The main passages in Scripture a believer can go to in order to understand the concept of discipleship are in the gospels. Some of these passages include Matthew 10:32-39, Luke 14:26-35, and John 21:15-19. If we look more in depth at these passages, what can we discern about being disciple, what it is and what it means? A disciple is a follower, student, or a learner of any teacher. In biblical times, ‘disciple’ was a name given to the followers of a teacher. We can see this in Matthew 9:9-14, where both disciples of Jesus and John are mentioned following their leader and his respective teachings as distinct. Acts 11:26 mentions that “The disciples of Jesus were first called Christians at Antioch.” For you and me, as believers, then, we should all be called disciples of Jesus because we follow His teachings and seek to disciple others in His teachings as well.
First, let us look at Matthew 10 and what the Lord discusses as important truths regarding discipleship. In Mathew 10:34-36, Jesus employs a metaphor, or figure of speech, saying, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’” Jesus is saying that He did not come to bring peace but a sword, and in a very real sense we know that the Lord came to make peace.
In Ephesians 2:14-17, Paul confirms this aspect of Jesus’ ministry: “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” We also know from John 3:17 that Jesus came so that the world might be saved through Him. So in this pointed figure of speech about a sword in Matthew 10, the point that the Lord is making involves when an individual or a family is saved - their families might turn against them. Jesus even gives an example of this situation, saying an unconverted father would oppose his converted son or an unconverted daughter-in-law would hate her saved mother-in-law. (See Matthew 10:35)
We know from this example that one of the costs of discipleship as a believer is to experience tension, opposition, and even alienation from one’s own family. In fact, many a new believer has been called upon to choose between Christ and his family. Because of this, one of the first things the Lord would have the new believer know is that they must love Him above everyone and everything. This is why he teaches this in Matthew 10:37 that if anyone wants to be His disciple he must love Him more than he loves his father, mother, wife, children, brothers or sisters. Humanly speaking, this is the ultimate sacrifice! But there is one thing that stands out above all others. This is the love of one’s own life. Jesus is calling His disciples and all believers of Christ to love Him more than our own lives! (See Matthew 10:38-39) This means that a true disciple does not live a self-centered life, rather a Christ-centered one. What does this mean in our discipleship? Christ must be the predominant, controlling, and absolute force in a true disciple’s life. The Lord is saying that if we do not love Him supremely, that is more than our own family and our own lives, we cannot be His disciple. Notice that Jesus does not give us a halfway measure; we are either a disciple or not a disciple.
Let us move on to Luke 14:27, where there is a similar story. Jesus teaches His disciples that to be worthy of Him and be His disciple, we must take up our cross and follow Him. We should remember what the cross represents in this picture Jesus uses. The cross in the time of the New Testament was a means of execution, so to take up one’s cross and follow Christ is to live in such devoted abandonment to Him that even death is not too high a price to pay. Not all disciples are required to lay down their lives for the Lord, but all true disciples are called to value the Lord so highly that their life is considered secondary to bringing glory to Christ. This means that the love for Christ in our lives must over-master even our instinct of self-preservation.
As we consider Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14:27, we should ask what this cross represented to those listening. Some believe that it is some physical infirmity, mental anguish, or painful circumstance. In this context, the cross could mean reproach, suffering, loneliness, or even death for Christ. We should all be aware that not all believers bear the cross for Christ by living in true discipleship for Him. In fact, many believers avoid it by living a nominal Christian life. Yet if we live all out for Christ in true discipleship, knowing the steep cost it will afford us, we will no doubt experience some form of Satanic opposition, just as the Lord did while on earth. The true disciple must follow after Christ in this sense, ready to live the same type of life the Lord lived, one of self-renunciation, humiliation, persecution, reproach, temptation, and contradiction against Himself.
All believers are tempted to shield their lives, and attempt to avoid the pain and loss of a life of total commitment, yet this is the greatest waste of a life. The greatest use of our lives as believers is to spend it in the service of Christ and for His greatest glory. As He says in Matthew 10:39, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses His life for my sake shall find it.” Jesus is saying that to live a selfish life is to fail to recognize the purpose for which we were created. But, dear Christian, if we give up the world and its pleasures, deny the cravings of the carnal man, and refuse the pleasures of sin for Christ’s sake, we will be rewarded eternally. In John 12:24, Jesus teaches, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” When Jesus is referring to “loving your life” He is talking about loving our temporal earthly lives more so than God. Likewise, “hating your life” refers to thinking very little of our earthly lives in comparison to loving God so much that we will do anything sacrificially to serve, love, and glorify Him. We know that like the grain of wheat that dies but brings forth much fruit, our lives also will bear much fruit even in the sacrifice of our lives for serving Him. The promise in 2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” Each one of us will receive recompense for our living for Christ here on Earth.
Lastly, Jesus teaches His disciples following his death and resurrection in John 21. He asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” and then “Do you love me?” twice more. (John 21:15-17) When Peter answers yes, Jesus commands him to “feed my sheep.” This is an important part of discipleship that as believers, we “feed” others with the Word of God and teachings of Jesus. Just as Jesus is our one true shepherd, we are called to be a shepherd to others and call them to true discipleship, bringing glory to His name and being willing to sacrifice everything for Him.