September 22, 2017

What It Really Means To Be A Disciple

By Charles G. Goodall

What does it really mean to be a "disciple?" We in the church speak of ourselves individually as Christians, or collectively as the church of Christ, even though other terms could also be used. We could refer to the church as the church of God or the assembly of God. It is fairly common to use the term "church members" to denote Christians, but we rarely use the word "disciple" to refer to Christians. We may use "disciple" when citing the passages about the Great Commission, and for years I guess I mentally made the substitution, correctly, of "church members" in that particular context. Similarly we might substitute the term "priest" in a passage which refers to our "reigning with Christ." In these instances we are substituting another descriptor which is true, and used elsewhere, but arbitrarily overriding the word as used in the context by the inspired apostle. Using my computer's "Find And Replace" edit function, I could take the New Testament text and replace "disciple" with the word "Christian." I am not sure, however, that the Holy Spirit would be pleased with my editing.

John 8:31: "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples."

When Jesus began his earthly ministry he chose twelve disciples who later became "The Twelve" apostles designated for a special work. Subsequently, Jesus described all his followers as his disciples. The Greek word mathetes from which we get our word disciple means "a learner." It "denotes `one who follows one's teaching,' as the `disciples' of John, Matt. 9:14; of the Pharisees, Matt. 22:16; of Moses, John 9:28" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of Words, 171). The apostles were prepared for a special work. They were to receive the promise of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:4, 2:1-4) and bind on earth what had been bound in heaven (Matt. 18:18). Jesus spent three years with the Twelve teaching and training them for a commission that would be described as sitting upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28).

Today, under the banner of "discipling," some groups such as the Boston movement (and Crossroads, their fore-runner) have mistakenly sought to subjugate men to their charge by teaching that converts must subject themselves to their religious leaders just as the apostles were subject to Jesus in his day. (See the Crossroads Heresy by the author for a more complete description of their concept of "discipling.") Two things are wrong with this assumption: (1) Today's religious teachers are not the Lord Jesus Christ who in the days of the New Testament chose the Twelve, and (2) The apostles finished their special work when they, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, introduced the gospel and penned the New Testament.

The disciples in the New Testament, who were not apostles, were simply "learners," following their "teacher," the Lord Jesus Christ. This is clear from the results that came from preaching the gospel recorded in the book of Acts. "And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7).

Love of the Savior

Matthew 22: 37: "Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind."

First and foremost, a disciple must have a love of the Savior. The apostle Peter emphasizes this attribute as a pre-requisite of those who would prepare themselves to teach others. "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (1 Pet. 3:15). We are sometimes ineffective in rallying others to be workers for the Lord because we seek to get others to tell about a Lord that they do not know them-selves. Those who love the Lord with all their heart, soul and mind will have no problem sharing their faith with others no matter how awkwardly their message is presented.

When a young man proposes to the one he has chosen to share his life, she understands his message even if poorly presented. His love for her is apparent and she is graciously complimented. Similarly, a disciple of the Lord who has sanctified Jesus in his heart, will present the risen Lord well (assuming he has made proper preparation) no matter what lesson he presents, be it a Jule Miller video or some other series. You see, when we love the Lord we wind up talking about him.

Disciples who love the Lord cannot help but teach others about him. They will feel as Jeremiah did in his day. "0 Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me. For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the LORD was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay" (Jer. 20:7-9).

Faith in the Message

Psalms 39:3: "My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue . . ."

Second, a disciple must have a deep faith in the message of the gospel to become an effective personal worker. This message is eternal. God, man, sin and the devil have not changed. Society and technology have changed, but our mission has not changed and our message cannot be changed. Our methods of presenting the message will change from time to time but a different method may not be better. What is right and works better is better. The message is to be taught whether it is accepted or not. Realizing and remembering this will prevent our getting discouraged when, despite all our efforts, the one we've taught does not accept the gospel. Even Jesus, near the close of his personal minis-try, found it necessary to explain the apparently small response to his teaching (John 12:37-41). He reminded them of Isaiah's prophecy stating that the day would come in which the workers would wonder aloud, "Who hath believed our report?" In other words, they were saying to Jesus, "Did I do my best"? When reassured that he had saved seventeen, his dying reply was, "I know, but If I could have saved just one more." In a spiritual way this should be the goal of every Christian ... Just one more!

