In some circles, discipleship is measured by activities such as reading the Bible and praying; attending church and participating in religious programs. These can be valuable, but is discipleship determined by such activities?
Here are five attributes that distinguish disciples of Christ from others.
1. Loyalty to Jesus.
Using a parable about a great banquet, Jesus makes it clear that everyone is invited into the Kingdom. However, the response of entering brings radical changes. Here is the first (Luke 14:25-26):
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them [Jesus] said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.”
The Lord uses an exaggeration to make his point that legitimate love for one's close family members becomes "hate." What can this mean?
I submit that Jesus states this same principle from a different angle in Matthew 22:37-40. Love God first and foremost. When compared to an all-consuming love for God, love for others seems like hate.
Paradoxically, Jesus is showing the way to greater love for self, family and others.
Craig Evans concludes that Jesus’ “forceful exaggeration makes it clear that one's love for Jesus must outweigh all other loyalties.”
2. Sacrifice for Jesus.
Jesus further states (Luke 14:27):
“And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
You may want to read more of what Jesus says about this all in commitment (see Luke 9:23-27).
Not all who follow Jesus will be put to death, but one's commitment to Jesus should be such that if faced with the threat of death one would not abandon Jesus.
These two statements on pre-eminent loyalty and full commitment are followed by two parables that illustrate the need to count the cost (14:28-33). Jesus concludes with this statement (14:33), reinforcing his point:
"any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple."
3. Obedience to Jesus.
Living out the teaching of Jesus in all areas of our lives not only manifests the reality of our discipleship, but also sets us free.
In John 8:31-32 we hear these words:
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to [continue in; remain faithful to] my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
The larger context of John 8:31-42 speaks of freedom from slavery of sinful lifestyles and habits, as well as freedom to enjoy the relational intimacy and privilege of 'sonship' with the Father.
4. Love like Jesus.
Genuine and practical love for one another provides further evidence of those who are his disciples.
The evening before his crucifixion, Jesus says (John 13:34-35):
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Implicit in this statement is the communal nature of discipleship. Being a disciple is relational; it is not simply Jesus and me.
Discipleship is following Jesus together: eating and sharing life together; arguing and growing together; loving one another through all our differences, disagreements, and community messiness.
5. 'Fruitfulness' for Jesus.
Jesus uses the metaphor of a grape plant (John 15:1-17). He is the "Vine," the source of life and sustenance; we are the branches, receiving and channeling his vitality to produce the fruit of the "Vine."
In this way, as we reproduce and manifest the life of Jesus, we are "bearing ... fruit":
This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples (John 15:8).
A few thoughts.
- These are five attributes of disciples according to Jesus. What do these attributes look like? What others are there?
- You do not do these things to become a disciple; you manifest these attributes if you are a disciple. What is the significance of this distinction?
- These attributes manifest the powerful and grace-filled presence of the Spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit, the Comforter) in our lives, transforming us more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. How can you cooperate more with the Spirit in his work of transformation?
John B. MacDonald
Dr. John B. MacDonald has served for decades as a lawyer and pastor-teacher. He is an associate with Outreach Canada and focuses on equipping and encouraging others to become more like Jesus Christ and to live all of life with God-honoring competence and joy.www