What Does It Mean to be True Disciple?

When you examine the Bible in a disciple Bible study, you may find yourself reading about Jesus gathering His disciples together as He is about to preach the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5.1,2:    “And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying…”

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to be a disciple of Jesus in the first century?  How incredible it would have been to sit down at His feet and hear the inspired wisdom as He preached the Sermon on the Mount.  How awe-inspiring it would have been to walk with Him along the shores of Galilee and see the miracles that proved His deity.  How moving it would have been to see His caring hand reach out and heal those who spent a lifetime battling disease.

Actually, you and I can still be disciples of Jesus.

If you want to be a true disciple of Jesus, then you need to know what the word means and how it is used in the Bible.  If you search the scriptures in a disciple Bible study, you will that the word “disciple” appears 261 times in the New Testament, but it is only found in the four gospels and the book of Acts.  

  • "Disciple" is found 72 times in the book of Matthew
  • "Disciple" is found 46 times in the book of Mark
  • "Disciple" is found 37 times in the book of Luke
  • "Disciple" is found 78 times in the book of John.
  • "Disciple" is found 28 times in the book of Acts.


Disciple Bible Study
What is a Disciple?

The word “disciple” comes from the Greek word “mathetes” (pronounced ma-THAY-tes).  If you were to take out your Greek dictionary, you would learn that the word is defined as “a person who learns from another by instruction, whether formal or informal”  [Louw & Nida]. 

Another form of the word “disciple” is “discipline.”  To discipline or to be disciplined is to teach a lesson.  Whenever I would misbehave as a boy, my father would take off his belt, and tell me, “I’m gonna teach you a lesson.” 

The apostle Paul wrote that he disciplines his body and brings it into subjection  (1 Cor. 9.27).  He exercised great restraint because he trained his body to do what he wanted it to do. 

A Disciple is a Christian

Let’s take a look at a passage in Acts 11.  It is here that we find Barnabas meeting up with Paul and the two of them go to the city of Antioch together.  In the city of Antioch, there was a church where Barnabas and Paul worshiped.

Acts 11.26:  “And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”

If you look carefully at this passage, you will notice that there is a word that is used interchangeably with the word “disciple.”  The text says that “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”  The term “disciple” is synonymous with the name “Christian.”  A Christian is a disciple, and a disciple is a Christian.  These disciples in Antioch were the first ones chronologically to be called by the name Christian.

To become a disciple is to become a Christian.  How can you become a disciple of Jesus?  A disciple Bible study tells us some important observations regarding discipleship.

A Disciple is a Baptized Believer

Let’s read Matthew 28.19,20 to learn how one becomes a disciple of Jesus.  It is in this context that the resurrected Jesus appears to His apostles and instructs them to make disciples.  Notice how these disciples were to be made.

Matthew 28.19:  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 

The apostles were told to make disciples of all nations.  How were they to do this?  “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  One becomes a disciple by being baptized.  When you hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and learn of His death, burial, and His resurrection (1 Cor. 15.1-4), you respond to the gospel by being baptized

Notice that you do not become a disciple and then afterward you become baptized.  Notice that you do not get baptized as an infant and then later become a disciple of Jesus.  The language that is used indicates that you become a disciple, and the means of becoming a disciple is by being baptized.

A Disciple Obeys the Teachings of Jesus

    If we keep reading the passage in Matthew 28, Jesus continues in verse 20...

Matthew 28.20:  “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Does my Bible actually say that?  Did Jesus actually say that obedience is a necessary part of being a disciple?  

Jesus said in verse 19 that a disciple is made by baptizing them.  Jesus then adds that one who has been made a disciple by being baptized now is to do all that Jesus said he is to do.

The New Testament is, in effect, the very words, the very instructions of Jesus.  In John 16, Jesus told His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit who would guide the apostles what to say and what to write.  The Holy Spirit, in guiding the apostles, would not speak His own words, but would deliver to them the instructions of Jesus  (John 16.12-14). 