Mind of the Spirit

Finally, a true disciple must have a mind of the Spirit, that is, he must be spiritual or spiritually minded. True disciples walk "after the Spirit" and have the "mind of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:4, 6). Paul said that the lost were best approached by the spiritual (Gal. 6:1). He would say that you who are spiritual are going to be those that are his disciples. A spiritual person is at peace with his own heart. "And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Be-loved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God" (1 John. 3:19-21). If our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.

Spiritual interests prevail in the lives of spiritual people. Spiritual people spend a large portion of their lives hearing gospel preaching, reading the Bible and related materials such as the Guardian of Truth, caring for the needy, visiting those that are in the hospitals and nursing homes, fellowshiping and socializing with those of like precious faith, talking about spiritual things and issues and, yes, seeking the lost. That is not to say that they don't enjoy a ball game now and then or a good movie, or even a party once in awhile. They may even read a good novel or go on a picnic when time permits. It is just that their whole lives are not dominated by ball games, movies, parties, novels, and picnics. Brethren if the thrust of our life is focused on carnal things, even if they are not wicked within themselves, then we are just not spiritual.

J.B. Phillips' translation of 1 Corinthians 1:17 reads this way: "Christ did not send me to see how many I could baptize, but to proclaim the gospel." Some in the New Testament era reacted with angry hostility to the preaching of the gospel (Acts 9:23, 25; 18:5-6; 19:8-9, etc.). Others were interested, but did not immediately obey (Acts 24:25; 26:27-28; etc.). Many believed and obeyed the gospel (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 6:7; etc.). All three reactions are found in Acts 17:32-34. It is clear that if we teach the gospel, whatever the apparent results, we will please the Lord. If we do not teach it, we can only expect condemnation.

Concern for the Lost

Consider: Our behavior indicates that we do not really believe people are lost and that we will be lost if we do not take the gospel to them.

Third, a disciple must have a deep concern for those who are lost in sin and who face eternal torment. We should be horrified at the thought that someone we know is going to hell. Jonah did not go to Nineveh because he was afraid of them. Examine what the record says: "Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?" (Jonah 4:10-11). Jonah was afraid that the Ninevites might repent and God would spare them. We need to be careful about wanting the wicked to get their due. Our lack of personal evangelism indicates that we do not really believe people are lost and that we will be lost if we do not take the gospel to them. More of our prayers seem to be "Come Lord Jesus" rather than "Just a little longer ... please Jesus . . . just a few more days to get our loved ones in." Paul expressed his attitude this way: "For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you" (Phil. 1:23-24).

A young man who died of exhaustion after pulling a number of people to safety after a terrible ship wreck, asked, "Did I do my best"? When reassured that he had saved seventeen, his dying reply was, "I know, but If I could have saved just one more." In a spiritual way this should be the goal of every Christian ... Just one more!

Mind of the Spirit

Finally, a true disciple must have a mind of the Spirit, that is, he must be spiritual or spiritually minded. True disciples walk "after the Spirit" and have the "mind of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:4, 6). Paul said that the lost were best approached by the spiritual (Gal. 6:1). He would say that you who are spiritual are going to be those that are his disciples. A spiritual person is at peace with his own heart. "And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Be-loved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God" (1 John. 3:19-21). If our heart does not con-demn us, we have confidence toward God.

Spiritual interests prevail in the lives of spiritual people. Spiritual people spend a large portion of their lives hearing gospel preaching, reading the Bible and related materials such as the Guardian of Truth, caring for the needy, visiting those that are in the hospitals and nursing homes, fellowshiping and socializing with those of like precious faith, talking about spiritual things and issues and, yes, seeking the lost. That is not to say that they don't enjoy a ball game now and then or a good movie, or even a party once in awhile. They may even read a good novel or go on a picnic when time permits. It is just that their whole lives are not dominated by ball games, movies, parties, novels, and picnics. Brethren if the thrust of our life is focused on carnal things, even if they are not wicked within themselves, then we are just not spiritual.

Guardian of Truth XLI: 21 p. 6-7
November 6, 1997

Share