Discipleship According to Jesus

Editor's note: We're pleased to introduce you to a new regular contributor: Tim LaFleur, a pastor, ministry veteran, and friend of AMG. Tim's passion is for challenging Christians to make disciples who make disciples, and we hope his work will be an encouragement to you also.

"Fan or Follower"
Millions of people all over the world consider themselves to be "Christians." They may belong to a church, pay lip service to Christ, and believe intellectually some basic truths about who Jesus is. Yet they lack intimacy with Christ, are untransformed by His Word, and do not model their lives after His.

These are fans who admire Jesus from a distance rather than faithful followers who love Him, pursue intimacy with Him, and are being changed into His likeness.

The term "Christian" is used to describe a follower of Christ in the New Testament only three times, while the term "disciple" is used 262 times. Clearly, "disciple" is the preferred term for the writers of the New Testament.

What Does It Mean to Be a "Disciple"?
"Disciple" translates the Greek word mathetes. This word was used by Greek philosophers to describe someone who was a part of a fellowship of students (e.g. the disciples of Socrates). Jewish rabbis in Jesus' day also used this term to refer to the fellowship who studied diligently under their teaching (e.g. the disciples of Gamaliel).

So what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? A disciple is a growing follower of Jesus Christ who is learning and applying the truth of the Word, which leads to greater intimacy with God and results in life-change. There are so many people who claim to be Christians, but are not true disciples of Christ. How does this impact our ministry? What is the answer?

Let's consider the words of Jesus Himself as to the marks or character qualities of His disciples.

I. A Disciple Abides in the Word
"So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples'" (John 8:31). According to Jesus, you are truly a disciple if you "abide in [His] word." To "abide" in the Word, is to continue and remain in it. You get into the Word until the Word gets into you!

Paul shares this same idea in Colossians: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Col. 3:16). The word "richly" here literally means in full measure. Let the word burst out and overflow into every area of your life! How do you do that?

You do it individually by: 1) hearing it preached, 2) reading it. 3) studying it, 4) memorizing it, and 5) meditating on it.

We do it collectively through: 1) teaching-which here refers to doctrine. Pastor-teachers are to equip the saints for the work of ministry and the building up of the Body of Christ-and 2) singing-even when we sing we ought to proclaim the Gospel! The words we sing should be scripturally based and doctrinally sound!

II. A Disciple Surrenders to Christ
"And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? "Father, save me from this hour?" But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.' Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again'" (John 12:23-28).

Two observations are important as you examine the context of this passage: the glory of God and the Gentile inclusion.

First, notice that this passage is bookended by the glory of God (vs. 23, 28). Jesus will glorify the Father in His person and in His work. 

Second, it is important to see how Jesus responds to the Greeks (God-fearers) who are seeking an interview with Him. Based upon what Jesus said, I believe He met with them. Jesus spoke about "a grain of wheat." These Greeks would be familiar with this illustration because it was used in Greek mythology to refer to "new life."

It is in this context that Jesus refers to His resurrection and shares a timeless principle that is found throughout the pages of Scripture: "You must first die in order to really live." Like a seed, we must be planted and die, so that the life of Christ might "spring forth" in and through my life. John the Baptizer said it well in John 3:30: "He must increase, but I must decrease."

Paul also said it well in Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." A disciple is one who says "not I but Christ." That involves surrender, suffering, and self-denial.

III. A Disciple of Jesus Loves as He Loved 

Notice what Jesus says in John 13:34-35: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Jesus commands His disciples to love one another in the same way that He loved.

Notice also what John says in his epistle: "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death" (1 John 3:14). A disciple is assured that he is an authentic Christ follower if he loves other believers. The word used here is agape. That word describes a sacrificial love that seeks others welfare.

Later in John's letter, he confirms that God is the one who takes the initiative to love sacrificially for our ultimate welfare and that we are to imitate that kind of love. "Beloved let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:7-11).

Jesus also tells us that men could see the authenticity of our faith based upon our love for one another. In other words, those "on the outside" of the Church "looking in" can identify real Christ followers, dependent on their love for one another!

IV. A Disciple Abides in Christ
"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:14-15).

The word "abides" means to continue or remain in fellowship with. A believer is one who is in union with Christ and a believer who abides in Christ not only is in union with Him, but also is in communion with Jesus. Just as the branch abides in the vine to receive life because of all of the life-giving nutrients that help it to grow and bear fruit, so the believer abides in the True Vine-Jesus Christ. 

If we abide in Him, He provides all that we need to grow, mature, and live lives that are fruitful. Because Jesus is the source of life, we must abide in Him to live lives of abundance and fruitfulness. To be severed from the vine is death, but to abide is life!

V. A Disciple Bears Fruit through Christ
"By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples" (John 15:8).

One thing is certain: if I am faithful to abide in Jesus, He will be faithful to bear fruit through me. But what kind of fruit? Not only is there the fruit of seeing others come to faith in Christ, but notice other fruits Jesus describes in John 15: answered prayer (15:7), love (15:9), obedience (15:10), and joy (15:11)

When we abide in Him, we will bear fruit, more fruit, and much fruit-fruit that remains!

Tim LaFleur serves as Disciplemaking Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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