“What is a Disciple of Jesus Christ?”

“What is a Disciple of Jesus Christ?”

In the last newsletter, my reflection focused on the mission of Emma Anderson Memorial Chapel* as we began our summer ministry for all who pass through our doors – young and not so young, island visitor and resident, faith inquirer and disciple.

This time I want to reflect on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Being a “disciple” in ancient times meant more than being a student of a teacher in the academic sense. It also meant having close contact with the “master”. It meant not only listening to the master’s teaching, but observing and imitating his lifestyle and his behavior. The teacher was both master and model. This is exactly what Jesus does for us. In fact, He goes a step further and makes us a part of His family. For He says that “obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my Father’s will is my brother and sister … .” (Mt. 12:49 Message).

In the Gospels the term “disciple” usually refers to the “twelve”. But around them was a larger group of followers also called “disciples” (John 6:66). However, some of these were not “true” disciples. So, what are the true hallmarks of a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ?

A disciple is not a volunteer enlistee, he (or she) is “drafted”. Jesus issues His call for us to “follow Me” in various ways. The point is that He is the initiator, we are only the responders. Fortunately for us, He doesn’t call the well and the powerful, but the sick and the weak (Mt. 9:12,13 and Mt. 11:28-30).

A disciple places a priority on Jesus’ teachings over everything else. Just look at the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7). Three chapters of solid instruction that embraces the whole of life and calls for unreserved commitment to the counterculture lifestyle of the kingdom of God. Jesus even tells His disciples, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31,32).

To a true disciple, Jesus is everything! Other teachers want to direct their students (i.e. Disciples) to the way, and the truth, about life. But Jesus tells us that He is the way, and the truth and the life (John 14:6). We must learn to trust Him completely, to yield to Him unconditionally, and to embrace Him wholeheartedly. As one professor wrote, “we cannot embrace all of Christ if our hands are superglued with the love of ‘other things’ (Mark 4:29)”.**

To a genuine disciple, the “template” (to use a computer term) for her (or his) life is the cross of Christ (Luke 14:27). Self-denial or self-sacrifice is at the heart of Christian discipleship (Mt. 16:24, Mk 8:34, Lk 9:23).

Finally, the true mark of a disciple of Jesus Christ is love. Love first and foremost for Jesus. “Do you love me more than these?” (Jn. 21:15) was the question He put before Peter by the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection. The Apostle Paul explains how these last two characteristics (sacrifice and love) come together in his letter to the Galatians:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Five times toward the end of his gospel, John describes himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. I always thought that was his way of saying that he was “Jesus’ favorite disciple.” But I have re-thought this (with the help of Professor Ferguson). First, he does not think John would be so proud as to make that claim and secondly, he believes John is saying something that is true of all of us as genuine disciples of Jesus Christ. All that Jesus has done for us, is doing now for us, and will do for us in the future is because He loves us. It explains why He would die for us and why He sent His Spirit to comfort and strengthen us and why He promises to return to us. It is the reason He calls us. It is what enables us to forsake everything and follow Him. It is what motivates us to love not only Him, but each other. As He himself said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:34). This kind of sacrificial love is the ultimate hallmark of a true disciple of Jesus Christ who has heard Him say, “Follow Me” and has left everything to follow Him. Amen.

*Mission Statement of EAMC – to glorify God and proclaim Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of all.

**Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson, a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow and professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.

By Rev. Rich Pollock, Worship Committee Chair