What are the defining marks of a disciple?

discipleship

Recently, I was asked this question by a friend, “What are the defining marks of a disciple of Jesus?” That’s a really good question. How would you answer that question?

At its core, the word disciple means follower or more specifically a follower who is a learner. A disciple learns and never stops learning the ways of his teacher or master. He learns by watching, listening, and mimicking his master.

The New Testament is chalked full of examples of men and women who who were called disciples of Jesus. The examples include people who followed Jesus both before and after they committed to follow Him completely (Jn.6:66; Acts 11:24). That’s interesting.

When it comes to being a disciple of Jesus, it is probably important to understand what Jesus expects of a disciple. John, a close disciple of Jesus, records a message given by Jesus that clearly outlines defining marks of a disciple,

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12–14)

In Jesus’ own words, we have three defining marks of a disciple of Jesus:

1) A disciple loves like Jesus.

Notice, a disciple is not marked by his knowledge of Jesus (which is important) nor the good things he does for Jesus (which is also important). A disciple is moved to act upon what He knows about God. As Jesus says, “you love one another as I have loved you.” (cf. John 13:35, 15:9, 12, 17). This is not an option, it is an order. A disciple is primarily and distinctively marked by the love he shows another.

You can manufacture this kind of love for a moment, but Jesus demonstrated it throughout His entire life. Jesus had an amazing capacity to love people. He loved the unlovely and His enemy. A disciple loves God and others, like Jesus, by learning from Jesus Himself.

2) A disciple is willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of Jesus.

The words that came out of Jesus’ mouth next are words I am sure you agree are true, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Yes! To that I heartily say, “Jesus, you’re right on! The highest level of love is a willingness to give your life for someone you really care about.” However, Jesus is not just sharing a truism. His intention is that you would connect this truth to the way you love Him (Eph.5:1-2).

Jesus had no shortage of followers. He wasn’t interested in crowds of followers, He was focused on the core of the follower. Some followed just to catch His next miracle, others followed to hear His earth shaking stories and sermons, while others followed for reasons both good and bad. Not everyone that followed Jesus loved Him, some hated His guts.

Jesus had a radical way of separating true followers from bandwagoners. Frequently He had crowd reduction sermons and say things like,

  • “Sell everything that you have…and come, follow Me” (Mk.10:21)
  • “Forsake your life and follow Me” (Mk.8:34-38)
  • “Want to be great? Be a servant” (Mt.20:26-28)
  • “If anyone does not carry his own cross daily and follows Me” (Lk.9:23)
  • “If anyone comes after me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (14:27)

Afterwards, many would go home saying “Jesus, you’re just asking too big a sacrifice from me.” Others would mock His words saying, “You think your God or something?” And others continued to follow. They weren’t many, but they were committed because they counted the cost.

When Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” he was looking for a radical response. It’s as if He says, “If you are really My follower, then you will be willing to go to the grave for Me.” Wow. Let the words of Jesus sink into your skull for a moment. Did you think about that before you committed to follow Jesus?

A disciple dies to self. A disciple is willing to sacrificially lay down his life for Jesus, like Jesus went to the grave for yours.

3) A disciple obeys Jesus’ commands.

One who sacrificially loves, like Jesus, also joyfully obeys His words. Have you joyfully responded to His invitation? What invitation, you ask? Jesus gives you an invitation to be His close companion. This is more than an invitation to be buddy’s, pal, or homeboy. Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” This is not a manipulative or coercive invitation, rather it’s a mark of a follower. A disciple is willing to follow whatever His teacher or master has asked Him to do.

This is good news. Jesus is the earth shaking good news. He followed every one of the defining marks of a disciple. He lived the words He preached. He mimicked His Heavenly Father. So much so, that if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. No one could find a fault in Him. He went to the grave an innocent man. He did not die a fatalist, a moralist, or the most liked by the populist. He obeyed His Father joyfully, even when it cost Him His earthly life. He loved sacrificially, so that by His grace you could live eternally with Him. That’s the kind of friend, teacher, master, God He is.

