Updated: May 15, 2019
By Peter McArthur
A lot has been taught on modern discipleship, written about, preached on and even “insisted on” in some quarters – so I don’t wish to add to the already burgeoning publications about this subject. In this teaching I am simply attempting to address one very important fundamental point and that is the broader picture of how a believer can become a mature disciple. It may or may not help, but at least I hope it might make each one of us reconsider our walk as we follow Jesus.
1. BELIEVERS OR DISCIPLES?
There is a distinct Biblical difference between a person who is a "Believer" and one who is a "Disciple". This could be phrased, there is a difference between being a "Child of God" (Greek teknon G5043) and a "Son of God" (Greek huios G5207). Immature Believers are like Children of God while mature Disciples are like Sons of God.
A child of biological parents bears the nature of those parents. When that child grows to adulthood hopefully that child has grown up to bear the character of the parents.
So spiritually speaking, a child is one born of God, a son is one taught of God. Or to put it this way, a child has God’s nature; a son has this, PLUS God’s character.
2. THE TWO CALLS OF REPENTANCE AND DISCIPLESHIP
There seems to be two calls in the ministry of Jesus. The people of Galilee were told to "repent and believe in the gospel," (Mark 1: 15), but the fishermen were called to do this and to follow and be trained to "fish for men" (Mark 1: 16-17). Seemingly two different groups, two messages, two different expectations.
Jesus called the 12 disciples in particular (mathetes, meaning "pupil, disciple") to follow Him as a means of training and equipping them.
"Believing" and "Salvation" are of course closely linked. However when we over-emphasis the benefits of salvation and "conversion" above teaching believers "to obey", we ignore the command of the Great Commission to "make disciples".
The result of this is that relatively few believers ever come to spiritual maturity. So based on the Biblical evidence, we have reason to say that there's a lot of difference between a Believer and a Disciple, as well as understanding the call to be a True Follower.
The purpose of "making disciples" is to teach believers to have exclusive loyalty to Jesus Christ, and to be personally accountable for reflecting His character.
"Accountability" (personal) has a far stronger meaning than mere "responsibility" (official). For this to happen one must begin by learning who Jesus is, according to His own teachings. So, only the teachings of Jesus Christ must be imparted to believers and not that of any group, denomination, or even the pet subject of the one doing the teaching.
3. THE MAIN OBJECTIVE OF A DISCIPLE
The Lord Jesus taught His disciples to make the Kingdom of God the first objective of their search in life (Matthew 6: 31-33). This should take priority above all else even though it might cause great difficulty (Luke 12: 51-53 ).
The criterion for God's Kingdom revolves around doing what He wants done. If we want to function in His Kingdom as a True Disciple, we'll give up our own self-willed ways.
The standard of determination for God’s Kingdom is straight forward: we are to do His will (Matthew 7: 21).
Jesus called men to fellowship with Him for the express purpose of preparing them to carry out His mission of reaching the world with the Gospel.
Those who are "baptised" should then be taught "to obey"; this is when we can say a person has been truly "discipled". Baptising and teaching to obey are given as the main aspects in "discipling" and this even applies to the discipling of nations (see Matthew 28: 19-20).
4. KNOWING AND IMPARTING A PERSON NOT A BELIEF
We cannot ask anyone to truly "follow" before they "know". The purpose in this is not merely to teach a belief or doctrine, but to impart a way of life from the master to the disciple. The goal being that the disciple becomes like his master (Matthew 10: 25).
The goal of the true disciple is to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8: 29). Jesus said if we hold to His teaching, then we are really His disciples (John 8: 31).
On the plus side, the disciples mentioned in Acts are "disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1). On the minus side, Paul warned the Ephesian elders about those who would draw disciples after themselves (Acts 20: 30), this being the spirit of Absalom (2 Samuel 15: 6).
The life of a true disciple is one of submission to Christ. Jesus said that we cannot be His disciples unless we give up our lives and follow Him (Luke 14: 27).
We'll know a person is a disciple by the ongoing transformation, personal holiness, compassionate service, servanthood, and fruit of the Spirit in their lives (Galatians 5: 22-23).
It's clear in Scripture that the purpose of discipleship is to produce "Sons" (both genders are meant here), those who are mature in both spirit and soul. True disciples are those who are undergoing the process of transformation into Sons, those who are prepared to inherit the Kingdom.
The concept of discipleship is directly linked to Sonship. Discipleship has as its intended goal, the reproducing of Sons who in turn properly reflect the Father.
On the highest level, God’s Sons are to be "conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8: 29), who is the perfect reflection of His Heavenly Father (John. 14: 9). On the earthly level, we find spiritual fathers discipling spiritual sons, who carry on the heart of their spiritual father (Philippians 2: 19).
We find that the task of teaching, training and imparting oneself to faithful men and women, who in turn will do the same (2 Timothy 2: 2), is absolutely central to the message of the Kingdom. It could even be said that where an assembly of the saints fails to consistently and diligently do this, it is not truly "the Church".
True Biblical discipleship is a process, the purpose of which is to bring the believer to spiritual maturity (Sonship) through being taught to obey Christ's commands. This takes place within accountable relationships.
For true Biblical discipleship to function there must be accountability. Discipleship not only involves an individual relationship to Christ, but also a corporate relationship to His Body, and hence accountability to the delegated authority, local Elders or the Five/ Four Fold ministry.