What are the defining marks of a disciple?


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?

marks of the messenger

This week I read through the book Marks of the Messenger by J. Mack Stiles. It is a concise book that’s not easy to put down. I highly recommend this book to any teacher, youth leader, missionary, church leader, or follower of Christ desiring to live a gospel-centered life. I am seriously considering the possibility of having our children’s ministry leadership read the book this coming year as we share the gospel with our community and core families.

A messenger is marked by his character–the character of Christ. Jesus asks His followers to be so concerned about what I am doing, but more about who I am becoming. people of faith [18]. Jesus is not. The greatest obstacle to healthy evangelism is pragmatism: “doing evangelism” before we ever think who we are meant to be as evangelists [19].

Living a gospel-centered life is God’s expectation for His followers. “The gospel,” in modern language, means, “Breaking News!” And the news is good news, because there was bad news before [27]. As Timothy Keller often says, “The gospel is not the ABC’s of the Christian faith, it is the A-Z’s.” The cross of Christ and the gospel message that streams from the cross is the river that rage my entire life. People need to see their sin in all its horror, not so they are motivated to “clean up their act,” but so they fall at the feet of Jesus knowing that He is their only hope [31].

Have you heard people say that Christianity is a crutch? They’re far too optimistic. We don’t need a crutch; we need spiritual defibrillators [27].

One of the greatest dangers is to assume those passing in the church hall, sitting in the pew next to you, or your small group companion understands the gospel. We must ask the hard questions, probe deeper, and see if the gospel is really taking root in peoples lives. Stiles, in his book, mentions Kevin Roose, a Brown University student going undercover at Liberty University all the while other students assuming he is a follower never asking him about his faith. A follower to many Christian is–one who goes to church, prays and says they believe in God–nothing more than moralism and cultural adaption. The gospel goes deeper than that. It changes the core of a man. At least that is what God intends for the gospel to do.

The challenge for healthy evangelism is to stop trying to clean people up through rules rather than bring them to the cross [44].

The imperative of the church and its followers is to display the glory of Christ as it shares the gospel. The church does not exist to make me happy; it demonstrates the truth of Christ to a watching world [103]. The church is the gospel made visible [Mark Dever, The Church, 767].

What is the gospel? Check out these posts about the gospel:

gospel gumbo

lies we believe about following Christ

5 terrifying truths about Christianity

plan G

what’s IT?

no more ties for fathers please

Happy Fathers day. This is the day when we honor our dads by giving they ties, gift cards to Menards, and cooking them brats or steak on the grill. We are thankful for our dads. Dad’s have a huge influence over the lives of their kids. This year more than ever the reality of becoming a father is hitting home. With my wife approaching 5-months of pregnancy, I am thinking seriously about being a dad.

The name of the father in the story we are going to look at today is Jairus. He had quite the rap-sheet: he was a spiritual man being the “ruler of the synagogue.” He was a big cheese among the Jewish community. He possibly heard Jesus speak in the synagogue at Capernaum. But more importantly for this story he was a Dad.

We do not know the name of his daughter, but we do know that she was an only child (“only” cf.Jn.3:16), about 12 years old and was suffering a deadly illness. What do you suppose she saw in her dad? I wonder if she thought of him as being old-fashioned and out-of-touch like many today’s pre-teen daughters? I want to assume that she thought of her dad as a faithful man. What are the marks of a Faithful Father (Follower)?

Faithful fathers [followers] are not ashamed to worship Jesus [Luke 8:40-41]

“There came a man…and falling at Jesus feet.” Jairus approached Jesus during the day while many people were out and about [cf. this is opposite of Nicodemus who comes to Jesus in the middle of the night]. Jairus comes to Jesus because his daughter is sick. It is a hard thing for a father to see their children suffer. He approached Jesus without reservation and fell down at His feet [not out of exhaustion, but begging]. Matthew 9:18 “there came a certain ruler, and worshiped him” Notice: Jairus went himself. He did not send his wife, he didn’t send a servant, rather he went to Jesus Himself.

Oh, that dads would seek Jesus without shame. That they would take their priestly responsibility in the home. That they would seek Him without reservation. That they would seek Him boldly. A faithful father knows he has a faithful God.

Faithful fathers [followers] are not ashamed to invite Jesus to the house [Luke 8:41b-48]

“begged Him to come to his house.” Notice that the event that followed was “as He went,” the entire crowd followed on their way to Jairus’ house. Can you imagine that phone call? “Honey, everyone is coming over to the house.”

Oh, that God would give us Dads who would bring Jesus into the house. Men who would stand with Joshua and declare to the world, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Men who would lead their families in prayer, speaking the truth of God’s Word, worshiping and living out their faith.

On the way to heal Jairus’ daughter, Jesus is touched by a woman suffering from a long-lived physical ailment that caused her to be ostracized by her community. According to Leviticus 15, she would have been labeled “unclean” and anyone who would touch her would also be unclean. In the crowd she rushed to Jesus, and believed that if she simply touched Jesus she would be healed. In that moment, Jesus stopped. He draws attention to the woman. She confesses. And Jesus comforts her by saying, “daughter,” (only time Jesus ever uses these words) “it was your faith alone that saved you.”

