Discipleship, Part 2: What is a Disciple?
A disciple is a Christian, and a Christian is a disciple. One problem with our modern obsession with compartmentalizing things is that we acted as if there were two kinds of people in the Church: Christians (the ones who “asked Jesus into their heart”) and Disciples (the ones who are more serious and, uh, disciplined about their faith).
This isn’t a biblical distinction. There is no such thing as a Christian who is not following Jesus. There is no allowance for someone to have Jesus as their Savior, but not Jesus as their Lord. There is no such thing as a Christian who does nothing but sit around, passively absorbing content. The word “disciple” is used 230 times in the Gospels and 28 times in Acts. It is, by far, the most common way of referring to the people who followed Jesus and placed their faith in him.
The essence of being a disciple is to follow Christ. More than that, it means a daily response to Jesus’ invitation, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
This following is comprehensive. It means to follow Him in everything, even unto death. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” There is no room for easy decisionism where genuine discipleship is concerned. Robert Webber tells us that the early church’s process of discipleship was so rigorous that it could take years before an individual would be a full member of the community.
To be a disciple is to obey everything Jesus taught us. It is not merely to give cognitive assent to a set of truths. It is to belong to a community. It is to be increasingly conformed to Christ, by grace. It also means joining him in his redemptive mission, and heeding his sending/discipling commands, including Matthew 28:18-20 and John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you!”