What is Discipleship?
To many, the word “discipleship” is actually quite confusing – like the words “fellowship,” “propitiation,” or even “Hallelujah.” Now, Christians know they need to be disciples and to disciple others, but what does it really mean? What exactly does discipleship look like?
Put plainly, a disciple is someone who follows Christ and teaches others to do the same. They’re humble enough to learn from and obey Christ, but also aware that they need to lead and teach others who Christ is and how to follow Him. They have a healthy balance of “student-teacher” as they speak and listen to both Jesus and others.
Before Jesus ascends into heaven after His resurrection, He says this to His disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
In this passage we are given three key truths in regards to discipleship; 1) the recognition of authority, 2) the duty of making disciples of all nations, and 3) an unwavering awareness of Christ’s presence. Let’s look at these more closely.
Recognition of Authority
This not only is the first step in discipleship, but the first step in salvation. In fact, Adam and Eve’s first sin was birthed from a lack of understanding authority. And it makes sense, right? We all want to be in authority over our lives!
We’ve even come to a place where we feel we have the right to pick our gender, our orientation, and even our death. We have this natural inclination to want to be “god” over our lives, and it’s all because of the sin we inherited from our first father Adam. We want to be in authority.
However, in order for anyone to follow Jesus, two things must occur: firstly, a recognition of Christ as Lord, and secondly, a denial of self. Disciples are called every day to deny themselves, pick up their crosses, and follow Jesus, yet this won’t happen if they haven’t deemed God as their authority.
So, the first step in discipleship is recognizing that God’s the one in authority. What does this look like practically? Surrender everything.
The Duty to Make Disciples of All Nations
Jesus says to go and make disciples of all nations. In other words, go and teach people who Christ is, what His commandments are, and how to follow Him, while modelling a life that’s doing just that – and don’t be afraid to cross borders. This action is specifically accomplished in a multitude of ways based on someone’s context. This could look like befriending a homeless person and talking with them for 5 minutes, to pastoring a church with over 5,000 people!
Anyone can be a disciple, anywhere, at anytime.
The question is, though, how? You might be thinking, “I’m a full-time student, I’m drowning in papers, and when I’m not at school I’m working to make ends meet…and I just started dating someone…how can I be an effective disciple?” Well, one pastor says: discipleship isn’t something you just “do.” You don’t work a certain amount of hours each week set aside for discipleship.
If you’re thinking, “I don’t have time for discipleship,” then that’s the issue. Truth is, discipleship is life.
A disciple wakes up in the morning and goes to be fed – spiritually. Every day he or she reads the Word and prays to Jesus – learning His commandments and obeying them. His or her ultimate goal for the day is not merely finishing a paper or doing a report at work, but modelling what it means to follow Christ, and sharing the gospel with whoever you feel led to. A disciple knows they have earthly responsibilities, and they do them well – but at the end of the day, they know that everything they’re doing is for the glory of God, which models to others someone who follows Christ.
Discipleship is life in the sense that even if you’re doing the most mediocre task, you’re modelling what it looks like to follow Jesus in that task.
An Unwavering Awareness of Christ’s Presence
We may look at the gospels and think, “How great it must have been to grow as a disciple with Jesus right there – right beside you.” The thing is, He still is! Sure, He’s not on earth as a man anymore, but the Holy Spirit is inside us. The very Spirit of God works in and through us as our Helper and our Counsellor who convicts us, gifts us, and speaks for us – all for the purpose of growing us as disciples and discipling others through us.
The awareness of His presence will help you take the burden off yourself, as you simply let the Spirit guide you and your actions throughout your day. I say “simply” in the sense that we don’t have to figure out what’s the best thing to say or do, but we allow the Spirit to do that for us. Our entire lives are a journey where we get better at following that path of guidance.
So, discipleship really shouldn’t be a word to be afraid of or confused about. It’s just someone who follows Christ and teaches others to do the same. And in order for us to see discipleship more clearly, we need to be reminded daily of God’s authority over our life (and everyone else’s), the duty we have to share the name of Jesus, and Christ’s continual presence.
Discipleship is life.