What that means is that when you become a disciple of Jesus, you learn what it means to follow Jesus by reading and doing what the New Testament tells you to do.  Notice what Jesus said in John 8.31.

John 8.31:  “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.”

A true disciple is one who is abiding in the doctrine of Christ.  How inaccurate it is to say that all churches are filled with Christians.  When one has his name on the church directory but does not live his life conforming to the doctrine of Christ, how inaccurate it is to say that he is a true disciple. 

When one apostatizes and is no longer walking in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1.7), how inaccurate it is to say that he is a true Christian.  He may be a Christian in the sense that he had at one time became a baptized believer, for even Paul wrote that those who had fallen away are not to be treated as enemies but are to be admonished as brothers  (2 Thess. 3.15).  But in the sense of a true and faithful disciple of Christ, a true and faithful Christian, if you are not abiding in the doctrine of Christ you are not a true Christian.

A true Christian is one who has believed in Jesus Christ, repented of his past sins, confessed the name of Jesus, and has been baptized, immersed in water.  Then from that point, he continues to abide in the teachings of Christ.  That is a true and faithful disciple.   And what is a disciple?  A disciple is a Christian who obeys Jesus.

Disciple Bible Study
Do You Have What It Takes?

Being a disciple of Jesus is not to be taken casually.  Following Jesus needs to be a priority above all others.  How committed do you have to be in order to be a disciple of Jesus?  Notice what Jesus says in Luke 14.26.

Luke 14.26:  “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”

Did Jesus actually say that?  Did He say that if you are going to be His disciple that you must hate your family?  When we look at the teachings of Jesus we find that Jesus constantly professed love. 

  • We are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  (Matt. 22.39)
  • We are to love one another.  (John 13.34,35)
  • We are to love our enemies.  (Luke 6.35)

Yet here is Jesus saying that if you are going to be His disciple you have to hate your family.  Does that not seem inconsistent with all the rest of His teachings?  How are you supposed to hate your family?  Yet here is Jesus saying that if anyone wants to be His disciple He must hate his family. 

Since the New Testament is filled with Jesus telling us to love everyone, then we must understand this text in light of His overall teachings.  In fact, Jesus is saying that if you want to follow after Christ and be His disciple, then you need to love Him more than anyone else.  He makes a similar statement in Matthew 10.37

Matthew 10.37:  “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”

The idea of hating your family literally carries the idea that you must love Jesus more than anyone else or you cannot be His disciple.

Notice also that Jesus says in our verse under consider that if you do not hate your family (love them less than you love Me), you "cannot be My disciple.”  This is not a statement where Jesus is saying that if you do not love Him more than anyone else, then He will reject you and will not allow you to be His disciple.  That’s not what this phrase means.

The word “cannot” comes from the Greek word “Dunamai”.  This is the Greek word for “power” and “ability.’  Literally, Jesus says “he does not have the power to be My disciple.” 

What Jesus is saying is that discipleship requires you to be strong enough and have the ability to love Him more than anyone else.  Those who are unwilling to do that are those who do not have what it takes to be a disciple.  You do not have the power to continue to follow Me.  Being a disciple takes commitment.  Being a disciple takes real dedication.  If you are not willing to put Him first and carry your cross, you do not have the power to follow Him.

A true disciple of Jesus is one who learns from Him and follows Him.  The journey in following Jesus begins when you are baptized.  As a disciple, you study the Bible and learn the kind of life Jesus lived, and you imitate it.  You study the Bible and learn the kind of life Jesus wants you to live, and you put Him first above everything and everybody else. 

Consider one more passage.

Colossians 3.4:  “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”

Christ is our life.  Our lives are not defined by our jobs.  Our lives are not defined by our social connections.  Our lives are not defined by our material possessions.  Our lives are defined by Jesus.  He is our life.  That’s what it means to be a true disciple.

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