The word disciple means "taught" or "trained one", akin to our modern word "apprentice", and from which we get "discipline". The word first occurs in Isaiah: "seal the law amongst my disciples" (Is 8.16)"; again, "the Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned (disciple)" (Is 50.4); and yet again, "taught (disciplined) of the Lord" (Is 54.13). Discipleship is therefore clearly linked with the word and will of God. This meaning is carried over to the New Testament: "…his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying…" (Mt 5.1-2); and, "make disciples...teaching them to observe all things" (Mt 28.19-20, RV).
Every believer needs to become a disciple; it should follow conversion. Salvation is coming to the Cross and trusting Christ; discipleship is bearing the Cross and following Christ. A disciple is simply a "follower". There are many believers, but few disciples. In the Lord's day, there were those who "went back, and walked no more with him", provoking the Lord's searching question to the twelve: "Will ye also go away?" (Jn 6.66-67). The challenge of discipleship is open to all, but taken up by the few, and we read of a young disciple (Acts 16.1); an old disciple (9.10); a female disciple (9.36). This is but a brief outline of discipleship to provoke thought on a most important subject.
The Foundation of Discipleship
In Luke 14.26-35 the Lord addresses the crowd, but appeals to the individual (v.35). His terms are severe, uncompromising, and challenging. The conditions are threefold, and they are essentials not options.
His person must captivate the heart. "If any man come to me, and hate not his own father, and mother…he cannot be my disciple" (v.26). The word "hate" is relative, for of course we must love our family members, but Christ must take first place and be supreme in our affections - is He? Love to Christ, as ever, is basic to our faith. No one and nothing must compete with His claims. Few of us pass this first test!
His path must characterise the walk. "Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (v.27). The Cross delivers us from self, the flesh, and the world (Gal 2.20; 5.24; 6.14). Discipleship is a one way journey following the steps of the Saviour, and involving some rejection and reproach in this present evil world.
His plans must control the life. "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple" (vv.28-33). The two illustrations given by the Lord of "building" and "battling" are most apt, for the disciple's life consists of both in the spiritual realm; we need to "count the cost" of total commitment. Compare the Lord's words in Matthew 11.28-30: "come unto me" - direction of the heart; "Take my yoke upon you" - decision of the will; "and learn of me" - dedication of the mind. The disciple will experience toils, trials and tears, but the recompense is inestimable. Do we live for the Master, learn from the Master, labour for the Master?
"He is no fool, who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose" (J Elliot).
The Freedom of Discipleship
"If ye continue in My Word, then are ye my disciples indeed" (Jn 8.31-32). The Word of God is the disciple's charter, manual, map and compass to guide through the moral maze and spiritual darkness of this world (1 Jn 2.14). The disciple must read it, study it, meditate in it, obey it and live in it (Josh 1.8). Devotion to and continuance in the Word is the mark of a true disciple. The knowledge of it will enlighten and emancipate the soul from the power of sin, superstition, deception, worldly pleasures and passions - "ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free".
The Fellowship of Discipleship
"Love one another" (Jn 13.34-35). Three times the Lord Jesus repeats this injunction, for the importance of love cannot be overestimated; it is the overriding principle of our faith. Without it whatever we do or say is worthless, useless, and valueless (1 Cor 13.1-3). "Love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God" (1 Jn 4.7). Observe then the edict of love (v.34); the example of love (v.15); the effect of love (v.35). Thus, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another". Does the world recognise us as His disciples?
The Fruitfulness of Discipleship
"Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples" (Jn 15.8); this is the ultimate objective - glorifying the Father. The secret is abiding in Christ, cultivating the inner life of communion and meditation, and expressing it in witness, work, and worship; this produces spiritual growth and results in the "fruit of the Spirit" which is "love, joy, peace...". In a word, it is Christ likeness, and it begs the question, "How like the Master are we, His disciples?"
All for Jesus, all for Jesus!
All my being's ransomed powers:
All my thoughts and words and doings,
All my days and all my hours.
-Mary D James