What is a Disciple?
Do you want to be excellent at everything you do? Do you feel the pressure to balance being the perfect dad or mom, student, professional, church member, neighbor, friend, and the list goes on? I know for me, life often feels like wearing a lot of hats, trying to be the best at these I can possibly be. Life becomes about how many hats I can wear well, or how many plates I can keep spinning without letting one fall. What’s discouraging is when one of my plates, or responsibilities, seems to slip to the point of failure. Is this the right perspective? As believers, we should be careful not to see ourselves first and foremost through the lens of our responsibilities or even the many hats we wear, like dad, mom, professional, student, etc. What we come to realize is that we are primarily defined by being a disciple. In many ways this should provide a substantial amount of freedom in a life marked by many responsibilities. To know that while we feel the weight of wearing many hats, Christ has called us to wear one hat, that of a disciple. This is freeing because Christ doesn’t call us to perfection in every area of our lives, He calls us to be faithful disciples. What a relief? Discipleship is then about bringing all areas of life under the Lordship of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit through the gospel. As we see ourselves as disciples, God desires that every other area of our lives would be framed under the umbrella of what it means to be a disciple. So, instead of feeling the weight of needing to be the perfect dad or mom, professional, small group leader, pastor, or friend, we should ask the question, “how am I to be a faithful disciple in these areas of my life?” Typically, the quest for perfection in the areas of our lives comes from a horizontal pressure. Either, we want to please someone, or we want someone to be impressed by us. Whereas, the life of a disciple is first vertical in the sense that we seek to honor Christ as a faithful follower in the areas of our lives. As we follow Christ, He gives us everything we need to be all that He has called us to be.
After talking about our lives as defined first by being a disciple, how should we understand our discipleship? In thinking through how we are to live as disciples I like to ask the question, “what does it mean to be a disciple of Christ?” Typically, we answer this question in several different ways with one main commonality. The commonality is that we view being a disciple first through the lens of what we do. It is certainly important to remember that followers of Christ have specific commands to follow in Scripture, and things we should be doing, but we must be careful not to define ourselves first on what we do, but who we are. I would like to propose a simple rhythm for living as a disciple. The rhythm is in this order: Identity, Response, and Assurance.
As we said earlier, the life of a disciple is not first about what we do but it’s first rooted in who we are. When we consider our lives, we should first come to conclusions about our identity; what God says to be true about us. Understanding our true identity as disciples is wrapped up into who God is and what He is done. Being a disciple is not primarily about a list of rules or rituals, but an essential relationship. Everything flows out of this relationship.
How then do we identify?
- We are now children of God- Ephesians 2:1-3 says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” This passage paints our former picture, but now we see a different one. In 1 John 3:1 we are called to “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” As children of God we are always reminded of the “kind of love” our Father has lavished on us because we know what we used to be. It is important to remember as disciples (who often fail), that God is always delighting in you. His delighting in us always precedes us and it always outlasts us. He never stops delighting in us, and His delight is not dependent on what we do. This picture is clear to me when I think about my kids when they were newborns. My wife and I were (and are still) so proud of them and nothing they could do could make us love them more. This was good for them because they really couldn’t do much as newborns. Newborns, as cute as they as they can be are really just consumers. They eat and sleep, and that’s about it. This is just a small picture for the way God loves us even though we constantly fail to contribute to the relationship. He never stops delighting in us.
The second rhythm for a disciple is to respond to who God is and what He has done. As we look at our identity as children of God we see the love of the Father always delighting in us, and this leads us to a response. The life of a follower of Christ is a life of response. We respond to who God is and what He has done through Christ and in our lives. As we begin to trust Christ as the Lord over our lives we respond to Him by the way we live. Here are some ways we respond to God through the way we live.
- We respond by imitating God - Since we are children of God, we are called to imitate Him (Follow Him). Ephesians 5:1-2 says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This word “imitate” is a great word when we think about being disciples. When we follow someone we begin to imitate the things they do. I would encourage you to spend time thinking, what are some ways we are to imitate God? We are to be about the same things he’s about, have the same heart He has, and act toward others in accordance with the way He has acted toward us.
- We respond by obeying all that He has commanded- As followers of Christ we are called to do what God has said. Matthew 28:19-20 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” A lot of times we see the call to observe all that God has commanded and think that we are supposed to teach others all the commands of Christ. But the key word is “observe”. As disciples, we are called to observe or obey all that Christ has commanded us. Here are some questions to consider. What about your life would be different if you obeyed everything Christ commanded you? Think about your relationships, your job, and your family. Secondly, many of us talk about obeying all Christ has commanded, but do we really know the commands? Let’s examine the Scriptures to see what Christ has commanded us to follow. Then, diligently seek to obey these commands with the Spirit’s help.
- We respond by growing in our personal relationship- A call to follow is not primarily about list of rules or rituals but to a relationship. Christ wants to be the premier relationship in our lives.
- We respond by forsaking all else- Matthew 4:19-20 - “And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Following Christ is not adding Christ to your life; it is subtracting everything else for Christ. The call to follow Christ is a call to sell out for Christ.
- We respond by dying to ourselves daily- Oswald Chambers famously said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” As Christ followers, we are called to embrace the cross. Embracing the cross is being willing to have nothing but Jesus.
- We respond by helping others to do the same- A simple definition for disciple making is, “following Christ and helping others to do the same.” As a follower of Christ, we are called to make other disciples. The good news which came to us is too good to keep to ourselves. If we are being transformed by it, we will desire that others receive it for their life as well.
Following Christ starts with our identity in Christ and leads to our response to Christ. No matter what you think, it is important to be mindful that we will not perfectly follow Christ. We will experience failure. When we fail, we can rest in the assurance we have as children of God. There are countless passages of Scripture we could turn to for assurance, but here are two that I like to keep in mind when I think about God’s power over my failure.
- Ephesians 2:4-10 – “ButGod, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,not a result of works, so that no one may boast.For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
- We are not our own construct or creation. We are God’s workmanship, which He is molding, shaping, and forming to the exact degree to which will please Him the most. As we fail, we can rest in the assurance that God will not fail in making us into exactly what He wants us to be. Paul Tripp said, “We have a relentless redeemer who is unwilling to forsake the work of His hands.” We are His workmanship, not our own, and we can derive a lot of rest in this truth.
- Philippians 1:6 – “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
- What He started, He will finish. How many times have you said, “I feel like I’ve taken two steps back in my faith?” Sometimes we feel like we are walking off the path or taking steps back on the journey of following Christ, but based on the assurance of Scripture, we can know that each day we live is another day closer to God completing us into Christlikeness regardless of our failures.
So, to wrap it all up, remember that your life is first and foremost marked by being a disciple. Being a disciple is not about perfection in every area of your life, but of faithfulness to Christ in every area of life. Remember not to think too quickly about what you do, but rest in who you are (Identity). In the same way that the Christian life is a life of response, you too respond to who God is and what He has done by the way you live your life. Finally, in all this, remember that we have an assurance based not in what we do, but who we are as children of a loving Father. When we follow daily rhythms, like this, we will have a better understanding of what it means to be a disciple.