When you hear the word “disciple”, the first thing you might think of is Jesus’ twelve disciples. Twelve young men who followed Jesus while He was on earth. They learned from Him, spent time with Him, and ate with Him. After Jesus returned to Heaven, the twelve disciples spread the news about Him. Some even went on to write some of the books of the Bible.
But are they the only disciples? Certainly not. As a Christian, we are called to be Jesus’ disciples. But what is a disciple? What does the life of a disciple look like? These are questions that I have been trying to answer along with a group of college students that meet to study God’s Word and grow more like Him. The following is what I have learned while having discussions with the group, studying different scriptures, and seeking God’s guidance for my life.
First, what is a disciple? The word can be defined as a student. Jesus’ twelve disciples learned from Him during His ministry on earth. After Jesus returned to Heaven, the disciples went out and made disciples of other people by teaching them about Jesus. We are students of God’s Word, and we are called to spread the news about Jesus and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). But before we can go out and make disciples of others, we must first learn to be a disciple ourselves.
“If anyone comes to 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. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” – Luke 14:26-27
“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” – Luke 14:33
These verses are pretty clear that if we value anything, even our own life, more than following God we cannot be His disciple. That word “hate” used in Luke 14 actually comes from the Greek word for “lesser love”. The scriptures are clear that we are to love one another (Romans 12:9-10). What God is saying in these verses is if we love our family, our own life, or our possessions more than Him, we cannot be His disciple. Jesus was calling His disciples to be so devoted to Him, so in love with Him, that their love and attachment for anything else would seem like hatred by comparison.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” – Matthew 16:24
I have thought about this verse for the last couple of weeks asking God to show me how to live it out. I kept asking, “What does someone’s life really look like if they took up their cross and followed Jesus? What would it look like to sacrifice my own life, giving it completely to Him?”
When I started meeting once a week with a group of young adults, this was what the leaders talked about. We talked about what a disciple was and what the life of a disciple would look like. I was amazed that we began talking about the very thing that I had been thinking and praying about for a couple of weeks. God is amazing.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. – Romans 12:1
We talked about the cost of being a disciple and the sacrifices we must make. In Luke 14:26-33 and Matthew 16:24, Jesus is clear that there will be a cost to following Him. He never once said that it would be an easy, free ride. It will cost us something. Matthew 16:24 says that we must deny self and take up our cross. We must sacrifice all the desires of our flesh and follow Jesus. We must surrender whatever control we think we have over our own lives. For each person, the cost to follow Jesus will be different. Some may be called to leave their family behind and move to another country, or they may be called to sacrifice an unhealthy relationship. Others may be called to give up some of their time to serve and help others. The possibilities are endless. God won’t ask us to surrender just one small part of our life. He wants our whole life. He wants you and me completely and fully devoted to Him.
The leaders asked everyone in the group what God was calling us to sacrifice. For me, I knew God was showing me that I needed to sacrifice my own wants and desires. I knew He wanted me to give up doing whatever I wanted to do and instead do something that wasn’t necessarily fun. Something that would help someone else. But even more than that, I knew I should do those things gladly and with a cheerful heart. It’s one thing to help my family with something and do it with a bad attitude. What kind of message would that send about me and about God? Not a good one. Our actions and the choices we make reflect back not only on ourselves, but on God and what people may think about the Church. So for me, I know that means I need to work on looking out for opportunities to serve others even when it may not be the thing that I really want to do and do so gladly.
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, preserving in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another, do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:9-21
I found these verses while studying the first couple of verses in Romans 12. I had been asking God to show me what a life fully devoted to Him looks like, and there it was clearly written out in Romans 12:9-21. God’s instructions for following Him and being His disciple are not limited to these few verses though. We can find clear instruction and examples of people who followed Him all throughout the Bible.
As I mentioned at the beginning, a disciple can be defined as simply as a student. As Jesus’ disciples, we are called to have a close and intimate relationship with Him through prayer and diligent studying of His Word. It is through studying His Word that we can learn more about our loving Father, what He requires from us, and what it means to be His disciple.
I want to encourage you to seriously think, study, and pray about what it means to be a disciple. It is not something to be taken lightly or done blindly. What does being Jesus’ disciple look like in your own life? What sacrifices is God calling you to make?