What is a Disciple?

Uncategorized // August 22, 2020 //

Moving forward as a church requires diligent planning and sacrificial, relentless prayer. But it also requires going back to the basics, establishing some foundations and defining some terms.

There is likely no better place to start than asking, “What is the purpose of the church?” That’s a valid question deserving of a biblical answer. Find your purpose and you find your cornerstone, which naturally leads to defining your mission. With those two in mind, I’ll then set forth a vision – a preferable future – of what an accomplished mission might look like. Let me ask you to think with me on this journey.

The purpose of every New Testament church is to bring maximal glory to God. Simply put, It’s All About Him! The church exists for the glory of God. Worship of God the Father in the name of Jesus the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit, is our aim. His glory is our goal. As the apostle Paul wrote, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36) We exist for God.

But what is our mission? That’s a different question from that of our purpose stated above. The question of mission seeks to answer, “What has God called us to do as a church and as Christians?” In other words, “Why has God left us on the planet?” I believe the answer is found in Jesus’ final words to his apostles. We know them as the “Great Commission.” Jesus said,

“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

The church exists for the glory of God, to worship him and enjoy him forever. But our mission is to make disciples. The mission of God to redeem “a people for his own possession” (Titus 2:14) has now become our mission. We as Christians have been called to cooperate (Co-mission) with God in taking the gospel to the nations and seeing his kingdom advance. Such a marvelous call and privilege. In Christ, you have eternal purpose.

In order to achieve the mission, we’ll have to ask a number of questions. Not the least of those is simply, “What is a disciple?” If we’re going to make disciples we have to first know who they are and what they do. Only then can we begin piecing together contextual methodologies of a disciple making process.

What is a disciple? For starters, a disciple is a follower, or a learner of Jesus. The word mathētēs (Gk: μαθητής) for “disciple” occurs over 250 times in various forms in the New Testament and is most literally translated as “student or pupil.” For example, “Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” (Matt. 5:1) It is interesting to note that the word christianos (Gk: Χριστιανός) we know as “Christian” only occurs three times in our New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). Thus, though “Christian” is an appropriate synonym, to speak of oneself as a “disciple” or “follower” of Christ is more biblically accurate.

In order to get a handle on the call to make disciples, I’d like to put forward no less than four aspects of biblical discipleship. In my opinion, a survey of the New Testament, specifically Jesus’ interaction with his disciples seems to reveal at least these four. Certainly we could name more, perhaps with even finer subpoints, but these four aspects seem to be the most fundamental.  When we are called to “make disciples,” we are called to make: worshippers, students, servants, and disciple-makers.

A disciple is…

1. A worshiper of God.

We are made to worship. As fallen human beings, we wrongly worship the created things instead of the Creator himself. (cf. Rom. 1:25). Through the gospel, we are given a new heart (born again), redeemed and re-made to worship rightly. We now live lives for the glory of God instead of our own. As Jesus said, his followers would “worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23)

2. A student of the Bible.

God is a God of revelation. He has revealed himself generally in the created order (cf. Rom. 1:19), and specially through the Word — the living Word (Jesus) and the written Word (the Bible). We come to know God through Jesus (cf. John 14:6) and what he has said through our Bibles. That is, when the Bible speaks, God speaks. We believe Holy Scripture to be: inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative, and sufficient. Therefore, disciples are students of the Bible. They grow in their knowledge of theology in order to rightly obey the teachings of Scripture and make its application their aim.

3. A servant of the church.

Disciples are never more like Jesus than when they are serving. Jesus is quoted in Mark 10:45 saying, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Yes, Jesus came with a chief purpose to die on the cross and “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21), but he also came to teach and to serve (cf. John 13:1-20; Phil. 2:7). That means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, one must learn to serve too. Christians have good works waiting on them “which God prepared beforehand” (Eph. 2:10). At the same time, God has given each of them a spiritual gifting (cf. 1 Cor. 12) for such service in the church. Therefore, it is our mutual responsibility to both serve one another (Gal. 5:13), and help one another discover our gifts, place, and service among God’s people.

4. A maker of other disciples.

In the Gospel accounts, when Jesus first called his disciples to himself, he said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt. 4:19) When he leaves them for heaven, he said “Go and make disciples.” (Matt. 28:19) What’s the connection? To follow Jesus is to have a disciple-making posture to our lives. It’s what we do. It describes our life. You may be a doctor, accountant, teacher, etc., but if you are a follower of Christ then you are called to be a disciple maker. You share the gospel. You teach the Bible. You equip for ministry. You multiply yourself. The language of the day is to “live on mission.” You build his kingdom, not your own. One transformed life at a time.

What is the purpose of the church? To glorify God.

What is the mission of the church? To make disciples.

What’s a disciple? A worshipper, a student, a servant, a disciple-maker.

How does that all fit together in one, concise thought? We desire to see people transformed by the gospel into fully devoted followers of Jesus. We are called to make disciples. To see people changed from worshipping their idols to worshipping their Creator. From having no knowledge of God to abiding in Christ through his word. From living for oneself to serving the Lord in ministry. From building the kingdoms of this world to building the eternal kingdom of Christ. It’s that simple. That’s our preferable future for our church collectively, and for every soul that enters the door of Coats Baptist. Mission accomplished. Disciples made. That’s a vision worth considering.

About Neal Thornton