Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What is a disciple?

A few days ago, I posted comments about the importance for the local church to make disciples through building disciples. Ok, so what is a disciple anyway? A disciple is one who follows the teachings of their master. From a New Testament perspective that would mean one who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. What is clear from Scripture is that a disciple of Christ involves more than just being someone who believes in Christ’s teachings, but rather one who lives a life that is fully devoted to living out those teachings. That means a disciple of Jesus can be defined by one whose life reflects what Ed Stetzer and David Putman in their book Breaking the Missional Code refer to as the “inner disciplines of spiritual living and the outer disciplines of missional living.” It is the combining of these two that constitutes a disciple of Jesus.

In Jesus’ work in making disciples, He worked to make not just shallow followers but committed believers in Him and His cause. Luke 6:40 makes clear that Jesus’ purpose was to make “fully trained” disciples and by that He meant they were to be like their “teacher.” The Greek word used here is the participle form of the verb katartiz┼Ź meaning to put into proper condition and was used elsewhere in the New Testament to mean “to make complete.” The entire process of making a disciple involves building a complete person who is a mature believer.

The focus is on transformation and this is exactly what Jesus did to the lives of His disciples. His goal was to teach them how to grow to the point they could imitate their master and live a life that points others to Him. And He didn’t simply tell them they needed to grow themselves. He sat with them and poured His truth into them and demonstrated how to touch the lives of non-believers. This, in turn, is what the disciples did for others.

To live as a complete disciple also means to live as an apologetic disciple. An apologetic disciple is one who lives in such a way that the truth of the Christian faith is clearly demonstrated in every aspect of his or her life. This is exactly what Jesus instructed His disciples to do. It is also what they and the other leaders of the early church practiced. Both Peter (1 Pet. 3:15-16) and Jude (Jude 3) gave instructions to live as apologetic disciples. It is by living an apologetic life that the Great Commission is achieved.

Today’s church must change its focus from simply attempting to make disciples by focusing only on the number of professions of faith to an approach that is directed towards building genuine apologetic disciples. This is the only way it can be successful in fulfilling the Great Commission and at the same time keep itself doctrinally pure in today’s culture.

Disciple making requires disciple building and disciple building means building apologetic disciples. Building apologetic disciples requires more than a cursory teaching; it requires submission to the master and living out a life that demonstrates the Christian faith in every aspect of life. To build such disciples requires a deep commitment to an integrated, systematic approach to education by the local church. Unless this happens, Christ-followers will have a hard time meeting the challenges to the Christian faith presented by other "truth venders" who compete for the heart and minds of people in today's culture.

Dr. Richard Tompkins

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