Following Christ, Serving Christ- What is Discipleship

1 Corinthians 3:23 [para.]: “I belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”

The discipleship is a pupil, a learner, an apprentice. The ancient Greek philosophers had pupils who were to keep alive the ideas of their teachers after their death. Jewish rabbis also developed schools of interpretation which were to be promoted by their learners, and the disciples of JESUS are similar to the disciples of the rabbis. The disciples of Jesus were of a somewhat different nature, however. In contrast to the rabbinic system. Jesus took the initiative and called to himself those he wanted. Moreover, the task of Jesus’ disciples was to bear witness about him rather than simply to receive and transmit his teachings. Jesus was more than their teacher; he was their Lord.

John 8:31 is important in understanding the Christian concept of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. The “true disciple” abides in his word.

A disciple is one who “believes in” Jesus (John 2:11; 20:24-29).

Matthew states it somewhat differently:

The true disciple is one who hears the words of Jesus and puts them into practice (Matt. 7:24).

This commitment to Jesus shapes the entire life of the disciple. But spiritual fellowship is possible without personal contact with Jesus; all who possess the the Spirit abide in Jesus’ word and are thus true disciples (John 14:15ff. ; 15:26-27). The early church employed the word disciple (as well as other words such as “believer,” “brethren,” “saints,” etc.) to refer to Christians in general and not just to those who knew Jesus personally. The Greek word translated disciple (“leader”) could convey the idea that Christianity was simply a philosophical movement, but the notion of intellectual adherence without direct commitment is foreign to NT thinking. A disciple is one who “follows” his master. In the OT era the idea of following could bring to mind the procession of the devotees of pagan cults behind the images of the gods. The concept of following was avoided in describing what it meant to be devoted to Yahweh. The transcendent Yahweh cannot be “followed” in the sense that pagan gods can. In the NT the term “to follow” is used almost exclusively in the Gospels. Disciples leave all to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28; Luke 5:11).

To follow him is to participate in the salvation which he offers. To follow him also implies participation in the fate of Jesus (Matt. 8:19ff. ; John 12:25-26).

Furthermore, following Jesus is not simply a private or individualistic attachment to Jesus; it is life in community with others who have heard the same call.

The evangelists do not hesitate to show that Jesus’ disciples are capable of serious failure. The disciples lack faith (Mark 4:40), misunderstand the power of Jesus (Mark 5:31), and are described as having hardened hearts (Mark 6:52). Clearly, discipleship is not a life of perfection.

Luke emphasizes certain dimensions of discipleship. Jesus is active in prayer and urges his disciples to follow his example (3:21; 5:16; 9:18; 11:1-13; 23:34). Jesus has women followers (8:1-3; 23:49) and takes the side of the marginal or disinherited in society (7:36-50; 15:1, 2). Luke is particularly interested in the numerous statements from Jesus regarding money and wealth.

Wealth appears to be a significant barrier to following Jesus (12:13-34; 14:25-33; 16:19-31; 18:18-27).

Question for further thinking

1. Head

  • Do you agree that “discipleship” is a strange word? What unusual and unique demands does discipleship make on us?
  • Do you live your life differently because you believe in Jesus? What differences do you think others might see in the life of a Christian when compared to a non-Christian? Do you think there should be differences in the way Christians and non-Christians line their lives?
  • Which areas of your life contribute most to your self-identity, to the way you understand yourself? Where do you feel like you most belong? Are there places where you feel alone or isolated? Do you feel it’s more important to belong to something bigger than yourself?

2. Heart

  • Do you feel like Jesus is relevant to your everyday life today? In what ways?
  • Are there any places in your life or in the world around you where you feel you can see Christ and his disciples at work?
  • Do you feel like you belong to a community where you can grow into a deeper understanding of Christ wants you to live?

3. Hands

  • Which faith disciplines (Bible reading, prayer, service…) do you feel you are doing well with in your own life? Which ones do you feel weaker in? Is there any help/thing you need to build up that skill?
  • Which faith disciplines are already strong in our church community? Which disciplines could we encourage church members to grow in?
  • Discipleship is not always easy. It “involves us in suffering because it opens us up to a broken world.” Have you had any difficult experiences trying to be a disciple? How could those situations have been avoided?

What have I learnt about my identity in Christ?

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