Characteristics of a Disciple

In Matt 28:18-20, Jesus commissioned His disciples to make disciples of all nations. But who is a disciple? If we do not know our objective ... what is the finished product ... then we would not know what is the process needed to accomplish it! Therefore, to develop a strategy for disciplemaking, we need to define our goal.

Meaning of "Disciple"

The word "disciple" can be used in a descriptive sense of anyone who is a follower of another in a teacher-student relationship (John 1:35; 2:2; 9:28; Matt 22:16; Acts 9:25). The general "disciple" was probably replaced by the specific "Christian" to denote a follower of Christ (Acts 11:26; 26:28).

The Gospels present a spectrum of disciples with different levels of commitment:

  1. Professing faith - curious crowd that did not last (Luke 6:17; John 6:66)

  2. Possessing faith - convinced group (Matt 16:13-14,24)

  3. Progressing faith - committed few (Matt 10:1)
Specifically, Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple (John 19:28) and Peter was ashamed to be known as a disciple of Jesus (John 18:25). Who then is a disciple? Just about anyone!

In John's Gospel, Jesus gave three prescriptive characteristics of a disciple ... what a disciple should be.

Abiding in God's Word
31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him,
"If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;

32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
John 8:31-32
Seemingly, some Jews declared their faith in Jesus who then began teaching what constitutes true discipleship.

To abide in God's word is to remain or to hold fast the teachings of His word. Discipleship is not a simply a decision of belief at some point in time but an ongoing process of following ... of obedience to His word. The result of abiding in Christ's word is freedom ... spiritual freedom from the bondage of sin (John 8:32,34 cf Psa 119:9-11).

Bearing Fruit
4 "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.

5 "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

6 "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.

7 "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

8 "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

16 "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.
John 15:4-8,16
Fruit-bearing is the proof of discipleship (v. 8) because a believer has no fruitfulness apart from his union and fellowship with Christ. In fact, a branch out of contact with the vine is useless (v. 4,6)

Loving One Another
34 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another,
even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples,
if you have love for one another."
John 13:34-35
This characteristic of love is the distinguishing mark to the world that one is a disciple of Christ (cf 1 John 3:23; 4:7-8,11-12,19-21). The words "as I have loved you" (cf John 15:12-13) give the standard of love ... sacrificial love ... with which the disciples should love one another.

A Strategy of Discipleship

Now that we know the finished product, how do we develop a believer into a disciple?

My Continual Development as a Disciple

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Alan's Gleanings | Copyright © August 2007 by Alan S.L. Wong