This parenthesis miracle was a tremendous lesson on faith for both the crowds and Jairus. Not only did Jesus’ healing of this woman stall the situation to heal Jairus’ daughter, but paved the way for His words. Jesus miracle now shifts from public to private. While Jesus was still speaking to the woman a messenger can to Jairus to let him know that his daughter died and not to bother coming home.

Faithful fathers [followers] are not ashamed to put the welfare of their child in the care of Jesus [Luke 8:49-56]

“Do not fear, only believe…” When Jairus received the news that his daughter was dead, he didn’t dismiss the Lord, rather he gave her into Jesus’ care. This reminiscent of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. Jesus’ response to the father, “Do not be afraid. Only believe.” [Note: aorist imperative tense, literally, act in belief, “trust me,” “hey you, have real faith!”] Jairus completely put his daughter in the hands of God’s care.

Faithful followers of Christ are not afraid. They completely entrust their children to God. Ungodly fears are directly linked to things we are thinking [Proverbs 4:23; Philippians 4:8). Oh that God would give us Dad’s who would commit their children into the hands of Christ.

As I think about being a father, I want to be a worshiper modeling a love for God to my children. I do not want to be ashamed to invite Jesus into our house. He is our special guest, always welcomed and honored. I also want to sacrificially give my children over to the care of their God who is ultimately their Creator and Sustainer.

risky move

The Discipleship Experiment.

This year our student ministry leadership set a goal: be disciples discipling others to be disciples. We decided to do ministry biblically, thus the discipleship experiment took life. It was a risky move, but a bold biblical endeavor.

We had some speed bumps, U-turns, and engines overheat along the journey, but overall I am ecstatic to see our adult leaders become more actively involved in the spiritual growth of our students. Though many would admit, “I feel like I’ve failed.” I would say their input into the lives of the students was exceed by the spiritual output. In other words, high risk [discipleship] equals high reward [disciples].

What is biblical student ministry?

Student ministry biblically is a ministry of the church coming alongside families equipping them to become faithful followers of Christ. Student ministry is intensive discipleship geared towards students and their families. Intensive discipleship is both encouraging one another to follow Christ [evangelism] and equipping follower in Christ [followership].

Discipleship is difficult. It’s difficult because of the cost involved. The cost may involve time, studying the Word to help student see their lives mirrored in the Word, willingness to get messy as students fall into sin, and desire to pour your life into another by living in a way that models a disciple of Christ. Discipleship takes a willingness to be selfless for the sake of another to see and savor Jesus Christ.

Discipleship is all for Christ and all about Christlikeness.

It is easy to disciple for all the wrong reasons. Some disciple to feel needed, important, or appreciated. Others disciple to impress, lord-over, or act as mini-Messiah’s. This is not discipleship. We don’t disciple as matter of self-defense or self-promotion. You don’t pour your life into others to fill yourself up. How selfish. Discipleship is selfless because it is promoting Christlikness.

When you gaze at the cross and get a glimpse of the gospel you see that you are unworthy, but God in Christ is worthy. Discipleship must always be rooted and nourished by the living message of the gospel. Jesus died, He was buried and resurrected that you and I might have abundant life [Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:20-21]. Without the gospel discipleship is dead.

This year I watch Brent pour his heart into middle school boys. Middle schools are not the easiest flock to shepherd. He would take them out to Taco Bell before FUEL or have them work on construction projects at the church. These middle schoolers know that Brent cares. Brent made a risky move–doesn’t feel like he did enough–but was willing to pour Christ into middle school boys. To Brent discipleship was more of a risk than being a stunt man. He was willing to get get messy and be spent of the sake of Christ.

Successful disciples are servants first [Matthew 20:25-28].

Christ became the servant of all. It is crazy to think that a King and Creator of the universe became a servant to His creation. Jesus gives us a genuine model for leadership and discipleship: humility [Matthew 11:29; Luke 14:7-11; Philippians 2:3-4], trust [Mark 10:32-41], shepherding [Mark 10:45; John 10:11], gift oriented teamwork [1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; Luke 9:1-2], responsibility [John 13:15; Ephesians 4:11-13]; and risk [Hebrews 11:1].

Discipleship is a risky move, but it has great rewards.

a map of true follower

Before you take any trip you have to map out where you are going or you might get lost and watt a lot of time and money. It is also the same with discipleship in the church. Before you guide another on the journey of transformation you must consider the keys to the map.

Being a follower begins and ends with God, not man. God calls us into a relationship with Him by following Him. In Jesus day students would usually ask their Rabbi’s if they could follow them, but with Jesus that Master of all He asks us to follow Him. God initiates the relationship. He is the starting point of our relationship with Him [Rom.8:29-30].

