Are you a true disciple of Christ?

As Christians, we claim that Christ is our leader and that we are His disciples. But do we really know what that means?

To understand better what it means to be a disciple of Christ, let's start with a definition and then ask four crucial questions. A simple dictionary definition of disciple is a student or a follower, a convinced adherent of a school or an individual. The questions we want to raise are the who, the why, the where, and the how of discipleship. These define the qualification, motivation, destination, and demonstration of being a disciple.

The who: the qualification of a disciple

To begin with, a disciple of Jesus is a student and follower of Jesus. When Jesus called His first disciples, He said, “‘Come, follow me,… and I will make you fishers of men'” (Matthew 4:19, NIV).

Some may define a disciple in terms of certain qualities or behavioral attributes, such as attending church regularly, paying faithfully tithes and offerings, making healthy lifestyle choices, being well respected in the community, witnessing persuasively on any point of truth, or working for a Christian organization or institution. These attributes may be present in the life of a disciple, but do not necessarily make a disciple. The real key to defining a disciple lies in a relationship. A true disciple of Jesus is a student, an apprentice actively learning from Jesus through firsthand observation and interaction. A disciple is someone who follows Him and is being shaped and molded by Him to do the kind of work that He does.

It's easy to find ourselves doing things that we think a disciple should do without really following Him. During the time of Jesus, teacher/student relationship meant that the disciple would follow the rabbi closely, do things as he did, speak as he spoke, imitate him so well that some might even mistake him for his teacher. Initially this might sound like a great goal for those who want to be known as disciples of Jesus. However, it is possible to act like disciples of Christ without really following Him.

The what: the motivation of a disciple

What motivates disciples to follow a particular teacher? What compels them? What is their driving force? In the Jewish community at the time of Jesus, the disciples of well-known rabbis hoped that being associated with the right teacher would give them prestige and standing in their community. Through their personal holiness they hoped to gain influence and prestige of their own, as they would someday become rabbis and have students clamoring to be just like them.

Not so with Christian discipleship. A disciple of Christ should have a different kind of motivation, one that has nothing to do with personal gain or accomplishment. The apostle Paul had a firsthand knowledge of what it meant to be a disciple of Christ. He wrote to the Corinthians that the motive for discipleship is not in oneself, but in Christ: “For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15, NIV).

When we come to Jesus, we accept that He died for us, and we are compelled to live a new life of being saved from sin. This new life is rooted not in ourselves, but in Him and for Him. Thus, a disciple of Christ is someone who is compelled by the love of God to follow Him and to be like Him.

Discipleship goes far beyond obedience, far beyond personal sanctification. Those things come as a natural result of an intimate student/teacher relationship with Christ. They are not the end goal of the discipleship process. If my focus is only on what's happening to me, then I'm still just living for myself.

Ask someone about his or her relationship with God. You may get a response somewhat like this: “Well, I read my Bible and pray, attend church regularly, listen to spiritual music, do my best to be a good person, avoid indulging in sin, and help others as much as I can. I'm not perfect, but I think I'm headed in the right direction.” But is following Christ simply about our own practices or observances, our own behaviors and philosophy, our own experience and insight? Could there be something more?

If we are going to follow Christ, and if we are going to live for Him, then I would like to propose two philosophic assumptions: (1) If I follow Christ, I must go where He is going; (2) If I live for Christ, I must live for what He lives for.

Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV). Discipleship is precisely that. The old is gone. The new has taken over. New life, new goals, new purpose.

Christian discipleship is a call to belong to Christ in the fullest sense of the word. We now join Him in a new pursuit. As His disciple, His destination is my destination, His motivation is my motivation.

The where: the destination of a disciple

The goal of Christ' life, His destination, is the reconciliation of the world to God (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19). He leads humanity into a restored relationship with God. As His disciples, our destination must be the same. Paul says that Christ has given us “the ministry of reconciliation” (vs.18). The meaning is clear. Just as Christ gave Himself even to the death of the cross in order to reconcile the world to God, so should our mission be. As disciples, we ought to give ourselves completely for this ministry of reconciliation; we are its custodians, its trustees, and it is our task as disciples to bring back to Him people for whom He laid down His life. This is what Jesus meant in Matthew 28:18-20 when He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (NIV). This is our destination, our goal, our purpose as His disciples: to bring others to a restored relationship with God through the knowledge that Christ has accomplished this reconciliation for them.

The how: the demonstration of a disciple

According to 2 Corinthians 5:18, as Jesus' disciple, I represent Him to the world and convey the message of His reconciliation. I make an appeal on His behalf. My demonstration is His demonstration. So what does my appeal communicate about Him? If I am a disciple of Christ, how must I go about the task of being an ambassador of reconciliation for Him? In the light of how much God was willing to sacrifice, what does that mean for you and me as agents of that reconciliation?

Is it possible that we have gotten so caught up in our own process of discipleship that we have forgotten our destination–our commission–to bring the message of reconciliation of God to others. We have been reconciled to God through Christ, therefore as His followers, we implore others, on His behalf, to be reconciled to Him. Christ's leadership is a pursuit. To follow Him means to follow Him in His pursuit. We are to appeal to the world on Christ's behalf.

That would mean that any of us who considers discipleship seriously should take an inventory of where we are as “followers of Christ.” Begin answering these questions:

1. Qualification:

Remember: “When someone becomes a Christian he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same any more. A new life has begun! All these new things are from God who brought us back to himself through what Christ Jesus did. And God has given us the privilege of urging everyone to come into his favor and be reconciled to him. For God was in Christ, restoring the world to himself, no longer counting men's sins against them but blotting them out. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ's ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:17-20, LB).

Leah Jordache serves as pastor for young adult ministries at the Loma Linda University Church in Loma Linda, California, U.S.A. You may contact Leah by visiting www.lluc.org or by writing to ljordache@lluc.org.