We cannot be effective disciple-makers without understanding the characteristics of a true disciple.
The five traits in this profile are based on Jesus’ own statements about true discipleship. Each one should help define the task of disciple-making. This is not all that could be said about the identity of true disciples. Another great profile is found in the beatitudes (see: Matthew 5:1-12).
A true disciple is:
1. One who openly confesses Jesus Christ (Matthew 10:32-33; Mark 8:38; II Timothy 2:12-13).
Jesus said it plainly, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
A true disciple goes public for Jesus Christ. It’s a contradiction to be a disciple of Jesus incognito. We cannot go under cover for Jesus (Mt. 10:32-33). Of course, Jesus addressed the temptation to hide our testimony (see: Matthew 5:13-16). He did this directly after declaring the persecuted to be blessed.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
We must resist the temptation to conceal the light of our testimony and instead occupy strategic places of influence like well-lit cities on a Palestinian hill in the dark of night.
“A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow Him.” (Bonhoeffer) (See: prayer for boldness, Acts 4:29-31).
2. One who obeys Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20; John 8:31; cf. 14:15; 15:14; Luke 6:46; cf. Matthew 7:21 w/12:46-50.
According to Jesus, obedience distinguishes merely professing disciples from true disciples. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” (John 8:31). Discipleship without obedience to Jesus is unthinkable! “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord and do not do what I say?” (Lk. 6:46). “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21; cf. 12:46-50).
The very work of disciple-making necessitates some measure of accountable relationship toward wholehearted obedience to Jesus Christ.” Mt. 28:20 “…teaching them to obey whatever I commanded you.”
A discipleship program that lacks this concern is surely misguided! (Author of “The Disciple Making Pastor” and “The Disciple Making Church” writes “If we have not taught obedience and encouraged it through accountability, we have not discipled” (Bill Hull). (cf. I Cor. 8:1ff). Disciple-making accountability is: “Helping people keep their commitments to God.” The obedience is to Jesus not to man.
Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
An amazing thing happens to a person at Salvation. The moment one receives Jesus Christ (John 1:12), the Lord transfers him out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear son (Colossians 1:13). And, in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, we become fellow citizens with all other sons and daughters of God. We join the family of God. And, “Whoever loves the Father, loves the child born of him” (I John 5:1). Love for other believers is a distinguishing mark of a true disciple of Jesus.
We are members of His body (Eph. 5:30). We are members of one another (Ro. 12:5; cf. I Cor. 12:24-27). Sometimes our union and identification with Jesus Christ even places a strain on earthly family relationships (Mt. 10:34-37). Our wonderful union with other believers is also offset by a sense of alienation from unbelievers (I John 3:13-14; cf. Mark 10:29-30- Giving up/ receiving).
- There is no such thing as discipleship in isolation.
- Discipleship and individualism are mutually exclusive.
- Part of the evidence of this love is a clear desire for fellowship with other believers.
- This love will be experienced when in the company of true believers.
- Sin vandalizes shalom/peace; redemption restores shalom/peace through reconciliation (Ephesians 2).
- Our love must be more than warm feelings of enjoying the company of Christians. It must be evidenced in serving one another (Galatians 5:13). The love Jesus had in mind in John 13 was sacrificial love. It is an active, measurable, humble service of other followers of Jesus. It is foot washing love.
There is too much superficiality in Christian relationships. Jesus envisions a community of believers who are deeply dedicated to each other. Their sacrificial love for one another becomes a compelling witness to a watching world (cf. Jn. 17:20-23). Sadly, too few Christians have genuinely known such community. Part of the problem is that many professing Christians wait for it to come to come to them instead of living it toward others. This kind of community life isn’t easy to sustain and this is, perhaps, another reason why we don’t see much of it. We tend to want things the easy way.
The apostle Paul admonished believers to “make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Maintaining biblical community requires hard work, dedication and deep sacrificial love (Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:23-25). It also takes dedicated leadership (Hebrews 13:17; I Peter 5:1-4). Remember: our witness to the world is inseparably related to our community life (Phil. 2:14-15). Francis Schaeffer called it the final apologetic. And, it is equally true that few things will promote more cynicism and skepticism than disunity and unloving relationships among professing followers of Jesus.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and know God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love (I John 4:7-8).
4. One who suffers for Jesus Christ (Luke 9:23; I Peter 2:21; 4:1; John 15:18-21; Matthew 5:11-12; Mark 8:34-35; 10:29-30).
Jesus could not have said it more plainly “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Following Jesus involves daily readiness for martyrdom.
Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.” (John 18:18-21)
In 1883, one faithful witness for Christ was suffering for her Lord and wrote the following from her prison cell:
“Jesus was crucified…Ever since that day, men have tried to find an easier way, but the easier ways fail. If you would win thousands who are without God, you must be ready to be crucified: your plans, your ideas, your likes, and you inclinations. Things have changed, you say, there is liberty now. Is there? Go and live Christ’s life, speak as he spoke, teach what he taught, denounce sin wherever you find it, and see if the enemy will not turn on you with all the fury of hell…Christ wasn’t crucified in the drawing room. His was no easy- chair business…Do you shrink from being hated, misrepresented and spoken evil of? It is time you were crucified…”
Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecute the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:11-12)
The book of Acts records the first wave of persecution that came over the church. The apostles were beaten for proclaiming Christ and “They went on their way rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41; cf. Phil. 1:29; 3:10).
Many years later, the Apostle Peter wrote to the believers who were undergoing intense persecution from Rome:
“But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God.” (I Peter 4:13-16)
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you leaving you an example for you to follow in his steps.” (I Peter 2:21)
“Since Christ suffered in the flesh- arm yourselves also with the same purpose.” (I Peter 4:1)
“Are we ready, then to bear the pain of being ridiculed, the loneliness of being ostracized, the hurt of being spoken against and slandered? Indeed, are we willing if necessary to die with Christ to popularity and promotion, to comfort and success, to our ingrained sense of personal and cultural superiority, to our selfish ambition to be rich, famous, or powerful?” (John Stott)
Am I a Soldier of the Cross?
We must be sure that every new disciple of Christ understands the place of suffering in the Christian life.
5. One who becomes like Jesus Christ (Lk. 6:40; cf. Rom. 8:28-29a; 13:14; Gala. 4:19; I Jn. 3:2-3)
Not cultural conformity but conformity to Christ in attitude, actions (humble-minded servanthood, Mk.10:45: Lk. 22:24-27;Jn.13;Phil. 2:3-9; II Cor. 8:9;) and values (eternal in focus, Matthew 6; II Corinthians 4:16-18; I John 2:15-17).