Jesus last words to His disciples after His resurrection were, “teach them [all future disciples] to observe all that I commanded you.” A disciple learns to live obediently to the teachings of Jesus and joyfully seeks to reproduce the same characteristics in others until He returns.

So what are the defining marks of a disciple of Jesus? Well, in Jesus own words, a disciple is one who loves like Jesus, sacrifices His life for the sake of Jesus, obeys Jesus’ commands, and helps others to do the same. What say you? Do you bear these marks?

Question every disciple should ask himself:
Do I love people more and more?
How do I love those I least like?
What is the motive behind my love for God and others?
Is my love coming from duty or delight?
In what ways am sacrificing my life for the sake of Christ?
What commands of Jesus do you have a hard time obeying?
How are you learning to follow more like Jesus today?

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following in His steps

“Our Lord’s first obedience was to the will of His Father, not to the needs of men. His obedience brought the outcome of the saving of men. If I am devoted to the cause of humanity only, I will soon be exhausted and come to the place where my love will falter. But if I love Jesus Christ personally and passionately, I can serve humanity though men treat me as a doormat.” – Oswald Chambers

followership begins with a passion for God and compassion for people.

True followership begins with a passion for Jesus Christ. Jesus is passionate about building His church. This passion is as contagious as a runny nose in mid-Winter because it flows into our compassion for others. Those who discipled me from middle school until now have modeled a real passionate faith. So passionate that I want to be like Christ because they looked so much like Christ.

Whether we are discipling to Christ or in Christ all Christ’s. I cringe at the idea of calling someone “my disciple”. This is a term we find in the New Testament only coming from the mouth of Jesus. As believers in Christ we are His disciples. I am not a disciple of any man but Christ. Paul talked about “my son” Timothy, “my brother” Ephaphroditus, and co-laborers as “my fellow servants”. New Testament authors never called a fellow believer “my disciple” or “my follower.” in fact, Paul freaks out when he hears that some are calling themselves followers of Paul or Apollos. “ Is Christ divided? he wrote, with evident frustration. “Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” [1 Corinthians 1:13] Paul had his eyes on Jesus, so He must be our focus and passion as followers too.

followership invites others to “be with” you.

Christ appointed twelve followers and “designating them apostles, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach.” [Mark 3:14] Christ is the initiator in challenging and calling men. His vision is clear: before they were unleashed to the world they were invited to “be with Him”.

As a follower of Christ His presence is with us always [cf. Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5]. The original twelve followers were “with Him”, and Jesus “with them.” We find Jesus in their homes, having dinner with their friends, and engaging lovingly with their enemies. True followership begins by inviting others to be with you.

followership is being shaped into the image of God together.

“We proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all His might, which so powerfully works in me.” [Colossians 1:28-29] Our goal for every follower is to reach maturity in Christ, that their life begin to look like His.

An artist was asked what he would paint on the white canvas. “You see a blank canvas,” he said. “But I see a mountain, lake and beautiful sunrise. As I gaze at the canvas I smell the mountain air, feel the brisk morning air coming of the lake, and then simply brush the strokes of color onto the canvas.” As followers of Christ His portrait should always be before us, and the canvas of our lives is being transformed into the beautiful image of Christ.

followership is not complete until the follower becomes a teacher.

In Matthew 28:19-20, we often miss the an important point of the Great Commission. I would call it the Great Omission because Jesus says to His followers, “teach everyone everything you have heard and seen in me.”

As a follower of Christ I am doing the ministry of multiplication. No one is becoming mature in Christ until they begin to reproduce Christ in others. Jesus sent His followers out to serve without Him. He warned them they would need at some point to carry the message on their own.  A follower of Christ was prepared from the beginning to make other follower, who in turn made other follower, who made still more follower. And so the gospel of Christ reached you and me.

What if doormat discipleship characterized each of our ministries? What if people were truly shaped into the image of Christ through discipling relationships? What if followership began to take on a life all its own, bigger than any program in our church? What if people left our ministries and continued to make followers of Christ for the rest of their lives? This is the path Jesus destined for His followers to walk after His death [Matthew 28:19-20].