How Does the Bible Define Discipleship?

What discipleship means to followers of Jesus Christ

Discipleship Definition
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Discipleship, in the Christian sense, means to follow Jesus Christ. Everything involved in discipleship is spelled out in the Bible, but in today's world, that path is not an easy one.

Discipleship Definition

  • A simple definition of discipleship is found in The Lexham Cultural Ontology Glossary: "The process of training people incrementally in some discipline or way of life."
  • The Gospel Message in the Early Church presents a more detailed explanation of biblical discipleship: "Becoming and being a flourishing follower of Jesus who embodies the character of Christ by engaging in a lifelong, personal pursuit of holistic transformation and doing so within a like-minded community of faith that’s corporately committed to being and making other disciples."
  • And finally, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible gives this description of a disciple: "Someone who follows another person or another way of life and who submits himself to the discipline (teaching) of that leader or way."

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus tells people to "Follow me." He was widely accepted as a leader during his ministry in ancient Israel, large crowds flocking around to hear what he had to say.

However, being a disciple of Christ called for more than just listening to Jesus. He was constantly teaching and gave specific instructions on how to commit to discipleship.

Obey My Commands

Jesus did not do away with the Ten Commandments. He explained them and fulfilled them for us, and he agreed with God the Father that these rules are valuable.

"To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples." (John 8:31, NIV)

He repeatedly taught that God is forgiving and draws people to himself. Jesus presented himself as the Savior of the world and said whoever believes in him will have eternal life. Christ's followers should put him first in their life above everything else.

Love One Another

Jesus said that one of the ways people would recognize Christians is the way they love one another. Love was a constant theme throughout the Lord's teachings. In his contacts with others, Christ was a compassionate healer and a sincere listener. Certainly, his genuine love for people was his most magnetic quality.

Loving others, especially the unlovable, is the greatest challenge for modern disciples, yet Jesus demands we do it. Being selfless is so difficult that when it is done lovingly, it immediately sets Christians apart. Christ calls his disciples to treat other people with respect, a rare quality in today's world.

Bear Much Fruit

In his final words to his apostles before his crucifixion, Jesus said, "This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." (John 15:8, NIV)

The disciple of Christ lives to glorify God. Bearing much fruit, or leading a productive life, is a result of surrendering to the Holy Spirit. That fruit includes serving others, spreading the gospel, and setting a godly example. Often fruit is not "churchy" deeds but simply care for people in which the disciple acts as Christ's presence in another's life.

Make Disciples

In what has been called the Great Commission, Jesus told his followers to "make disciples of all nations..." (Matthew 28:19, NIV)

One of the key duties of discipleship is to bring the good news of salvation to others. That does not require a man or woman to personally become a missionary. They can support missionary organizations, witness to others in their community, or simply invite people to their church. Christ's church is a living, growing body that needs the participation of all members to stay vital. Evangelizing is a privilege.

Deny Yourself

Discipleship in the body of Christ takes courage:

Then he (Jesus) said to them all: 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23, NIV)

The Ten Commandments warn believers against lukewarmness toward God, against violence, lust, greed, and dishonesty. Living contrary to society's trends may result in persecution, but when Christians face mistreatment, they can count on the help of the Holy Spirit to endure. Today, more than ever, being a disciple of Jesus is counter-cultural. Every religion seems to be tolerated except Christianity.

Jesus' twelve disciples, or apostles, lived by these principles, and in the early years of the church, all but one of them died martyrs' deaths. The New Testament gives all the details a person needs to experience discipleship in Christ.

What makes Christianity unique is that disciples of Jesus of Nazareth follow a leader who is fully God and fully man. All other founders of religions died, but Christians believe that only Christ died, was raised from the dead and is alive today. As the Son of God, his teachings came directly from God the Father. Christianity is also the only religion in which all the responsibility for salvation rests on the founder, not the followers.

Discipleship to Christ begins after a person is saved, not through a system of works to earn salvation. Jesus does not demand perfection. His own righteousness is credited to his followers, making them acceptable to God and heirs to the kingdom of heaven.

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Fairchild, Mary. "How Does the Bible Define Discipleship?" Learn Religions, Aug. 27, 2020, Fairchild, Mary. (2020, August 27). How Does the Bible Define Discipleship? Retrieved from Fairchild, Mary. "How Does the Bible Define Discipleship?" Learn Religions. (accessed June 5, 2023).