Your study of
Living Discipieship Principles will be the most profitable if you give heed to the following guidelines for personal preparation and class participation.
Personal Preparation Before Class
Set aside adequate time each week for the completion of your homework. You should take the following steps for each lesson:
Pray To God. Ask Him to help you understand and apply His word. Let your prayer be: “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of THY law” (Psa. 119:18).
Read The Notes. Underline important thoughts and anything that you do not understand, or about which you have questions. Look up key Scripture references and read them from a modern translation.
Answer The Study Guide Questions. After reading the notes, complete all items of the study guide. If you have difficulty with a question, pass on to the next question and return later to the troublesome question.
Introduction Call To Discipleship
“Follow Me,” He said to them (John 1:43; Luke 5:27). They forsook their nets, their boats, their homes to enter upon a pilgrimage that was to shake the world. Multitudes besieged the Lord Jesus, but He seems not to have been much impressed. Much of His valuable time was spent upon individuals whom He called unto Himself and who became known as disciples. It was uniquely a call to Himself. “Come unto Me” was His word (Mark 1:17,20). The Great Cause was the Lord Jesus Himself. He was the object, the rallying point, the sole attraction. All that had been valued before Him paled into nothingness. It was not Christianity, as it came afterward to be known, but Christ Himself who was the magnet.
His call to discipleship was first given to the Twelve, then to the Seventy (Luke 10:1), and then appointed for proclamation throughout the world. It became known as the Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19 RSV).
All believers were to be summoned to discipleship and disciplemaking, not merely a select group of the most devoted followers. It was a call for all they were and all they had. The principles of discipleship would enable them to live properly for God, and then to influence a community, a nation and the world. His plan was to reach the world through using the method of developing men and women into disciples that would truly represent the Savior before all mankind.
Nature of Discipleship
The word “disciple” was used long before the time of the Lord Jesus. It was applied to anyone who professed to follow a teacher. The Greeks used it of that teacher-student relationship between their famous philosophers and those who followed their principles and way of life. The Greek word
mathetes (a learner) became the Latin word
discipulus (pupil) and then our word “disciple.” It is mentioned scores of times in the four Gospels as is its companion word, “follow,” with which it is frequently connected. The latter is used in the other parts of the New Testament, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1; Eph. 5:1; 1 Thess. 1:6). Professed followers of several teachers are mentioned in Scripture: (a) disciples of John the Baptist (Matt. 9:14; Luke 7:18; John 3:25); (b) disciples of the Pharisees (Matt. 22:15-16; Mark 2:18; Luke 5:33); and (c) disciples of Moses (John 9:28, as the Pharisees claimed to be). Thus, the term was readily applied to the disciples of Jesus. Not all these disciples were of the same category. There were
secret disciples, such as Joseph of Arimathea (John 19:38). There were disciples who defected from Jesus and thus showed that they were false or
pseudo disciples (John 6:66). They thought His teachings were far too demanding and difficult to understand. They forsook Him to walk no more after Him. The term also was applied in a special way to the Twelve, who were also called
apostles (Matt. 10:1-2; Luke 6:13). The Bible seems to indicate the use of the term “disciple” in three different ways.
Broadly. This included all who professed to follow Jesus or came to learn (Matt. 5:1-2). Some of these seem to have been merely curious “camp followers,” without any real personal commitment to the Lord.
Generally. It is used as a synonym for “Christian.” The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch (Acts 11:26). This sense occurs several times (Acts 6:1; 11:29; 21:16). This includes both genuine believers and those who professed to follow Him.
Narrowly. This word describes those who met the requirements of strict devotion given by the Savior. These were called by the Lord “disciples indeed” or “truly disciples” (John 8:31). Such disciples were to “continue in My Word,” to follow Him in the fullest sense, with the necessary renunciation of the self-life. It is this group of disciples, those recognized by the Lord Jesus as the true ones, with which we are primarily concerned in this study. The following definitions of disciples, in this narrow sense, have been suggested:
a) “One who follows one’s teaching not only as a pupil, but as an adherent; hence spoken of as imitators of their teacher (John 8:31; 15:8)” (W.E. Vine,
b) “It implies that the person not only accepts the views of the teacher, but that he also in practice is an adherent”
[International Standard Bible Encyclopedia).
c) “One who is totally and completely committed to the Person of Jesus Christ and His Word … He acknowledges His right to rule over him and is completely at His disposal … There is no retention of certain rights for self” (Dwight Pentecost).
d) “A disciple is a Christian who is growing in conformity to Christ, is achieving fruit in evangelism and is working in follow-up to conserve his fruit” (Gary Kuhne,
The Dynamics of Personal Follow-Up). This might be called a functional definition of a disciple. Obviously these definitions involve more than professing to be a Christian and attending church services regularly, even becoming somewhat involved. They take in factors specified by the Lord for those who would become “disciples indeed.” More than simple salvation is in view.
