Discipleship 101: What is Discipleship?

March 2, 2017 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

This is part two of a multi-part series exploring discipleship in the local church. Jesus declares in his final, “great” commission that his followers are to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The mission of the church is to make disciples. As followers of Christ, we are to be disciples and to be making disciples. What is involved in discipleship? What does discipleship look like in our individual lives and for our church?

I started last week by jumping into this topic of discipleship by considering what the Bible teaches as the goal of discipleship. As Paul says in Galatians 4:19, the goal of discipleship is “Christ formed in you.” Christ is our only salvation and righteousness. We are being conformed to the image of Christ. With the goal of discipleship set before us, let’s consider what is discipleship.

1. Discipleship, or being a disciple, is first conversion. Describing Paul’s missionary activity, Luke writes in Acts 14:21, “they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples.” This is implied in Jesus’ “great commission” in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” If the goal of discipleship is Christ formed in you, then discipleship begins with the initial reception of the good news and believing the truth of Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection. There are no two-tiers of Christians: converts and disciples.

2. Discipleship is a process of learning. The root word of disciple and discipleship simply means “to learn.” Jesus even states that “teaching” is part of the means to make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). Paul, on numerous occasions, explains that knowledge and learning were essential to our faith in Christ (see, for example, Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:20-23; Col. 3:16). The learning encompasses who Jesus is, what he has done, what he requires of us, and for what we look forward. All of these are vital for the initial faith commitment and they are vehicles for deepening our faith in Christ.

3. Discipleship is a process of modeling. Jesus invited his disciples to follow in his footsteps (Mark 8:34). Paul invited his disciples to follow in his footsteps (1 Cor. 11:1). The writer of Hebrews calls us to imitate our spiritual leaders (Heb. 13:7). Paul encourages Timothy, a young pastor, to be an example for the believers (1 Tim. 4:12). And Paul challenges older women to “train” younger women in the faith (Titus 2:3-4). The process of learning Christ was never meant to be a mere intellectual enterprise. The truth of Christ is meant to transform our lives. The example and call of the New Testament is that transformed lives grow in a church community that is modeling renewed life in Christ.

Are you a disciple of Jesus? Are you actively learning about Jesus, his work on your behalf, and his call on your life? Are you putting into practice what you learn? Do you have models and examples to follow as you seek to walk in the newness of life in Christ? This is what discipleship is and the means for forming Christ in you.

Are you making disciples for Christ? Are you praying for specific people that they would come to faith in Christ (and so become a disciple)? Do you share the hope of the gospel with people who need to hear it? Do you help teach others (in your family, in your church) the glorious truths of Christ and his work? Do you provide an example for others to follow? This is discipleship.


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