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Discipleship: What is it?

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Jesus on shore talking to disciples on a boat

Discipleship: What is it?

The first step to addressing the concept of discipleship is determining just what it is. The word “discipleship” comes from the word “discipline.” Jesus refers to those who follow Him as His disciples. Following Jesus does indeed require discipline. The discipline that we need to truly follow Jesus can only come from the Holy Spirit, who indwells a person ONLY when they have believed the Gospel and been sealed by Him (Ephesians 1:13). The Apostle Paul admonishes (directs and encourages) believers (meaning Christians, who have received the irrevocable gift of salvation/eternal life when they believed on Jesus/believed the Gospel) to walk in the Spirit. The Spirit is who indwells us. As stated, we can only follow and serve Jesus, in a manner that God honors, by the power of the Holy Spirit, who indwells the believer; the saved/redeemed person (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19). In Isiah 64:6 God calls the mere righteousness of people filthy rags; more specifically, dirty menstrual cloth. When we trust in Christ, we are born again and put on a new and sinless self, and put off our old self (John 3:1-16, Colossians 3:9-10, 1 John 3:9) that is powered by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16). God also points out how unimpressed He is with our works that are not done in the Spirit, whom we receive when we do the will of the Father (John 6:40) in Matthew 7:21-23. In the paragraphs below, I would like to look at a few key aspects of discipleship.

Discipleship is growth. Just as in the physical sense, one must be born before they can grow. Discipleship is a life-long process that the believer/saved person must choose to (and most certainly should!) undertake. There can be setbacks of many sorts. One can stay a baby spiritually for a long time, even decades (I know this from experience). Unlike physical growth, we must choose to grow spiritually, just as we chose to trust in Jesus and accept the free gift of salvation (Romans 5:15).

Discipleship involves regular study of the Word of God; we need to hear from Him. God has provided us with His book (the Bible) that tells the future before it happens, tells us how to receive the gift of eternal life, how to conduct ourselves, and much more. Consider this verse:

2Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

The regular and careful study of God’s Word is paramount to discipleship, and it does require discipline. Satan likes it very much when believers are illiterate of God’s Word, because it makes them less effective in living for God in all respects, which robs the believer of his or her joy in the Lord; as well as other potential reward, and makes him or her less effective in ministering to other believers, as well as less effective in getting unsaved people saved. Satan likes to somehow, at some level, get saved people to believe that studying God’s word is boring. Nothing could be further from the truth. The study of Scripture is anything but boring. The Holy Spirit, who indwells the believer, continuously reveals fascinating truths and perspectives to a believer, throughout his or her life; as much as he or she is willing to take in. One of the many wonderful things about the Bible is that a child can understand the Gospel; the key to salvation; the simplicity that is Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3), but the most intellectually gifted and seasoned sage could spend multiple lifetimes studying the Scriptures and still have much yet to learn. Saying that disciplining one’s self to study the Scriptures on a regular basis is rewarding and fulfilling, would be a gross understatement.

Also, please don’t think that God’s Word is just too hard for you to understand and that you aren’t smart enough to study it. This is just another deception of Satan. Remember, in-depth understanding and discernment of God’s Word is of the Holy Spirit, again, who you, as a believer are sealed with and then dwells within you when you believe the Gospel (Romans 8:11, Ephesians 1:13). The Holy Spirit is REALLY smart, to infinitely understate it…He wrote the book. He is now in you and will teach you to understand it and through it, reveal its power it to you. Remember however, much like as in school, the more you put into a class, the more you tend to get out of it. This is of course why we are admonished in Scripture to study God’s Word.

Discipleship involves regular prayer. As mentioned in the previous section, God want us to hear from Him, and He also wants to hear from us; He wants us to commune with Him regularly. He wants to be at the forefront of our thoughts.

1Thessalonians 5:17 Pray without ceasing.

If we are doing this, God will be at the forefront of our minds; there is nothing better to have at the forefront of your mind. This is a command to the believer, however it is not a burden; it is a lifeline. [God’s commands are always designed to bring us good things and are life-giving.] Seeking the perfect wisdom of God and getting things right the first time, is much less stressful than the opposite. Consider the following passage:

Philippians 4:6 Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Satan wants to keep you away from continuous, real prayer by whatever means he can. He does not want you to have that peace that passes all understanding that comes from communing with God. Satan wants you to have the myriad types of compounding stress that are involved with dismissing the wisdom and will of God and going with your own [lack of] wisdom and will. Saying that disciplining one’s self to commune with God continuously is a stress reliever and very much worth doing, would also be a gross understatement.

Discipleship involves serving God. There are myriad ways to serve God anywhere you may be, and wherever He may call you to go. As we study and pray, we are guided as to how and where we may be called to serve. We become ever better equipped for that service to the Lord as we continue to grow in Him.

Discipleship is obedience. Studying the Scriptures is an act of obedience. Praying without ceasing is an act of obedience. Serving God with your time, your money, your talents, and whatever other resources you may have that He may be calling you to use for Him, are acts of obedience. God rewards the obedience of the believer (1 Corinthians 3:11-15, 5:1-5, Revelation 22:12), and chastises (punishes) the disobedience of the believer (Acts 5:1-10, Hebrews 12:5-11). Chastisement and condemnation are not the same, however. There is no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ (John 5:24, Romans 8:1).

Seeking the Lord, in terms of service is very important; it is the right thing to do. James 4:17 makes it clear that if we fail to do the right thing, it is a sin. James also tells us in chapter 2, verse 10, of his letter, that if we have broken one point of the law, we have broken them all. To strive toward fully obeying God, we must be communing with Him; an act of obedience. Thanks be to Him that we are not saved by keeping the law, something that we cannot even come close to doing in our flesh. Thanks be to Him that we are saved by grace through faith and not of ourselves, but that salvation is the gift of God and not of works. We have nothing to boast about (Ephesians 2:8-9) except in the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:17).

Discipleship may (probably will) be costly; it may be very costly; it just may very well cost you everything that you have; maybe even your earthly life. But that cost is nothing compared to the reward we ultimately receive from God for our devotion, submission, and service to Him (Romans 8:18). In fact, Paul doesn’t make a comparison between the 2, instead he states that our current life is not EVEN WORTH COMPARING with the next life! This would make sense because what we may give up in this life is very much flawed and finite, but what God rewards us with in the next life is perfect and infinite; 2 qualities that most definitely make the next life not worthy of comparison with our current state of existence. Salvation is by far the best gift you could ever receive. Discipleship is by far the best investment that you could ever make. God bless.


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