I have often wondered, what is a disciple? This question began to come to the forefront of my mind as I have started to try to develop a culture of discipleship at NCPC. As we think about the three fold vision of NCPC, Worship God, Live in Community, Serve our World, discipleship is typically looked at as falling under Live in Community . But, discipleship falls into all three area, and because it falls into all three areas it is an integral part of NCPC’s mission and work.
Today, I want to explore the question I posed above, What is a disciple? It is important that we get the answer to this question nailed down before we move onto more discussion on the topic of discipleship. Now I don’t claim to know everything about being a disciple, or discipleship in general, but this discussion is helpful to get us started down the path to discipleship.
What is a disciple?
A “disciple is basically the pupil of a teacher.” This is a good starting point, the pupil of a teacher. We see this definition at work all around us. We say, “Well so and so is a disciple of what’s his name”, and we generally understand what that person believes, their stances on positions, and who they look up to. As this word applies to business, or school the teacher/leader may not even know the disciple, but the disciple does everything he can to know the teacher.
But in Christianity, this idea falls short, and as I propose a working definition for a disciple of Christ the distinctions will become clearer. I want to take a look at three items that help to define (in part) what a disciple of Christ is. Three of the things that define a disciple are:
- Calling by Christ
- Commitment to follow
- Fellowship with Christ, and the Church
Calling by Christ
The disciple of Christ is called by Christ to follow him. While Christ walked the earth he called people to follow him. We see this pattern laid out in the gospels, as well as Acts (calling of the Apostle Paul). Jesus calls, and the disciples drop what they are doing and follow him (Matthew 4:18–22; Mark 1:16–20, 2:13–17, 3:13–21; John 1:35ff; Acts 9). This is how Jesus makes his disciples, by calling them, and they are bound to repent, believe in the gospel, and follow (John 10:1–19). Jesus knows his disciples, they know him, and he calls them out by name.
This ties discipleship to our salvation. In his book Christ's call to Discipleship James Montgomery Boice said this,
But I say at the outset that the arguments of the following chapters are essentially one thesis, namely that discipleship is not a supposed second step in Christianity as if one first becomes a believer in Jesus and then, if he chooses, a disciple. From the beginning discipleship is involved in what it means to be a Christian. (p 16)
Commitment to follow
As we all find out eventually, following Christ comes with a cost, it is not easy. We have read of the cost of being a disciple of Christ as he called the rich man to sell everything, give it to the poor and follow Christ (Mark 10:17–31). We have heard of the call to leave father, mother and family to follow Christ (Luke 9:57–62). Now, Christ is not calling his people to a life of poverty or solitude, but he is saying that with the call to follow, and worship him comes the call to denounce the idols that can trap us.
But the one call that summarizes Christ’s teaching on the cost of discipleship is found in Matthew 16:24–28 where Christ says, “If any one would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me…” Now it would take up too much room to fully explain this passage, but what Christ is calling his disciples to do is sacrifice what he himself sacrificed. But the beauty of this call to costly discipleship is that Christ has fulfilled this command for you, so even though you will never do these things perfectly, Christ has and his record is yours.
Fellowship with Christ and the Church
Growth in God’s kingdom does not happen in a vacuum. God has given each believer a new family (Mark 10:17–31: other believers are who we gain as brothers and sister and mothers) who are to care for each other. Paul Tripp has a lecture series out on this topic and I love the title because it captures this thought so well Your walk with God is a community project.
We are made for community, we are called to encourage each other. But God also gives us the visible church and the means of Grace (Word of God, the Sacraments, and Prayer) for us to grow in Christ. By these means we fellowship with each other and with Christ.
So are you a disciple? I will be writing more in the following weeks to help to explain and encourage you to take hold of the reality that, if you are a Christian you are a disciple, and to encourage you to get involved in either discipling or being discipled.