or two examples of effective discipleship in our churches, but how can we make discipleship infiltrate all we do? How can we make discipleship omnipresent? What's the next step in making everyone disciples, who in turn disciple others? If discipleship is not a program, and I believe that it is not, then what is it and how do we do it the way Jesus intended it and how the scriptures depict it? It would be cliché of me to say that discipleship is a way of life, and I am tempted not to say this, but I will anyway, because I think that this is true. Discipleship is a way of life. There, I said it. So, “How do we live discipleship?” this is a better question.
If we are going to be disciples of Jesus who are making other disciples, as we have been commissioned by Jesus to do, then we must live out discipleship in all areas of our lives. One of the issues that surround us not having an understanding of discipleship, and not having a very good working definition of it, is the fact that we have a fragmented view of what discipleship is. Our definition of discipleship has steered away from the Biblical picture of discipleship. We have, in a sense, compartmentalized discipleship to programs and classes and have divorced discipleship from the practical everyday living out of our faith in our lives, in our relationships, in our vocations, and in the world. I am convinced that this is connected to our lack of Biblical knowledge and understanding of discipleship, and our lack of a consistent Biblical world view. For many, this has also spilled out into how we live out our faith every day. This compartmentalization of belief affects all of our life and faith, not just the expression of discipleship, as we chose to live out our beliefs, or not depending on the mood or circumstance.
If this is true, then the answer to the question, “How do we live discipleship?” is to become disciples who are making disciples. We must integrate our faith in all that we do. In doing this we must get back to a biblical understanding of discipleship and to an integrated Biblical world view. We can no longer compartmentalize or segregate our beliefs and faith in Christ from our everyday living. We have to move away from a fragmented faith toward an integrated and holistic living out of our relationship to Jesus. We must follow Jesus in all we do and invite others to follow as we live our lives for Him.
Jesus’ first petition to His “would be” followers was, “follow me.” Before He asked them to make disciples, Jesus asked them to become disciples, or learners of Him. Jesus spent time developing His followers before they were able to go out and teach and make disciples of others. We must be Disciples of Christ before we make disciples. This is what we will begin to explore next in the following sections.
Relationships are foundational to Biblical discipleship
In scripture, discipleship never occurs outside of relationships. Discipleship is life on life. We cannot do discipleship on our own. Discipleship is not a set of rules to follow or some sort of self help philosophy. Jesus never instructed anyone to try harder to do discipleship, He said, “Come and follow me.” Life on life, this is how discipleship happens, and it begins with our lives entering into Jesus’ life for us.
In Matthew 9:35-38, Jesus went about the towns and the villages and “He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. ‘What a huge harvest!’ he said to his disciples. ‘How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!”’
Jesus went where people were and met their needs. Jesus related to these people and prayed that more laborers would be sent out to be among the people to be with them and to meet their needs. Jesus was praying that people would meet people and would help them with their life concerns. Jesus did not merely teach people, he provided for concrete need in the context of relationships. These concerns were never dissected or divided from faith and everyday life; they were seen as a whole.
Jesus has compassion as He looks at people. Jesus sees people for who they are and He sees them in the context of their needs. Jesus addresses their hurting lives. Jesus recognizes that they we are wandering lost and desires that they be guided. His heart brakes for people. Jesus is engaged; He has compassion and empathy. Jesus asked His disciples, us, to have “harvest hands.” In other words, Jesus asked His disciples to get ready to “get their hands dirty,” His desire was that they get connected and get involved. He was showing them what to do. Jesus was showing his disciples how to live their faith. He was showing them how to live discipleship.
Earlier on in Chapter 9, verses 1-34, we see Jesus healing people He came into contact with. Jesus set up this lesson from the above scriptures by modeling the lesson for his disciples. Jesus healed a paralytic and forgave his sins. Jesus called Matthew the tax collector to be His disciple and then had dinner with him and a bunch of other sinners. Jesus raised from the dead a local official’s daughter. He went to the man’s home to do this. Jesus connected with and healed a woman who had an issue of bleeding for twelve years, when no one else would give her the time of day. Jesus also healed two blind men by touching their eyes, after He had invited them into the home where He was staying. Afterwards, Jesus healed a man who had lost his speech because of evil spirits. This was the context of Jesus telling His disciples to pray for “harvest hands.” This is the picture of discipleship we should have. Jesus met people where they were and addressed their concrete needs right where they were. Jesus taught them, but He also helped them and lived amongst them, and engaged them in their lives.
