Have you ever wondered what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus or how to follow Jesus as a disciple? Keep reading to find out what a disciple is and what a disciple does and doesn’t do, and the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus.
One night at church, we gathered in small groups to pray. A woman in our group prayed the most striking, and oddly beautiful, prayer I’d heard in a while:
“Thank you for putting up with our ridiculousness.”
The prayer resonated in my heart at the time and it still does. “Ridiculous” is not a term of flattery. Unfortunately, I fear there’s more of it in all of us than we’d like to believe, especially when it comes to living as a disciple of Christ. As much as I hate to admit it, I know there’s far too much ridiculousness in me.
What is a disciple?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a disciple is a follower of a teacher or leader and is one who assists in spreading and promoting the doctrines of the leader. A disciple spends time with the teacher and listens with rapt attention and the intention of learning what is taught. He (or she) makes an effort to be more like the teacher and to live out the way of life they are taught. The longer they are with Him, the more they develop the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus.
What are the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus?
Disciples are Learners:
First, disciples learn how their teacher lives and the lifestyle He recommends, then they put what they’ve learned into action in their own lives. Disciples do what their masters do and teach.
Jesus fasted, spent hours in quiet prayer and meditation with His Father, and loved sinners like us. He embraced the lost and the prodigals and called them to come home to their Heavenly Father. Jesus spent time with thieves, drunkards, and people trapped in all kinds of sexual sin. He loved them and when He told them to stop their sin they did.
Many of these lost people had no “church” experience at all before they joined Him as a disciple. Instead, they figured out how to be a disciple of Jesus as they listened, watched Him, and did what He did. Loved as He loved. Forgave as fast as He forgave. Served with abandon and humility.
First-century believers understood how to be a disciple of Jesus. They left their old lives behind and embraced the new lives Jesus offered. They tried to be like Him in every area. Theirs was not always an overnight, 100% perfect metamorphosis but there was an immediate change and progress over time.
Why did they change? Because they knew they could trust Him. They knew He loved them as they were but wanted more for them. Jesus invited them to know their Heavenly Father, inspired them to choose a different life, and helped them to change. He had both the power to forgive sin and the willingness to forgive it. No matter how vile the sin. He still does.
How to follow Jesus as a disciple? Say yes, not no.
The people who were a part of the religious establishment heard Jesus’ words and said, “I’m not doing that. I like my life the way it is.” They did the “religious” things people could see – fast, go to church, make public donations – but they didn’t love the lost, embrace the unlovely or spend time with people trapped in a lifestyle of sin. They didn’t want to do any of those loving acts, so they didn’t.
The Pharisees (the most religious people in the country) were hopelessly trapped in a lifestyle of prejudice, hate, and unrepentance. Worst of all, they wanted to stay trapped.
I do not want to be a Pharisee, do you?
I want to be the follower who says, “I’ll do whatever you do, Jesus,” but I wasn’t always that kind of person. There was a time when I was trapped in a sinful lifestyle. I was miserable but I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t happy. People probably didn’t want to spend much time with me for fear my sin would rub off on them.
I thank God for the people who cared enough to point me to Jesus. They kept on pointing me to Him until I saw my sin as He saw it, repented, and asked Jesus to save me. I shudder to think where I’d be if a few followers of Jesus had not loved sinners like me.
Love big and love all.
Our world is full of people trapped in darkness, trudging through life with a crushing burden of sin. They need someone to love them out of the darkness and into the light but most of them don’t even know a life of light and love is possible.
Unfortunately, many have experienced the judgmental, critical spirit so prevalent in the first century Pharisees. That same ugly spirit is alive and well in our day, too. It does not point them to Jesus, the Father, or His love. Instead, it offers only condemnation and rejection.
In a world filled with darkness and hopelessness, we can be the light-bearers. The way-leaders. The hope-givers. If we follow Jesus as a disciple, we not only can be light-bearers, way-leaders, and hope-givers, we must be. It’s not optional.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” means we love, even if our neighbor does things we don’t like. It means we love our neighbors even if we don’t like them. (Mark 12:31)
“Take up your cross and follow Me” means we follow, even if we don’t like where Jesus wants us to go. (Luke 9:23)
How to follow Jesus as a disciple? First, we must understand one basic principle: thehe life of a disciple is not about what we want or what the world offers. It’s about Jesus and what He wants. “Christian” and “disciple” should be synonymous.
If we are Christian, we live as a disciple.
It’s that easy. It’s that hard. Disciples abandon our ridiculousness, embrace our Savior who loves us all, even when we’re unlovely, and love the ones Jesus loves. It’s what we’re supposed to do, how we’re supposed to live.
How to follow Jesus as a disciple: Trade “I won’t” for “I will” and follow Him even when it’s hard.
Then He said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow Me.” Luke 9:23 NLT
Turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow Me. Does that mean we will be killed on a cross like Jesus? Not at all. Jesus came to earth to live a sinless life, die for our sins, and defeat sin and death by raising from the grave. The cross was the main purpose of His life but it was also the hardest work of His life but it was His alone. Only Jesus can die as the sinless lamb of God.
When we “take up our cross and follow Him,” we do the thing God placed us on earth to do. Jesus summed it up nicely when He spoke of the Greatest commandment. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. (Matthew 32:37-39) If we get the love part right, everything else will follow.
Do you identify as Christian? Do you want the love, peace, and joy Jesus offers? The next step is simple. Begin to live as a disciple, every day for the rest of your life.
How to Be a Disciple of Jesus: 7 Simple Steps
- Admit your sins to Jesus. Name them one by one. (We call this confession.)
- Turn from your sin. (Stop doing it) Ask Him to forgive you and commit to following Him.
- Learn all you can about Jesus by reading and studying your Bible.
- Each day, find one truth to focus on and live it out.
- Get involved in a Bible-believing, God-honoring church and participate as much as you can.
- Talk to God about everything and thank Him for all His blessings but be sure to listen for His gentle whisper. (We call this prayer)
- Invite your friends to have what you have in Jesus.
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