I got an email in response to last week’s blog asking me if I could define the attributes of a disciple.  The thought behind it was that often times, we hear the word “disciple” and automatically think about the Twelve, the guys who followed Jesus.  We set the bar really high, and we never really imagine ourselves as disciples because we don’t necessarily fit those ideals.  I mentioned this to a friend who is also a pastor, and he recommended a sermon that he heard a few months back from Andy Stanley.

For those that are unfamiliar with Andy Stanley, he is the pastor of North Point Community Church near Atlanta, GA.  In this message, Stanley talked about how it’s pretty easy to be a Christian because as we look through the Bible, the word “Christian” is not really defined.  It’s found three times, and in each instance, it is really more of a derogatory term than anything else.  Because it’s not really defined, we can define it however we like.  However…

As we look through the New Testament, we see that Jesus did not refer to his followers as “Christians,” but as “disciples.”  Now, when we look at what it means to be a disciple, we find out that it is much more tightly defined.  I won’t go into too much detail on that in this post because I wrote down nearly 40 points about what it means; however, there is another word that Jesus uses when talking to people about being his disciples.  He consistently says, “Follow me.”  When we look at the places where Jesus says, “Follow me,” we see some pretty significant teaching about what that means.

In the gospel of Mark, there are at least four instances when Jesus says, “Follow me.”

  1. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” – Mark 1:17
  2. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.”  And he rose and followed him. – Mark 2:14
  3. And calling the crowed to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” – Mark 8:34
  4. And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” – Mark 10:21

From these four verses, we can see that a disciple is one who:

  1. Reaches out to others and brings them to Christ.  When Jesus tells his first disciples that he will make them fishers of men, he is alluding to Jeremiah 16:16, which is part of a larger segment pointing to the restoration of the people of Israel.  Jesus’ ministry was about restoration – restoring the broken relationship between God and humanity.  A disciple is one who joins in with this work by bringing others to Christ.
  2. Prioritizes Jesus over everything else.  Levi (also known as Matthew) was a tax collector.  Given the way the tax system worked at this time, a tax collector had to get a certain amount of money, but was able to keep the rest for himself  – with the full backing of the Roman army.  It was a pretty lucrative job, and Levi/Matthew was probably very wealthy.  But he gave it all up to follow Jesus.  A disciple is one who is willing to give up everything in order to follow Jesus.
  3. Faces difficult times with the knowledge that Christ is there as well.  We sometimes romanticize the cross, but we have to remember that it was an instrument of death.  Jesus calling people to take up their cross was not something that a lot of people were going to get behind because it meant that there may be difficult times.  A disciple is one who knows that there will be difficult times in this life, but still continues to follow Jesus.
  4. Do not hold too tightly to the things of this world.  A young rich man comes to Jesus and wants to be his follower.  His heart is in the right place, but he liked his wealth.  We are told that he walked away very sorrowful because he didn’t want to give up his wealth.  He didn’t follow Jesus because he didn’t want to give up what he had.  A disciple is one who realizes that there are more important things in this life than the things of the world.

As we strive to live out our mission (To Welcome All, To Follow Jesus, To Change Lives & the World), we need to know what it means to truly follow Jesus.  We talked this past Sunday about how our faith is seen by what we do.  In the same way, being a disciple of Jesus Christ, to follow Jesus, can only be seen by how we live our lives.  Spend some time in the Word this week, and see what else it means to be a disciple.