Discipleship is relational; are we developing relationships for biblical discipleship?
We must develop transformational and intentional relationships as Christ did
“Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them. As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him.”
When Jesus set out teaching by the sea, there were multitudes that were crowding around to hear Him speak and teach. As He passes by, he saw Levi, a hated tax collector, sitting by the tax office. Jesus intentionally chose him to be one of His first twelve disciples and invited him to “follow.” Levi responded and followed Jesus. Levi the tax collector was an unexpected choice for a disciple. This man was known for collecting taxes and was not thought too highly of because of this. He was not the most popular and probably required a lot more work and time and investment than someone who “has it all together,” yet Jesus is intentional about choosing Levi. Jesus had a plan for his transformation and saw potential and need in him.
When was the last time we have invited someone to join us in an undertaking? Do we routinely sift through the crowds to intentionally choose someone to teach and to follow us in our lives and work? What kind of person are we looking for? Are we looking for an easy “project,” or are we looking to love, to relate, and to invest in a life for transformation? This is what Jesus did. Jesus was intentional about relationships. Out of these intentional relationships transformation occurs in the life of the follower.
Are we developing transformational and intentional relationships as Christ did?
Jesus’ model of discipleship engages people where they are
“Later Jesus and his disciples were at home having supper with a collection of disreputable guests. Unlikely as it seems, more than a few of them had become followers. The religion scholars and Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company and lit into his disciples: “What kind of example is this, acting cozy with the riffraff?”
Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting the sin-sick, not the spiritually-fit.”
When was the last time you hung out with the riffraff? What kind of example would it be to hang out and share meals with the riffraff, the outcasts, the poor, the slow to learn, or the sinners? Is this not what we are called to do? Are we being hospitable with what God has gifted us with?
You might be thinking, “I thought we were supposed to be making disciples? What’s up with hanging out with sinners?” Are the sinners, ourselves included, not the ones who need Jesus? Scripture tells us that “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23).” We are the sick who need the physician. Jesus met with sinners. He dined with them and showed them hospitality when the crowds were hostile. When was the last time we looked at hanging out with sinners as making disciples? Do we go where people are to meet them where they are? This is what Jesus did in making disciples. Jesus modeled this for us; discipleship is moving out to meet people on their turf and engaging them where they are.
“Jesus meets people where they are, but He does not leave them there.” goes the old saying. Jesus meets people where they are and they are changed having spent time in His presence and under His teaching. In Luke 19:1-10, Jesus spends time with another tax collector Zacchaeus, who was a despised criminal who stole money from the people he was collecting taxes from. Jesus chose to dine at his home and Zacchaeus was radically changed because Jesus spent time with him. When Jesus entered Zacchaeus’ home, salvation entered his home. Because of Jesus, Zacchaeus was transformed and he made right all his wrongs. Zacchaeus had encountered God. Jesus never asked Zacchaeus to change his ways, or give stolen money back to the poor, He just met him where he was. Because of this encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus changed his ways and was transformed. Jesus met Zacchaeus where he was, and because He did, Zacchaeus did not stay where he was. Zacchaeus’ life was transformed.
Bono, from the band U2, said, “If Jesus was on earth today, you would find Him in a gay bar in San Francisco. He would be with people suffering from Aids. These are the new lepers. If you want to find out where Jesus would be hanging out, it’ll always be with lepers.” Simply put, Jesus would go where people are; he would not just wait for them to come to Him.
Are we bringing Jesus to where people are?
If we are to make disciples, we must engage people where they are
Many times we think that people are supposed to come to us. There are many presuppositions with this philosophy, they are: that we have something to offer and people should come to us; that we are not required to do the work; and if we are the ones who will be doing the work teaching, and if we provide the service, then people are supposed to come and receive that service. This is not what Jesus did and it is not what Jesus calls us to do. What Jesus does call us to do is to “go.”
Howard Snyder, in The Problem of Wineskins, says that “The gospel says, “Go,” but our church buildings say, “Stay.” The gospel says, “Seek the lost,” but our churches say, “Let the lost seek the church.” This is a sad reality, if it is true of us, and I fear this is truer than not for many churches. We cannot expect the lost to come to us, at least not always. We are commissioned by Jesus to “go” out into the world and seek those who are lost and lead them to Jesus.