Being a follower means knowing Christ personally and intimately. Is a relationship with God personal. Yes, it is really personal. It is not just knowing facts about Jesus, but a lifelong commitment. When a student would ask a Rabbi to be a mentor it was a life long commitment. The same for a relationship with Christ. He asks us to commit for the long haul. Knowing what the Bible says about Jesus is not enough. Jesus is the living God [John 1:14].

Being a follower has to do with the image of God. We were created in God image and likeness. We are dominioneers [Ge.1:27]. This gives and eternal and valuable aspect to our following Christ, the King of the dominion of man. Discipleship is not our agenda, but Gods, “teaching them to observe all I commanded” [Matt.28:19-20].

Being a follower means God is for us, not against us. Do not believe in the god of your own opinion, but the God of the Bible. The way we view God, can be on of the biggest distraction to our spiritual growth. A little view of God can mean little growth.  God is not a gregarious ogre, He is a Rescuer, Savior, Lover, Helper and Care-giver.

Being a follower starts and end with God. If we think we have any part in changing a person we are prideful and overly arrogant. Give God the credit and glory for what He can do in a followers life. Followership is not a program, behavior modification, a magical formula seen in Scripture, or a sacred system that works for every person. It is a daily delightful relationship with the God of the universe. This is the journey to discovering the life of a true follower.

Wanted: follower

We are seeking followers who are willing to give up their lives for the sake of another by exemplifying the way of Christ.

The Requirements:

  • Hours will be 168 per week.
  • Pay is zero.
  • No experience required, but toughness and resiliency helpful.
  • No retirement provided in this life, but unlimited benefits in the next.
  • Working conditions are not the best. There are hassles, discrimination, put-downs, and even persecutions.
  • In this job, it’s mostly give and no take.
  • There are few breaks, no vacations, no sick leave, no material bonuses, few, if any, compliments, and only one promotion which comes at the end of your life.

Additional Requirements:

Applicants must be willing to sacrifice, study long, pray hard, labor unceasingly, and must be willing to be called a “fool” for Christ’s sake. The job is not easy. You will often work alone, but you’ll never be alone. People in this line of work are in a minority.

Applicants must be willing to share their testimony in crowds that are both sympathetic and antagonistic, both understanding and prejudiced.

Applicants must realize that identification with our organization makes them unpopular with the majority.

Applicants must be prepared to live any place on earth.

All applicants are required to understand before they sign up that they must relinquish all rights, legal or otherwise to all personal property such as cars, houses, real estate, money, recreational vehicles, stocks, IRA accounts, in fact EVERYTHING.

Applicants are urged to consider strongly their decision to come on board since our policy is that there is no getting out once in! Our policy is clear, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.” Though this position is hazardous, there are great rewards and satisfaction to the work. We believe that “in due season we shall reap if we don’t faint.”

Those interested may apply at the foot of the cross. There is no legal age limitation and whosoever will may come.

sold out

Just the other day I was shopping at Wal-Mart specifically looking for some IBC Root Beer. I love that stuff! Right out of the bottle…it’s the greatest! I hope to believe there will be IBC in heaven someday (the Inspired Beverage of Christians)! Anyway… they were sold out. Can you believe that? My day went straight down the toilet bowl.


Why does something sell-out? First, something tends to sells-out because it is a popular item. I have to have the “in” toy at Christmas (Tickle Me Elmo) because “everyone has one”. It is popular and I will be popular for having it. Second, it is a great deal. Girls fall for this one all the time. Buy 3 shirts get a free lip balm. I have a grandma who is obsessed with QVC because they have such great deals. Third, it is needed. I am sure if we were experiencing the black plague we would need the medicine that would cure. Fourth, it is over advertised. One night a few weeks back I got really sick and could not sleep so I put the TV on. Within 30 minutes I was ready to call and order my Chia Pet, Hand-Clapper and Total Gym. I was sold-out to the good advertisements.


How else does someone or something sell out? Well, for many of the same reasons above. I am a Christian therefore I am sold-out to Christ. Being sold-out to Christ has its costs, commitment and control over my life. That’s what it means to be sold out to someone or something. We will look at each of these statements below by looking at the Scriptural example.



Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask Me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

“Which ones?” the man inquired.

Jesus replied, ” `Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and `love your neighbor as yourself.’ “

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Mt.19:16-22 (the Rich Young Ruler who had everything)



When Jesus saw the crowd around Him, He gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to Him and said, “Teacher, I will follow Youwherever You go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Jesus was a mover, looking for the movers)

Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

But Jesus told him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Then He got into the boat and His disciples followed Him. Mt.8:18-23



As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father andfollowed Him. Mt.4:18-22


Why should someone Sell-Out to Christ? First, He is a popular item, His disciples followed Him to His death and beyond. Second, He is a great deal, those who believe in Him have Eternal Life. Third, you need Him. Like Medicine heals physical sickness, Christ wants to heal your spiritual sickness. Finally, He is over advertised. Christians have sacrificed their lives for Him, to get His message out so others would hear and believe. Are you sold out?