What is a Disciple? The Radical Call of Jesus


Question: What is a disciple?

Jesus’s call to discipleship stands in stark contrast to contemporary seeker-sensitive approaches to evangelism. For the last thirty years, we’ve been told that we should avoid putting people off with religious language that will offend their sensibilities.

Out with the negative; in with the positive. Out with the cross; in with the crown. Out with warnings of damnation in hell; in with health, happiness, and heaven. Out with demands for radical reorientation of a person’s life; in with God loves you just as you are.

But what did Jesus say to potential followers? How did he present discipleship?

  • Luke 9:23, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.
  • Luke 9:62, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
  • Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.
  • Luke 14:28, “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?
  • Luke 14:33, “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

Jesus demanded radical commitment. In terms of commitment, a disciple has counted the cost (Luke 14:28-33) and is ready to deny himself and sacrifice anything and everything (Luke 14:26), including his life (Luke 9:23; Matt. 16:24), to follow Jesus unswervingly (Luke 9:62), without regard to what others do or don’t do (John 21:19-22). The call Jesus issued was never a “check-it-out-and-see-if-you-like-it” call.

The very radicalness of Jesus’s call, however, can be misperceived. Jesus invited little children to himself. He saved the demoniac of Gerasa/Gadara, but didn’t allow him to follow him. Instead, he sent him out to proclaim what God had done for him (Luke 8:38-39). In other words, the nature of the self-denial and sacrifice to which Jesus called his followers wasn’t the same in each case. Matthew, Peter, John, and Philip were called to leave their jobs, but the Thessalonians were told to keeping working (1 Thess. 4:11).

What was the least common denominator for all disciples? Jesus’s demand of unwavering loyalty, public identification, willingness to lose one’s life, and purposeful patterning of one’s life after His.

When you do a survey of how Jesus describes what a disciple of His does, you find that a disciple:

  • follows, learns, and serves Jesus (John 12:26; Luke 9:23; Matt. 16:24; Jn 10:27),
  • seeks to be abides in His word (John 8:31), prays and fasts (Luke 5:33-35; Matt. 9:14),
  • identifies publicly with Jesus (Luke 9:26),
  • suffers whatever circumstantial discomforts and deprivations following Jesus entails (Matt. 8:19-22),
  • learns to fish for men (Matt. 4:19),
  • disciples others disciples (Matt. 28:19-20),
  • receives baptism as a sign of his commitment to follow Jesus (Matt. 28:19),
  • learns to do all Christ has commanded (Matt. 28:19),
  • provides spiritual value to others (Matt. 13:52),
  • loves his fellow disciples as himself (John 13:35),
  • bears much fruit to the Father’s glory (John 15:8),
  • and strives to be fully trained (Luke 6:40).

If required, he sells his possessions (Matt. 19:21) and leaves his current vocation (Matt. 9:9).

Such commitment is richly rewarded. Those who respond to Jesus’s call become part of His family (Matt. 12:49), are secured by the Father’s hand (John 10:29), hear the Shepherd’s voice (John 10:27), receive a hundred times as much as they sacrifice in this life (Mark 10:30), gain eternal life (John 10:28), and experience the freedom Jesus’ word provides (John 8:31-32).

In sum, a Christian disciple is a radically committed follower of Jesus who is seeking to live like Jesus in every facet of his/her life, including making disciples of others. He/she has not arrived at full Christlikeness (Matt. 10:24-25) but is marked by a desire for growth and a willingness to receive instruction and correction (Matt. 16:5-12; 17:19-20).

Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

Philip Brown
Philip Brownhttp://apbrown2.net
Dr. Philip Brown is Graduate Program Director and Professor at God's Bible School & College. He holds a PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Academic, 2008).