In the great commission, in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Jesus’ command is to “Go!” We are to go where people are and to teach them everything that Jesus commanded. This is dynamic and requires movement on our part.
This dynamic movement is what Jesus modeled for us when He called His first disciples. Jesus went to His disciples. Jesus went to their places of work and businesses and connected with them in a way that they would understand what he was asking of them. Jesus used their language in asking them to follow.
Watch how Jesus’ calling of Simon, Andrew, James and John unfolds in Mark 1:16-20:
“Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.
A dozen yards or so down the beach, he saw the brothers James and John, Zebedee’s sons. They were in the boat, mending their fishnets. Right off, he made the same offer. Immediately, they left their father Zebedee, the boat, and the hired hands, and followed.”
Jesus spoke in a language that His followers would understand. As fishermen, they would understand becoming “fishers of men.” Jesus went to these men and asked them to follow Him. God Himself goes where the people are and we are to do the same. God did not expect these men to drop everything and follow Him without an invitation. What makes us think that we will get people to follow us as we follow Jesus without an invitation?
Are we engaging people where they are? Are we engaging them in their language?
Discipleship leads people to where Jesus is
“Jesus went to Galilee preaching the Message of God: “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”
The primary goal of discipleship is to lead people from where they are to where God is. We want to change our own course and believe the message, and we want those who we disciple to change their lives to believe the message. We are to assist in opening their eyes to where God is already at work in them and around them.
The Gospel is the simple good news of Jesus. The message is that God’s kingdom has come to us in Jesus and that there is life in Him. Transformation occurs when we believe in this good news, and when we trust in Jesus, the good news Himself. The change that we make is from living our lives on our terms to living our lives in faith in Jesus. This is the message that “the kingdom of God is indeed at hand.” Discipleship leads people into the kingdom of God and it leads them into living kingdom lives. Discipleship opens people’s eyes so that they can see to follow after Him.
Are the people we are discipling ending up where Jesus is?
People we are discipling will end up where Jesus is if our discipleship is successful
“Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”
“Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”
As believers, we are following Jesus as His disciples. If we are making disciples, if people are following us, then they will end up where we are headed, which is to be with Jesus. Discipleship’s end is to be where Jesus is. If we know Jesus and obey His word, we are his disciples and we know truth, and that truth sets us free. Jesus is that truth that sets us free. Jesus does what he sees His father doing and we do what we see Jesus doing. If we see Jesus, we see God, because to see Jesus, is to see God. Jesus is showing us Himself; He is showing us God. This is what we are doing. As we see Him and follow Him, the people we are teaching, or discipling, will hopefully see Jesus and follow Him as well, and the cycle repeats itself. Disciples are multiplied.
This is what Jesus prayed for in John 17:3-8:
“And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began. “I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.”
John goes on to add this in John 17:20-26:
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began! “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”
This is such a beautiful picture of discipleship that we see from Jesus’ prayer to God the Father. If we are disciples, we must end up where Jesus is; “to be where he is.” If we are making disciples, they must end up with us where Jesus is as well.
Are the people we are discipling ending up where Jesus is?
Discipleship is a way of life
In Matthew 16:24-26, Jesus says to His students, His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a person if they gain the whole world, and lose their own soul?” Our lives are not our own they are His. If we are to have any kind of grip on living, then we must discover our lives in Jesus and in His service. Discipleship is denying self, embracing suffering and following after Jesus.
When we lay our lives down to follow after Him, we discover our true lives and our purpose. When we lose our agenda, we discover Jesus’ agenda. When we let go of our assumptions that we know what is best and most adventurous for ourselves, we discover Jesus’ adventure. This adventure of being Jesus’ students, who teach others about Jesus, is the greatest adventure of a lifetime. This adventure will take us places that we have never been before. We will accomplish things that are not possible on our own, but become possible, because it is Christ that lives and moves within us to accomplish His purposes to make disciples.
Are we living discipleship out as our way of life?
Effective discipleship is integrated naturally in all facets of life
“Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.”