Resistance to Discipleship
There is no reason for a call to this kind of discipleship to be popular. The defectors of John 6 saw this, as did the majority of the multitudes who heard His invitation and did not respond (Luke 14:25-26). To give up the self-life for the Christ life, to sacrifice all for Him is something that has no appeal for the natural man or the flesh. Our lifestyle of ease, affluence and self-pleasing is contrary to the spirit of discipleship. Institutional Christianity has no place for it on the road to ministry or in organizational advancement. In fact, it would be an embarrassment. There are objections to discipleship from many sources and for different reasons:
The Word Disciple Is Not In The Epistles. The words “follow” and “follower” do occur in this sense in other parts of the New Testament, as we have noted. Moreover, such men as Paul, Timothy and others certainly exemplified discipleship. Should the mere absence of the word disqualify the call of Jesus to believers in the Gospels? On what Biblical authority?
It Is Limited To The Twelve, Or The Exceptionally Devoted Ones. The Great Commission is given for all the nations. The Lord Jesus spoke of discipleship to the multitudes. Our very mission is disciplemaking.
Details Of Discipleship Are Debated Or Rejected. If one objects to the views of certain writers or disputes the meaning of certain terms given by the Lord, this should not relegate discipleship to a discarded doctrine. It still needs to be understood, faced and accepted by every believer.
Devaluation of this term may be the greatest foe of discipleship today. In many circles it has become a catchword to attract followers. Discipleship is often applied loosely to a Bible study, follow-up work with new converts or a special program that does not seriously study or practice the following of Jesus Christ on His terms.
Part of the vanished glory of Israel was the decline of the Nazarites, that group of separated followers of God (Num. 6). These consecrated ones were “holy to the Lord,” belonging to Him and dedicated to His service. From the time of Samuel (1 Sam. 1:11) to John the Baptist (Luke 1:15), they were part of the spiritual glory of the nation (Lam. 4:7; Amos 2:11). They faded from view as the nation departed from God. In the same way, true discipleship faded in the church as the zeal of apostolic times turned to spiritual deadness. Today it is being revived, especially among young people who want to reach the world for Christ.
Necessity of Discipleship
It was said prophetically, and in New Testament fulfillment, of the Lord Jesus, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten Me up” (Psa. 69:9; cf. John 2:17). The fire of God’s Spirit burned within Him as He served the Father. The Lord said of John the Baptist: “He was a burning and a shining light” (John 5:35). It is those who burn brightly for God in the fervor of their commitment to Him that can shake the world in the Spirit’s power. Such spiritual energy and blessing only flow on God’s terms.
The Bible assures us that our spiritual adversaries are great. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). How can we prevail unless we follow the Lord Jesus as His disciples? We are called to “war a good warfare” (1 Tim. 1:18) and to be “a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3-4). How can we do this without following the Commander? Will spiritual warfare be successful in the hands of the uncommitted? The Lord Jesus knew what it would take to be victorious when He specified the stern requirements of being a disciple. The call that He issued 2000 years ago must be reissued today. We must call upon men and women to “Take up your cross” and to “deny self.” Only a few will respond in truth, just as in those days. But these few can become powerful instruments in the hands of God to turn the world “right side up,” at least in that part in which they labor.
If Jesus said today, “Follow Me,” would you do it? Would you join Him in the Great Commission to “make disciples”? Or will the sad words, “he cannot be My disciple,” be uttered because you refused Him?
Introduction: Call To Discipleship
1. Why did you decide to take this course?
2. As you understand it, what does it mean to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus?
3. Who does the Lord Jesus call to be His disciples? Support your answer with Scripture.
4. Answer, if possible, the statement, “Not all of us are called to be disciples.”
5. Is it necessary to be a disciple of Jesus? Why? Why not?
6. Which personal application will you make as a result of this lesson?