Quick quiz, and I want you to take a moment to really consider it and answer it. I want you to think of a definition that (1) doesn’t use “churchy” words or technical terminology, (2) is simple enough for a reasonable person to understand, and (3) is accurate and helpful. Ready?
How would you define what a disciple or follower of Jesus is?
Stop reading a moment and think. Have you ever had to actually define what a disciple is? Have you ever had to actually define discipleship? See, finding this definition is really, really important because in order to tell if we are actually disciples of Jesus, we have to know what defines whether a person is a disciple or not! Then we can consider how successful we are and whether we are making progress in being followers of Jesus.
Let’s start by defining some terms. First, let’s define what the word “disciple” means because it is a “churchy” word and doesn’t mean much in our world. The word our English Bibles translate as “disciple” (Greek mathetes) means “apprentice” or “one who is closely associated with a particular teacher and their way of life.” We might say “student,” but in American usage that just means someone who learns information from someone.
Jesus, though, in Luke 6:40 gives us a great working definition of what the relationship between an apprentice and their teacher is: “ A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Notice that when a disciple is fully trained, they don’t just know what the teacher knows. They don’t just have the teacher’s expertise. They are like their teacher. They adopt not just their teachers’ knowledge, but their way of life. They are more than a modern student, but more like a modern apprentice or intern.
A disciple of Jesus, then, is a person who is learning to be like Jesus, from Jesus! I love the way that Dallas Willard puts it in “How to Be A Disciple” (http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=336): “I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live life if he were I.” What a great definition. A disciple of Jesus is someone who is learning from Jesus to live their life as Jesus would live life if He were them.
Now, let’s be real. Not all believers in Jesus are learning to live their life from Jesus like He would if He were them. (we know this from John 12:42, if nowhere else) I know plenty of believers in Christ, children of God bound for eternity in heaven (John 1:12), who aren’t really engaged in the process of internal change and growth that is the mark of someone who is learning and growing. Maybe they did for a time, but then they got comfortable where they were. Now they’re not learning; they’ve learned (past tense). But a disciple is not someone who has learned, but is learning!
How about you? Are you learning? Are you growing? Are you coming to Jesus, day after day, and seeking how He would live life if He were you? That’s what it means, as a believer in Jesus, to be a disciple of Jesus.
If you say you’re learning, when is the last time that He changed something inside of you to make your life look more like He would live it? Have you changed your heart toward an enemy, or altered your daily routine, or changed the way you saw God or yourself such that your life moved a little? That’s the mark of apprenticeship (or discipleship).
So, while there is much to say about the path of learning from Jesus to live our lives like He would live them if He were us, in the meantime, today…
Are you an apprentice of Jesus?