Characteristics of a Disciple
I often speak at churches and faith communities about the role of our association in "Serving churches in their mission of making disciples". The dilemma I often find myself in, is that I am assuming that everyone understands what I mean when I say "making disciples". On one hand churches and leaders understand that language, since it is rooted in scripture and is a part of the Great Commission that Jesus himself instructs to the church to "Go and make disciples"(Matt 28:19). My aim for this post is to help clear up and define the terms of what it means to be a disciple.
At the core of the word Disciple, means to be a follower of... The early disciples literally followed Jesus for three years; meaning where He went they followed. They were taught firsthand by Jesus Himself. He was their teacher. Too often in our modern church we equate discipleship to attendance in a Bible study group or a Sunday school class as the mode of discipleship. I think that can be part of it. But, shouldn't discipleship contain more than just bible intake and knowledge once a week? I believe so. I also believe that the scriptures teach us certain rhythms or characteristics that are present in a follower of Jesus.
For the sake of this post I will only reference one chapter of the scriptures, in Acts chapter 2. But this chapter is full of rich evidences of what a disciple of Jesus looks like. I will be putting these in 7 broad categories, my hope one day would to be able to expound on each of these at a church but for now I will use this blog as a tool.
1.Daily Devotion: The Scripture in Acts 2: 42, 46 tells us that they Devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, and to meeting together. The key word is Devoted. Devoted means to be very loving or loyal to something or someone. Some translations will say steadfastly meaning that the new converts were unwavering in their conviction to be together and study from the apostles. This daily devotion is meaning more here than studying the scripture once a week they were devoted and dedicated to grow in their relationship with Christ and with others. As Jesus transforms a person's life he also brings about a desire to want to know him better.
2. Prayer: The new converts not only devoted themselves to teaching but also to prayer. Acts 2:42 also shows us this They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. A constant prayer-life is an essential characteristic in a disciples life. Too often we rush through a prayer by reciting all kinds of religious and sanctified language but our hearts are not gripped with the reality that we are communicating with the Almighty God and He with us. A disciple will view prayer as a holy moment that is consistent and active many moments throughout the day. Sometime spontaneous and free other times scheduled and formed. Nonetheless the prayers will come from a devotion to the Lord.
3. Repentance: In Acts 2:37-39 once the people heard the gospel proclaimed by Peter the Word tells us in verse 37 "When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles,"Brothers what should we do?" And Peter replied "repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins..." A key characteristic of a disciple is that he /she is turning from ones sin and turning to Gods plan. Repentance is not just a one and done decision, it is an on-going active continuous and simultaneous action that coincides with all the other characteristics of being a disciple. We must constantly be turning away from sin.
4. Sacrificial Generosity: A mark of a disciple is to readily see the needs around you and respond in a manner that is looking for ways to bless other people since you yourself have been blessed by Jesus' sacrificial death for your benefit. This is shown to us in Acts 2: 44-45 Now All the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. A characteristic of a disciple is that they will have a loose grip on possessions but will have a tight grip on Jesus.
5 Serve the Community: Similar to sacrificial generosity is serving the community. the disciple is looking for those who have a need and are quick to share with that person. James 2 speaks toward this as well but I promised not to use additional texts outside of Acts 2.
6. Share your story: Often underestimated as a characteristic of a disciples is the power of a testimony. In Acts 2:14-36, we see Peter's sermon and in His sermon he also shares his own experience of following Jesus and seeing the Acts of the Lord. It is through Peter's testimony that many people came to trust Jesus and repented and were baptized and received the gift of the Holy Spirit. As a mark of a disciple, you have a story to tell and are ready to tell it.
7. Worship: A disciple is going to have the expression of Worship in their hearts. In verses 26-28, we see that the heart is glad and the tongue rejoices, and also verses 46-47 there is joyful and sincere heart that Praise God and they enjoy the favor of all people. Worship is private but also public. Private in the sense of each person has their own metrics of gospel gratitude of how Jesus rescued us. Public in the manner of meeting together as believers to worship Jesus in one voice for all he has done.
As you reflect on these attributes of a disciple, ask yourself; Are these attribute present in my life right now? What changes would be necessary for me to live a life devoted to God? Am I concerned for the well being of my neighbors and the community around me? The rhythm of being a disciple is going to have these attributes evident in the life of the believer. Some attributes will be more dominate than others, this is because of the on-going process of discipleship. This process doesn't end but is continuous as we help one another to follow after Christ.