Jesus never told people, “Just go to church.” He said, “Go and make disciples.” Discipleship is not a cult. It’s a commandment. In fact, it is the Biblical model. As we read through the Gospels we see what this form of ministry looks like and how it works. Discipleship is not like your traditional church. It is a kind of training. In modern times it is virtually unheard of. But the commands of God have not changed. We have been given this example to follow. At one point when crowds of thousands were following Jesus, like churchgoers attending a church service, he turned to the crowds and told them to “count the cost of being a disciple.” (see Luke 14)
Some churchgoers act like “discipleship” is some kind of strange new thing. Perhaps if they would read their Bibles they would not think it odd. Discipleship has only been around for thousands of years and is outlined in the Old Testament and the New Testament. We see examples of discipleship all throughout the Bible: Moses to Joshua, Elijah to Elisha, Paul to Timothy, Silas and others. The twelve who followed Jesus were his closest disciples. Scripture also talks about the seventy. It is not something unobtainable. A true disciple is a man or woman who believes in and follows the teachings of Jesus.
The Bible tells us that discipleship is The Great Commission:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20 NIV)
A disciple is not merely a churchgoer. Disciple, from the Greek word mathetes, means one who is doing what they are learning. You could say it this way: A disciple is someone who is being disciplined by a man of God with the Word of God to do the things of God, and it changes their life. There’s a big difference between simply studying the Bible and actually applying its Biblical truths and spiritual principles to your life. As Christians we are called to practice what we preach. If we don’t, then we are just pretending to be spiritual or religious.
Here’s perhaps the best definition for discipleship…
Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31,32 New Living)
In this same chapter, if you read on, you will find that Jesus associates following his teachings with being free from sin and receiving eternal salvation. One starts to realize that there’s a difference between people who claim to believe in Jesus and those who actually follow his teachings. It’s one thing to say you’re a Christian — it’s quite another to live like it.
So, where do I start? How do I become a disciple? Just start following somebody who has more faith than you do. The apostle Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” (see 1 Cor. 11:1) Find a man or woman of God who knows the Word and loves Jesus. They’ve probably been in ministry for a few years. They don’t have to represent a certain church or denomination. They don’t have to be famous. But whatever they are teaching must be in the Bible. You know a teaching is true if it lines up with the Word. And you know it’s good if it changes you.
As we discover different spiritual truths in the Word of God and begin to apply them to our lives we begin to change. To be a Christian takes more than just becoming a member of a religious institution – it takes faith. True Christianity is not a religion; it’s a relationship between you and God and other believers. The goal is to help each other to become more like Christ.
If you follow someone’s ministry or go to their meetings, don’t just go to see what you can get but go to see what you can give. Keep showing up. Learn as much as you can. Honor them. Support them. Don’t ever talk smack about them. If you think they’ve made a mistake or that they might be wrong about something, then pray for them and believe the best about them. And don’t quit. Stick it out, at least for a season. Think of it as your faith assignment. Your first faith assignment is to find your faith family.
We know from the Bible that Joshua was the forty-year-disciple. He served under Moses for four decades before he was anointed to lead the people. Moses was called by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the wilderness. Joshua was called to lead this same people out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land.
Elisha poured water over the hands of the prophet Elijah. Some Bible scholars believe that Elisha served Elijah for six years. However long it was, when the time came, Elisha inherited Elijah’s mantle and received a double portion of his anointing.
The disciples of Jesus were with him for three and a half years before they received the anointing (power from the Holy Spirit) which came upon them on the Day of Pentecost. In the Gospels we see the disciples making all kinds of mistakes and, at times, saying some pretty dumb things. In the book of Acts we see them as apostles going into ministry, walking in the power of God and changing the world.
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