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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sacrifice, balance beam, cross, and urgency

sacrifice

“Where are the young men and women of this generation who will hold their lives cheap and be faithful even unto death? Where are those who will lose their lives for Christ’s sake — flinging them away for love of him? Where are those who will live dangerously and be reckless in his service? Where are his lovers — those who love him and the souls of men more than their own reputations or comfort or very life?

Where are the men who say ‘no’ to self, who take up Christ’s cross to bear it after him, who are willing to be nailed to it in college or office, home or mission field, who are willing, if need be, to bleed, to suffer and to die on it?

Where are the adventurers, the explorers, the buccaneers for God, who count one human soul of far greater value than the rise or fall of an empire? Where are the men who are willing to pay the price of vision? Where are the men of prayer? Where are God’s men in this day of God’s power?” – Howard Guinness, Sacrifice [59-60]

the cross exposes

“The cross exposes the holy sovereign Lord whose authority we have defied and whose glory we have deflected to unworthy rivals was willing to endure judgment that his own impeccable justice pronounced upon us. The cross declares that we are loved with an intensity that defies our capacity to comprehend, not because we are intrinsically lovable but because God is intrinsically love.” Elyse Fitzpatrick, Counsel from the Cross [12]

Urgent Missiology

“Amid the many facets of the American dream that contradict the core of the gospel, one ideal Americans have embraced coincides subtly with the words of Christ. As James Adams was coining the phrase “American Dream,” Franklin Roosevelt was emphasizing how Americans will postpone immediate gradificatio and even endure hard sacrifices if they are convinced their future will be better than their past. Americans are willing to take great risks, he said, if they believe it will accomplish great reward.

In similar words Jesus said to His followers, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jesus clearly acknowledged that following Him leads to a radical reward that this following Him involves risking the safety, security, and satisfaction we have found in this world. But in the end, Jesus said, following Him leads to a radical reward that this world can never offer. This begs a question from each of us: do we believe the reward found in Jesus is worth the risk of following Him?” – David Platt, Radical [161-162]

Are you needing a call to live radically for Christ? Check out An Unadjusted Gospel in an Unreached World: Connecting Gospel Theology with Urgent Missiology

balance beam

Francis Chan is one for stories and illustrations that pack a punch. I particularly appreciate this one passed along by a good friend, Sur John. Stop holding on and walk with Christ!

book review: radical

I have been reading the book Radical by David Platt it is an excellent book that answers the question, why following Christ means being so radical?

This is one book I wish I had written myself, but that you need to dig into yourself.

Followership is radical. We are not talking about Christian jihad or political-far-right, but being a follower in a passive and putrid American society is risky. Jesus calls us to a lifestyle that is active and living, and revolving around Himself. The cost of committing to Christ is radical and means I must abandon all my American dreams for him. Jesus asked me to leave behind security, money, a life of ease and even those that I love the most to be His follower. That sounds radical. That is exactly what this book is about.

Followership is more than believing in Jesus, it is also obeying Him. Jesus wants to change me and culture from the inside out, not from the outside in. I am ready to take The Radical Experiment. To find out more about this one-year journey to authentic followership you will have to just read the book.

“Are you willing to obey the orders of Christ? Are you willing to be like Him? Are you willing to risk your life to go to great need and to great danger–whether it’s in the inner cities around you, the difficult neighbor across the street, the disease-ridden communities in Africa, or the hostile regions in the Middle East? Are we willing to fundamentally alter our understanding of Christianity from a luxury-liner approach that seeks more comforts in the world to a troop-carrier approach that forsakes comforts in the world to accomplish an eternally significant task and achieve an eternally satisfying reward?” [p.171]

David Platt, Radical, Waterbrook Multnomah, Colorado Springs, CO. 2010.