What Is a Disciple?
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
The word Christian appears only three times in the New Testament. We all may have heard various explanations of what the word Christian means. Clearly this term was first introduced when followers of Christ were no longer only Jewish, and the movement began to sweep out into the Gentile world.
The word disciple appears 261 times in the Bible. It is used to designate those physically present with Jesus while He was on earth.
“To be a disciple was to have been with Him, learning to be like him. That is the foundation of discipleship. To be with someone and learning to be like that person.”
This is one of several thoughts I’ve pondered as I’ve read the book, Renovated: God, Dallas Willard, and the Church That Transforms, from neurologist and theologian, Jim Wilder. It has much to say about what makes someone a disciple.
“For Jesus, to disciple someone was to teach that person how to live their life in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is God in action. So, to say ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God’ is to invite us to be caught up in the action of God and the kind of righteousness that comes with that… the basic idea of being a disciple, in the New Testament, is being with Jesus, learning to be like Him.”
Of course, after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, “with Him” takes a different form. But the meaning of disciple is still the same. A disciple is someone who is with Jesus and learning to be like Him. “Disciple” is a status. Spiritual transformation is a process toward becoming more like Jesus.
If a disciple of Jesus is defined as one who is “learning from Jesus how to lead my life as He would lead my life if He were I,” then we must ask ourselves, “Is that me? Have I chosen that? And if I have chosen it, what am I doing to carry through with it?” And how am I inviting others along on that journey with me?
“Discipleship is not for the church; the church is for discipleship. And discipleship is for the world.”
But we can’t do the things Jesus said without learning to act in God’s power – the Spirit is indispensable. “We have to stop trusting ourselves and what we manage and manipulate and learn to trust God.”
Trying to become more like Jesus will lead to failure and frustration if it is only a matter of our will or a decision we make. So, we must start by seeing salvation as more than a ticket to heaven. Salvation is rather an invitation to begin a life with Jesus and to keep growing in our love attachment with Him.
–Galen Burkholder, CEO, Global Disciples
 Renovated: God, Dallas Willard, and the Church That Transforms, by Jim Wilder, NavPress, 2020.
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