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What it means to be a disciple of Jesus

The word 'disciple' comes from the Greek word 'mathētēs' meaning a learner. A disciple was not only a pupil, but also a follower, and thus he was referred to as an imitator of his teacher.  Jesus tells us that we are His disciples if we hold to His teaching, [1] which He summarizes as: "A new commandment I give you: love one another. As I have love you so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." [2]

In discussing discipleship, there are three key thoughts:


1. God has predestined Christ's disciples to be conformed to His likeness.
2. A disciple, as an imitator of His teacher, must follow His example in order to become like Him.
3. Following Christ's example inevitably leads to the Cross.

1. "For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son." [3]

In Genesis God revealed His purpose in the creation of man when He proposed to make a creature in His image and likeness. [4] It is God's nature to be independent of everything but Himself, therefore if man is to bear His image and likeness, man must have the free choice to "make himself." God gave man life, but He also gave him the power of a free will to choose whether he wanted to appropriate everything that God made available to him. In the Fall man demonstrated his choice, but God did not give up His purpose.

He sent His Son to earth as the express image of the invisible God. [5] In working out God's eternal purpose for man, Christ had to do two things: First He had to reveal in His life the likeness of God in human form, so that we would know what it was we were to expect and accept from our Redeemer. Secondly, He had to die, be resurrected and ascend to heaven so that He might impart to us His own life as the life of the likeness of God, and give us the power to walk in that life. We can derive hope from the thought that God has predestined us to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. If such likeness is His purpose for us, we can rest assured in faith that He will work in us both to will and to do according to His purpose. [6]

2. Jesus said, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." [7]

The power of an example depends on two things: its attractiveness, and the personal relationship and influence of the person in whom the example is seen.

2.1 The attractiveness of the example

Our eyes need to be opened to see the heavenly beauty of the likeness of the only-begotten Son. In Him we see how God would act were He here in our place on earth. In Him all the perfection of the heavenly world is revealed in the form of an earthly life. When we look upon Jesus,  we see His obedience to the will of the Father; His humility in being a servant of the most unworthy; His love as manifested in the sacrifice of Himself for others. If we do not see the intrinsic excellence of His example, then we need to be delivered from our sinful selfishness, which will bring on us the condemnation of "Depart from me ... I never knew you." [8]

2.2 The power of a personal relationship

Because of our faith in the atonement of the Cross, our fellowship with God has been restored. Jesus commands us to do as He has done for us. He humbled Himself as low as humiliation could go in "taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness ... and became obedient to death," [9] and He did this to bless us and show His love for us. If we indeed know the love that reached us through humiliation, and the power of the cleansing it brought us, our only response can be, "Yes Lord, even as You have done for me, I will do also." But the living experience of what Jesus is to me now, more than the remembrance of what He once did for me, will give me the power to act like Him. Only as His love is a present reality to me, only as I yield myself to let His love and power flow into me and through me to others, only then can I fulfill the command of loving like Him.

3. Jesus told us, "Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me, cannot be My disciple." [10}

Jesus died on the cross as our Redeemer  so that by His blood He might atone for our sins. But that is not all. He commanded His disciples to deny themselves, to take up the cross and follow Him. [11] Paul, in his letter to the Romans, explains that Jesus' blood deals with our sins, but that His cross must deal with us as sinners. We sin because we are sinners, and thus we need to be delivered from what we are. And since we received our sinful natures at birth, the only way out is death.

We need to recognize that God has already dealt with us in Christ. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." [12] But how could I have been crucified 2000 years ago before I was born? Because God has put me into Christ: "Of Him (of God) are we in Christ", [13] so that when we were "baptized into Christ Jesus (we) were baptized into His death." [14]


But we must notice an important distinction: Although I have been crucified and am dead, my sinful nature (my 'self', my 'old man') did not die on the cross. I died with Christ and received new life; but my 'self', my old nature, is not yet dead and continually seeks to assert itself. Therefore the disciple of Christ must live as a crucified one in whom Christ lives, but at the same time he must treat the 'self' and the world as nailed to the cross by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our crucifixion is past and we already live in Christ, but the cross must still work in our lives to gain victory over our 'self' with its selfishness.

The redemption of the Cross thus consists of two parts: Christ's crucifixion for us as our atonement; and our crucifixion, our bearing the cross with Christ, as our sanctification or tranformation into His likeness. Both parts of our salvation come to us by faith alone. We must realize that motives cannot supply the strength for imitating His example. We will again be brought under the law of "ought to" but "cannot". [15] Christ's example is not something outside of us, but the living Lord Himself who will work in us what He first gave us to see in His earthly life. If we submit ourselves to Him in faith, He will manifest Himself in and through us, "immeasurably more than all we can ask or think." [16]


Let us see what we can learn from the experience of Peter the apostle.

He gave up all he had to follow Jesus: He was obedient to Jesus' word; [17] he was a man of great faith who walked on the water; [18] he had spiritual insight and recognized Jesus as the Christ. [19] And yet he denied his Lord. How was that possible?

Peter had left his boats behind but not his old self. The life of self was so strong in him, that he thought he had a right to the first place among the disciples. [20] He trusted himself and his own thoughts about divine things to the extent that he rebuked Jesus when He spoke about His coming sufferings and death. Jesus aptly summed up Peter's spiritual condition (and ours?) when He told him, "You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men." [21] Jesus continued by telling His disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." [22]

Peter had not heeded this command. The root of true discipleship is to utterly deny self and its every claim. There is no other choice for us; we must either deny self or deny Christ. It was self that made the devil; it was self that caused the fall of man. If self is not crucified and put to death, we will ultimately deny Christ and die the second death of eternal separation from God. The choice is ours, for God has given us a free will. Let us decide today to deny self, take up the cross and follow Jesus, so that in losing our lives for Him we will truly find our lives in Him.


1.  John 8:31
2.  John 13:34-35
3.  Romans 8:29
4.  Genesis 1:26
5.  Colossians 1:15
6.  Philippians 2:13
7.  John 13:15
8.  Matthew 7:23
9.  Philippians 2:7-8
10. Luke 14:27
11. Matthew 10:38; 16:24
12. Galatians 2:20
13. 1 Corinthians 1:30
14. Romans 6:3
15. Romans 7
16. Ephesians 3:20
17. Luke 5:4-5
18. Matthew 14:28
19. Matthew 16:15-17
20. Mark 10:34
21. Matthew 16:23
22. Matthew 16:24-25


1. Murray, A. Like Christ, U.S.A.: Whitaker House, 1983.
2. Murray, A. Absolute Surrender, U.S.A.: Whitaker House, 1982.
3. Nee, W. The Normal Christian Life, Eastbourne, G.B.: Kingsway Publications, 1961.
4. Nee, W. Love not the World, Illinoise, U.S.A.: Tyndale House Pub., 1968.
5. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.
6. Thompson's Chain-Reference Bible (N.I.V.)
7. Vine's Expository Dictionary of N.T.Words.


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Posted in: Bible by on March 17, 2012 @ 1:07 am

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