We throw the term around a lot in church circles, but what does it mean to be a "disciple" of Jesus? Broadly defined, the term “discipleship” is the process of “being and reproducing spiritually mature zealots for Christ.”[1] It has the idea of a state of one’s true investment as a whole-hearted follower of the Master. The disciples’ lives chronicled in the New Testament demonstrate an all-consuming obsession with the teachings and person of Jesus.[2] The New Testament notion of being “followers” of Christ does not suggest a merely physical “following” of Jesus from town to town, as contemporary parlance might suggest.[3] The disciples were not told to abandon their professions, lifestyles, possessions, and stability only to “be present” on the occasions of Jesus’ teaching, persecution, and miracle-working.[4] Instead, the idea is that being a follower—and likewise a “disciple”—indicates the participatory status of the Christ-follower in the lifelong commitment to the obedient lifestyle to which Jesus calls His Church.[5]

The disciples’ lives chronicled in the New Testament demonstrate an all-consuming obsession with the teachings and person of Jesus.

Features of Discipleship

   More specifically, there are key features of disciples and discipleship that help to define this concept. Namely, disciples should follow these biblical principles: 1) They must be assured of their salvation. 2) They must comprehend the principles of the Christian life. 3) They must be characterized as being obedient to God’s commandments. 4) They must be representatives of God in the world. 5) They must be servants. 6) They must be involved in reproducing their spiritual maturity in others.[6] Moreover, the goal of discipleship might be summarized as a development of these qualities in the disciple—supreme love for God (Matthew 10:37-40), utter devotion to the Word of God (John 8:31), a denying of self in favor of a theocentric worldview (Mark 8:34), a reflecting of the love of God in one’s interaction with others (Matthew 22:39).[7]

Count the Costs

   In contextualizing this notion for the twenty-first century believer who has been exposed to the ideologies of easy-believism and relativism, it is perhaps of utmost importance to emphasize the conditional element implicit within discipleship. Relationships have conditionals built into them in order to provide parameters that ultimately allow the possibility of true intimacy. This is true in our marriages, friendships, and especially in the divine-human relationship. The conditions, or “costs,” of discipleship is the topic of Luke 14:25-24. In this passage, Jesus urges those considering “following” Him to count the costs. If you are going to build a tower, determine whether or not you have the financial resources. If you are going to go to war, make sure you have the resources to win. So, too, if you are going to follow Jesus, consider whether or not you want to give up what is required to do so.

   Jesus suggests at least two costs to be counted in this passage. The implications of these are often lost on the reader. Notice He does not provide a seeker-sensitive revival service but instead is honest about what it is going to take to be a disciple. First, He claims that in order to be a disciple one must “hate” his mother, father, wife, children, and self. This is a rhetorical, comparative “hate.” That is, the language suggests in comparison to one’s love for God, all other affections in life should look like hatred. In other words, the ultimate priority in life for the disciple must be demonstrating in word, thought, motivation, and deed a love for God. All other idols must be cast down.

   Secondly, the disciple must be willing to “take up his cross.” Jesus is foreshadowing His own death and simultaneously providing a condition for discipleship that was to be a very real possibility in the early church. The disciple accepts a willingness to deny all other pursuits and follow the path that Jesus takes you, which may very well lead to a tortuous and premature death (just consider the apostles' fate). Commitment, zeal, and obedience are the ideas of discipleship suggested in this passage.

[1] George Barna, Growing True Disciples (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2001), 19-20.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Michael R. Mitchell, Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples (Bloomington, IN: CrossBooks, 2010), 2-5.  

[4] Ibid.

[5] Barna, Growing True Disciples, 21-22.

[6] Ibid, 22-24.

[7] Hampton Keathley IV, “Discipleship Overview,” http://bible.org/article/discipleship-overview.