What is a disciple?
“And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” This passage sums up for us what it means to follow Jesus and be his disciples. On this day, the future followers of Jesus were out and about doing what they do every day and then Jesus stepped in to wreck their lives in a glorious way. Jesus doesn’t ask these men to follow him; he commands them to do so. Surprisingly, the men stop everything that they are doing, listen to Jesus, and follow him.
After this, Jesus leads the men and “disciples” them for three years before he asks his disciples to be disciple makers themselves. Now, I keep throwing around this word disciple, but what exactly is a disciple?
The first time I heard the word “disciple” I instantly thought of a cult. In my mind, I pictured people naively following a man who was leading them on crazy adventures, their lives ultimately ending in destruction by drinking some crazy juice or eating some “special” mushrooms! There is no doubt that there are some whack jobs out there, but this is not the type of discipleship Jesus is demonstrating for us. Jesus is not asking us to sip some Kool-Aid that will take us to a faraway place. He is simply asking us to respond to the inner call that we have on our lives to follow him.
By definition a disciple is “a convinced adherent of a school or individual.” A Christian definition of a disciple would go something like this: “A committed follower of Jesus Christ who seeks to live a life marked by continued growth in understanding and obedience.” With those definitions in mind, you may be asking yourself, “What would possibly make me want to do that?” or “Why would I want to follow Jesus and obey him?”
First let me say this: You should never feel forced to be a disciple of Jesus. When Jesus calls the disciples to himself in the above passage, he is giving us an example of how this whole discipleship thing works. In order for you to want to be a disciple of Jesus, you must first be called by Jesus!
You should desire to be led by Jesus, not out of compulsion, but because he has spoken to your heart. This desire to be led does not come from your pastor, friends, church members, or family. It comes from God alone.
For most of my life, I couldn’t have cared less about Jesus or any form of spirituality. If somebody asked me to be a disciple of Jesus I probably would’ve laughed in his face and thought that he was some kind of freak. But something changed in my early twenties. Jesus began calling me just like he did with the first disciples. He began asking me to stop what I was doing and start paying attention to him. With this calling from Jesus came a deep desire to know more about him and what it meant to be a follower of his. In the book of John, Jesus is adamant when he says we cannot and will not come to him unless God calls us to himself. So in order to want to follow Jesus, you must be called by Him first. This calling is an unmistakable inner prompting of the Holy Spirit and an unquenchable desire to follow Him. This is exactly what happened in my life, because by my own doing I never would have desired to follow Him.
Before we go any farther I want you to ask yourself these questions:
1) Has Jesus called you to follow Him?
If yes, why do you feel this way?
If no, you may as well stop wasting your time and put this book down now.
2) What do you think it means to be a disciple of Jesus?
Okay, if you are still reading, you feel called by Jesus to be His disciple. When a mother has a baby, she does not allow the baby to figure out life on its own. She walks with her child through all the stages of life. The mother takes advantage of every opportunity to train her child. In the same way, as a young follower of Christ, you are not expected to figure the Christian life out on your own either. You need a “spiritual mother.” You need a person/community to walk with you and train you during all the stages of your spiritual life. So now that you have an understanding of what the word disciple means, let’s begin to look at what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
A Warning to All Who Continue
Jesus does not call us to follow Him halfheartedly. Jesus expects us to live a life of sold-out abandon to Him. There is no room for Him to be second in our lives. Jesus expects us to put Him first in everything that we do. Listen to the words of Jesus: “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?’”
In this passage, Jesus is speaking of self-denial. Now, Jesus is not talking about having low self-esteem. As Jesus’ disciples we should have extremely high self-esteem the grace we have received from Him. Self-denial does, however, mean putting God and His kingdom first in our lives. The culture we live in does not have a high opinion of this type of thinking. In everything we see— whether it is on television, on the internet, or in a magazine that we read— we are constantly being preached at and told to pursue selfish desires no matter the cost. The lies of our culture are crippling. They tell us that true greatness is defined by what we look like, what kind of car we drive, what house we live in, or how fat our bank account is.
Sadly, many churches fall into the trap of this thinking as well. Many leaders will use the Bible to teach that God wants us all to be healthy, wealthy, and happy. The only problem with this thinking is the Bible. The Bible doesn’t teach this. For example, John 10:10 teaches us that God wants us to live an abundant life. This is an often-quoted text in churches that teach a false gospel. Let me ask you this question. If you are reading this book, you have had all of your sins against God erased. Because of this, you now have a life that will never end. You no longer need to feel guilt, pain, or shame because of your sins because they were all nailed to the cross. With this in mind, would that produce in you great joy? I would scream yes! Why? Because no matter what happens to me in this life— whether I lose my house, or have no money in the bank, or get terminal cancer— my life will be abundant because I am a child of the King and I will live forever with Him! Once you become more familiar with the Bible, you will begin to see a common trend that God’s people follow: They suffer, but they also have great joy because they worship a loving and gracious God.
