Do you know what a disciple is? This is one of the terms we commonly hear in the church, but what exactly does it mean? Who qualifies as a disciple, and what’s required to become one? It’s a term Jesus often used when calling people to follow Him, and before He ascended to the Father, He told His followers to make disciples of all nations.
The word disciple means a learner, one who follows another’s teaching. Although a variety of definitions have been used to describe this relationship, I would define a disciple as one who’s accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, yielded to Him as Lord, and received Him as one’s very life. A disciple is someone who can say, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
All disciples are Christians, but not everyone who attends church is a disciple. Those who simply listen to sermons without applying what they learn or sharing their faith are not disciples. A true disciple hungers for Christ and His Word and as a result grows in his or her Christian life.
A true disciple hungers for Christ and His Word and as a result grows in his or her Christian life.
Many churches today are more focused on numbers than discipleship, but Jesus was never impressed by the crowds that followed Him. In fact, He sometimes made difficult statements that caused the people to leave Him. This was the situation in Luke 14:25-33. When large crowds were following Him, He told them what was required to be His disciple.
First of all, our loyalty, love, and devotion to Christ must supersede our love for everyone else. “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” (Luke 14:26). Christ is not advocating that we should hate our family members. He’s making a contrast between degrees of love. To be Christ’s disciple, our obedience to Him takes priority over what our loved ones may expect or desire.
Throughout history, Christians have had to make hard choices in order to follow Christ, and we may be required to do the same. At one point in my life, I had to make a decision that resulted in misunderstanding, criticism, and opposition from people I love. Although it was a very painful experience, I learned what’s demanded of a disciple of Christ. Sometimes our choices will look ridiculous to those around us, but disciples must be committed to obedience to Christ no matter what the consequences might be.
The second requirement for a disciple is death to self. “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27). Sometimes we think our cross is an illness, problem, or heartache we must bear, but that’s not what Jesus meant. The cross was an instrument of execution that resulted in death.
Sometimes believers must die in order to stay true to Christ, but most of us will probably not be called to a sacrifice so extreme. However, every disciple must undergo the death of the self-life. We are no longer to live as we did before salvation. Instead of being attached to our former sins and lifestyles, we are to attach ourselves completely to Christ. We must be available to obey Him in whatever He calls us to do and in whatever He says we are to surrender. Any time we put qualifiers on our obedience, we are not acting like Christ’s disciple.
Third, discipleship is costly (Luke 14:28-32). Jesus used two stories to illustrate this truth. He described the importance of counting the cost before building a tower and of evaluating an army’s strength before going to war. Many people will sign up for an easier gospel that promises them only benefits, but that’s not the message Jesus preached. When He called His disciples to follow Him, they left everything behind and devoted themselves fully to Him. They and countless other disciples throughout church history have endured hardship, suffering, and persecution, yet today we sometimes mistakenly assume the Christian life will be easy.
The fourth requirement for discipleship is full surrender of all we own. Jesus said, “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33). When a rich, young ruler came to Jesus and asked what he should do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told him to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor (Mark 10:17-22). He knew this young man was attached to his possessions, and that’s what was keeping him from wholeheartedly following Christ.
Although Jesus doesn’t call all of us to literally give up everything we own, we must recognize that God is the owner of all we possess, and we are just the caretakers. Therefore, we should hold everything loosely. A true disciple of Christ walks through life with a detachment from the things of this world in order to become fully attached to Christ.
Discipleship is what God desires for each of us. And the rewards of being Christ’s disciple are worth every sacrifice. Yes, the cost may seem high, but Jesus hasn’t left us to manage on our own. He’s given us His Spirit to guide and empower us and has promised that He will be with us to the end of the age. So take comfort in His faithful presence.
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. Isn’t it wonderful to know that Jesus is our Teacher in every situation we face? Let this truth encourage you when you’re uncertain about a direction or decision. If you’re His disciple, you can trust that He will guide you on your path and teach you His truths along the way.