The question everyone should ask is are they following Jesus, or are they asking Jesus to follow them; the answer to this question will define if they are simply a convert or truly a follower of Jesus. Jim Putnam shows how, “Conversion is [merely] the first step in the discipleship process.” Putnam then contrasts the two states by claiming, “Conversion is the beginning of a journey, whereas discipleship is ongoing.” This essentially means at the point of conversion, a mental decision is made to follow Jesus, but in addition to that decision there is also a spiritual response to the Holy Spirit and an acknowledgment of our God-given purpose. Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey illustrate, “A disciple is someone who seriously considers the cost before following Christ… [And] is totally committed to Christ, [meaning] our love for Christ is so great, so consuming that, in comparison, it feels like hatred (disdain) for others” (Luke 14:26).
To live we must die; to save our life, we must be willing to give it up: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Jesus was and is the model for us to follow as we are now called to fulfill the Great Commission by way of the Great Commandment. Dr. Rod Dempsey gives a great definition of a disciple as, “Someone who knows Christ, grows in Christ, and goes forth in Christ,” meaning they have surrendered completely to God and to the calling God has placed on their life. Anyone who claims to be a disciple, but does not show God in his or her words and actions is not one.
Putnam offers three characteristics of following Jesus as: “1. Accepting Jesus as Lord, leader, and master of our lives, 2. Being changed by the power of the Holy Spirit and transformed by the renewing of our minds, and 3. Action, which leads to a change in what we do with our hands after we have made the decision to follow Him in our heads.” Essentially being a disciple means: Following Christ (head), being changed by Christ (heart), and being committed to the mission of Christ (hands).” As a disciple of Christ, we are on a mission to love others to Christ by sharing our life experiences and what God has done in our life with them (John 13:35). This is why it is so important that we reflect the image of Christ in our words and our actions. As a disciple we are to abandon the things of this world because they are only temporary and will pass away, but everyone’s soul is everlasting and it is up to disciples through the power of the Holy Spirit to ensure others spend eternity in heaven and not hell.
Earley and Dempsey take a similar approach in defining a disciple by extracting the principles, which should be evident. A disciple must be, “1. Sacrificial: submitting to Christ no matter the cost (Luke 14:28), 2. Relational: loving God, loving neighbors, and loving other disciples, and 3. Transformational: understanding spiritual growth is directed toward becoming like Christ in word, thought, attitude, and action.” The more a disciple emulates Christ’s nature and character, the more they will live their life according to His values. Earley and Dempsey close with an important fact: “You cannot be a follower of the person of Christ without being a follower of the mission of Christ.” You also cannot serve Christ without totally surrendering to Him by carrying your own cross and surrendering your will to God.
This writer’s personal definition of being a disciple begins first with 1. Accepting Christ into one’s life (John 3:16), 2. Recognizing Jesus as Lord, master, and Savior forsaking all else (I Corinthians 8:6), 3. Submitting to His will, word, and purpose by changing one’s ways and transforming their minds by loving others (John 8:31-32 and I Corinthians 5:17), and lastly 4. Reproducing other disciples by showing them the way of the Lord so they too can lead others to Christ (Matthew 28:19-20). Relationships and bearing fruit is paramount in being a true disciple (John 15:5-8). Ultimately, true disciples of Christ must die to themselves daily and live to bring as much glory to God as possible while thanking Him for all the blessings and giftings He has provided.
Putnam, Jim, et al. Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2013.
Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is… How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group. 2013.