When you hear the word “discipleship”, what picture comes to your mind? Do you think of the twelve disciples of Jesus, the Great Commission Jesus gave to “go and make disciples of all nations” in Matthew 28:19, or maybe the big push for small groups your church did last fall?
We hear this term tossed around our churches, but seldom are we taught what discipleship truly is. However, there is a Biblical model that Jesus set before us for what it practically looks like.
The heart of discipleship is relationship. It is relationship with Jesus Christ first and then relationship with others who walk alongside you toward Christ. Here is how we see this played out in Scripture…
Throughout the Gospels, we see this eclectic group of twelve men who followed Jesus during his three years of ministry. They started out as strangers that Jesus called out to, inviting each of them on the journey of following Him (Luke 5:27-18, Mark 1:16-20). They were fisherman, tax collectors, and most of all, sinners. They were broken people in need of a restored relationship with their Creator. This is the place we all start. Each of us come from different backgrounds carrying different baggage, yet we are all invited to follow Christ and to start right now, where we are.
As we make that first step to follow Christ, our discipleship journey begins. Each day as we pursue Christ, the Holy Spirit works within us to grow us into the likeness of Christ and teach us more about the heart of God. John 15:5 says “I [Jesus] am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” NIV 1984.
Once Jesus called these twelve men to follow Him, it was time for them to grow and begin bearing fruit. He surrounded them with each other and taught them the truths of the Kingdom of God. He taught through Scripture, specific lessons and stories, but His greatest teaching was from His life. The way He loved His Father, the disciples themselves, and all those who came to Him, painted a picture of what it meant to truly be a part of God’s family and a follower of Him.
After Jesus rose from the grave and was ascending into Heaven, He left the disciples with a charge to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 NIV 1984.
In saying this to them, Jesus was telling them “Hey, you have walked with me all these years and seen all that I have come to do. You have been my disciples. Now, the way that I have loved and taught you, go and do that for people among all nations. Teach them the truth and to follow me, as I have taught you.”
So that is what the disciples did. They went out from that place and proclaimed the message of the Gospel to the nations, as we see all throughout the book of Acts. They taught people the truths of God’s Word, but they also built relationships with them by walking with them in their daily lives. Their lives were the evidence of their words, proclaiming even louder the message of the Gospel to all who encountered them. Then, once their disciples were ready, they sent them out to “go and make disciples of all nations…”
And here we are today, still charged with the same call to “go and make disciples of all nations…” with the example given to us by the way Christ discipled that rag-tag group of twelve unlikely men. It is because of those men that the Gospel made its way to you and I.
So, what is discipleship? It is the heartbeat of Christ’s ministry here on earth, founded upon a relationship with Him first and second with those around us who teach and lead us toward Him. And it is only because of you and I, making disciples who make disciples, that the Gospel will make its way to the ends of the earth.