Jesus never taught that our joy would be found in what this world has to offer; in fact, this is the opposite of what He taught. If we pursue selfish gain, then ultimately that leaves Jesus in the dust as we pursue earthly “stuff.” Jesus wants us to radically pursue Him, denying ourselves and the calls of a culture that has gone mad. The type of self-denial that Jesus demands of His followers should be visible in the way we live and it should lead to a rejection of self-centered arrogance and pride in our lives. Following Jesus means forsaking the very things in our lives that we hold valuable— the stuff that competes with Him and His kingdom.
Check out some of the claims that Jesus makes about a person that would follow Him.
1) The true follower Jesus will love Him more than anyone else—even one’s own parent or child.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
2) The true follower of Jesus will give up all of his individual “rights” to the King, together with any possessions, passions, people, or hobbies that might distract him from following Jesus. In losing these temporary, earthly treasures, the follower finds true worth, joy, and fulfillment.
“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
3) The true follower of Jesus doesn’t follow Jesus to receive “stuff.”
“And the scribe came up and said to him, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
4) The true follower of Jesus is willing to give up his possessions in order to follow Jesus and make Him known.
“’You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.’ Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
5) The true follower of Jesus is willing to leave behind all of his selfish pursuits in order to follow Jesus.
“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.”
6) The true follower of Jesus will look to serve others.
“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
7) The true follower of Jesus will filter all of his ambition in this life through what Jesus desires of him, pursuing Him and nothing else.
“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
8) The true follower of Jesus must follow Him!
“If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
Paul was a man who wrote 1/3 of the New Testament. His life started off as a complete mess. He was a very religious Jew who did not like Christians—in fact, Paul killed Christians and had them arrested. But then, like you and me, he met Jesus. Jesus changed his life radically. Instantly, Paul put the meaningless things that were in his life behind him because they no longer had any value to him. He no longer pursued selfish gain; instead, he was in pursuit of Jesus and His Kingdom and Paul used all of his strength to follow Him.
Suddenly, Paul was the one that was being abused and thrown in jail. But even in the midst of his struggles, he found great joy in being able to do Kingdom work. While in jail, Paul could sing praises to Jesus— not because he wasn’t suffering, but in spite of his suffering— and even though his freedom was taken from him, he still knew Jesus and that far surpassed any earthly satisfaction he could receive. Paul forsook everything in his life in order to follow Jesus, and it led him to say this:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal. 2:20
In the same way, our lives should be lived in a constant pursuit of our King. We should desire to use everything that He has given us to bring Him glory. This means our talents, resources, abilities, and treasures should all be given back to Him. Now I am not saying that we should live in a cardboard box and ride around on a bicycle. But what I am saying is that when we follow Jesus, we should not desire to work as much as possible in order to buy a huge house and an expensive car. We should be content with living a modest life and using the abundance that God has given us to further His Kingdom.
It is not easy following Jesus. We will have many ups and downs along the way, but what I can promise you is this: If you have been asking yourself “What is my purpose in life?” I can assure you it can be found in a life that is lived for the glory of God. It took me almost twenty-five years to figure this out. I attended three different colleges pursuing degrees that I had no interest in and the only reason that I pursued them was because of the payday that would come to me when I was finished. I chased material treasures like cars, clothes, and jewelry but at the end of the day those things never fulfilled me. I always knew there was more to this life and I finally found out what my life was for when I met Jesus. He radically wrecked my life— in a good way. I quickly learned that my life was not for me, but for Him and His glory. My prayer is that Jesus has wrecked your life as well, and that you will not get lost in the “pursuit of happiness.” That happiness will not be found apart from giving yourself fully to Jesus and His Kingdom.
Are you ready? Do you still want to continue? Are you sure you are cut out for this?
Verses to study
1. As you have gone through this chapter, what are your initial thoughts on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus?
2. Has Jesus called you to be a disciple of His?
If so, in what ways?
What is He communicating to you?
3. Do you have any reservations when it comes to following Jesus?
4. Go over the 8 “True Follower” of Jesus statements in this chapter. Where do you fall short? Where do you need the Gospel applied to your heart?
5. This chapter talks a lot about giving up “stuff” in your life for Jesus. Is there any “stuff” that you have not given up or are not willing to give up? Why or why not?
6. Do you have any questions about what you read?