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What does it mean to be a disciple?

Millions of people worship Jesus as Lord. But who is a disciple?

The term “disciple” originally means a pupil (of a teacher) or an apprentice (to a master craftsman). Many people believe they have become disciples of Jesus when He has forgiven their sins. Indeed, we were dead in our trespasses, yet through forgiveness He made us alive together with Him. (Colossians 2:13)  However, forgiveness of sin is not discipleship. Once we have received atonement for our sin and are reconciled with God through Jesus’ death, we come to the starting point in following Jesus’ example in His life.

Our teacher and forerunner

“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.” Luke 6:40. A disciple of Jesus enters a life-long learning process to live the same life as Jesus lived. The life of Jesus is the perfect expression of God’s will. He never sinned. This was not because He was born with a divine nature that cannot be tempted. Throughout His life, He personally went through a training process to do God’s will instead of His own.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:5-8. Jesus had to learn to discern God’s will, and had to learn obedience (Hebrews 5:7-8). His whole life, He said, “Not My will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42; Hebrews 10:5-7) Each day He was tempted in all points as we are. (Hebrews 4:15) Yet He chose to humble Himself and suffer in the flesh (deny His self-will, the demands from sin in the flesh), instead of giving in to sin. (Philippians 2:8; 1 Peter 4:1) As a result of this incredible faithfulness, He committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth. He never fell out of love, purity and goodness! This is the teacher, the forerunner whom disciples have as their example, to follow in His footsteps (1 Peter 2:21-22)
(For more about the Jesus’ life, read the Essentials topic: Christ Manifested in the flesh.)

The way Jesus walked was a hidden life with God, where a work was taking place in His human nature, His flesh. On this way He overcame sin in the flesh and was able to fulfill the incredible plan of salvation for mankind. (Romans 8:3-4) Because Jesus Christ took upon Himself human nature, and this work of condemning sin in the flesh took place in a human being, His disciples, who have the same nature, can now follow Him on this way, regardless of their background, personality, location or the time they live in. (Hebrews 2:10-18)

A disciple’s attitude to sin

Just as their Master, disciples of Christ commits to doing all God’s will, instead of giving in to the sinful lusts and egotism in their own flesh. Jesus had a radical attitude concerning sin. (Matthew 5:27-30) His disciples are exhorted to have the same mind. (Philippians 2:5; 1 Peter 4:1-2) It is far easier to give in to sin than to deny our lusts. If we have done something wrong, the easiest is to defend ourselves and make excuses. But as a disciple, we learn that God’s will is to acknowledge the truth (John 3:19-21), humble ourselves (James 4:6-10) and to judge ourselves instead of blaming others (Matthew 7:1-3). To fulfill His words, we must love God’s will so much that we give up our own will, or as Jesus put it, our own life, which is the inclination to sin that is inherent in our human nature. (Luke 14:26-27) Without this radical attitude, we cannot overcome sin, and cannot be Jesus’ disciples!

The greatest motivation

“… let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2. Jesus’ joy was that He would have disciples who live the same life, and come to the same divine nature. He looked forward to having brothers who would be able to share all His inheritance that He received from His Heavenly Father! (Romans 8:16-17; Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:10-18)

The greatest motivation for disciples is love for Him who loved us first (1 John 4:19), and who gave His life for us, even though we know we can never repay the undeserved grace they have received.

“For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.  Disciples will not be satisfied with a sluggish attitude to use the forgiveness of sins as an excuse to continue to give in to lust and sinful desires. The goal Jesus has set for us, is to be perfect just as our Father in heaven is perfect! (Matthew 5:48)

There will necessarily be sufferings in this incredible process of being transformed from a sinful human into the perfect image of Christ. But, with Christ as our example and the love of Christ compelling us, we as disciples continue to “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14. This prize is to be like Him, and see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)

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