This idea that discipleship is somehow something we tack onto our lives is absurd. We can no more tack onto our lives living for Christ than we can add on breathing or eating to our lives, as an option, or if we feel like it. Where have we gotten this division in living for Christ and just plain ordinary living? I do not know where this has come from. Scripture does not fragment life into categories, neither is discipleship fragmented from the everyday life of the believer. Living in Christ and discipleship should be incorporated into everything that we do. These things are not separate.
Paul addresses this in the scripture above from Colossians 3:16-17. We are to let God’s good news run rampant in our lives. Every action and teaching should be brought under the Lordship of Christ. There should be plenty of room, time, and space in our lives to make disciples. We are to instruct and to teach with good common sense, or practicality. There is no divide for believers in scripture between our lives and the life of Christ. It is all His life and we are called to bring all of life into submission to Jesus. Paul tells us that every detail of our lives should be dedicated to the glory of God; our words, our actions, and whatever we do; everything should be done in the name of Jesus. Our lives should be dedicated to being and making Disciples of Christ, to His honor and glory!
Paul says this again in Romans 12:1, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”
Our lives are to be lived out as an offering to God. There should never be a time when we are not thinking of Him and worshiping God in our living. This is an integrated life we are talking about here. This is living out Christianity holistically. We are talking about being a disciple, or student of Jesus, in all areas of life. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge puts it, “Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process.”
Is discipleship integrated naturally into all that we do in Jesus’ life for us?
Life change and transformation occurs in discipleship
“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
We are called to be new creations in Christ Jesus. We are changed as a result of spending time with Jesus, and if we are changed, then the people who we share life with will be transformed as well. This is what we are called to as believers. We are called to lives of transformation, and this takes place in discipleship. Paul warns us in Romans 12:2 not to become well adjusted to our culture that we fit into it without recognizing what is happening. Paul invites us to be changed from the inside out by fixing our attention on Jesus, and eagerly recognizing what He wants from us. Our relationship with Christ will bring about transformation in our lives and will bring us into maturity. Our culture and our world seek to drag us down, but a life founded on God’s truth in scripture and focused on Jesus will bring about transformation in the lives of His disciples.
This transformation that we experience in Christ is to transform the very world in which we live in. Mohandas Gandhi, who was not a believer but an admirer of Jesus, said this about our faith in Christ as described in scripture, “You Christians look after a document, the Bible, containing enough dynamite to blow civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down, and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of good literature.” This is a serious indictment of our practice of the Christian faith as outlined in scripture. There is truth here. The scriptures contain the power of God unto salvation and transformation, if we are willing to receive it, trust it, and live it out in our lives by the power and strength of the Holy Spirit.
We cannot live out discipleship in our own power no more than we can be transformed by our own power. Transformation is a byproduct of our salvation in Jesus and the Spirit’s work in us as we are disciples of Jesus. God does the transforming. The first step for us is to seek Jesus; to be His disciples who are transformed in Him. Then we can be disciples who have God’s power to make other disciples. God does this work in us, and through us, and despite of us. Are we being transformed by being disciples of Jesus?
Are our lives and the lives of those we are discipling being transformed in discipleship?
Discipleship is a costly investment and will not always be easy
“Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple. “Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’ “Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce? “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple. “Salt is excellent. But if the salt goes flat, it’s useless, good for nothing. “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”
True discipleship is not easy and it is not always safe. Our being able to be disciples cost Jesus His life and it will cost us to follow Him as well. We were created to follow Jesus, no matter what the cost. An anonymous quote describes this well, “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are made for.” We were not made to play the Christian life safe; we were made to set sail into the world following Jesus. Following Christ will cost us time, talent, resources, relationships, and family, and it will include discomfort and suffering at times, but this is what we are called to. We are called to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus.
This following Jesus is not a burden; it is a joy and privilege. We get to be His disciples and we get to make Disciples of Christ. Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you did not do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” And I will add, “Go, and be disciples who make disciples of our Lord Jesus.”
Are we willing to invest in discipleship when it is difficult, no matter what the cost?
Seeking to follow Jesus as His disciple, by His Grace, Mercy, and Power,
Cole, Neil. Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens. San Francisco, CA. : Jossey-Bass Publishers. © 2005.
The Holy Bible : King James Version. electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version. Bellingham WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995.
The New King James Version. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1982.
Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002.
Tyndale House Publishers: Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 2nd ed. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, S. Jn 17:3-8