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Biblical/Doctrinal Studies:
Focus on Jesus Series

Discipleship in the New Testament
by Ed Vasicek

Jesus used the term “disciple” in various ways in his teaching. Sometimes the word simply referred to someone committed to faith in Jesus Christ, His followers. When Jesus commanded the church to “make disciples of all nations,” He implied four practices: 1) evangelism, 2) baptism, 3) thorough instruction and 4) obedience. Those last two aspects are summarized in the words, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

The best synonym for “disciple” is “learner.” A disciple of Jesus Christ is learning from Him and about Him. In that sense, our “Focus on Jesus” series is especially relevant. Unfortunately, many Christians have forsaken this serious learning about Jesus Christ for what is popularly called a “felt needs” approach to Christianity. Whereas it may be appropriate to address “felt needs” (and I think it is), we should not do so at the expense of growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Anyhow, here are several shades of usage for the term “disciple.”

  1. A genuine believer in Jesus Christ. The word “disciple” is never used past the Book of Acts. The letters (epistles) and Revelation used terms like, “saint, brother, believer, Christian” when referring to followers of Jesus Christ. Yet when we look at how Paul, Peter, and others ministered, they were, in essence, making disciples. People were won to faith, they were baptized, and they began to intensely study and apply the Scriptures, conforming their lives accordingly. In the most basic sense, a genuine believer in Jesus Christ is a disciple.

  2. Christian Leadership Development. Someone who studied and traveled with Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry could become a disciple in a way that none of us can today. David Stern, in The Jewish New Testament Commentary enlightens us about the Talmidim (the Hebrew word for disciple, which is what one would have heard Jesus disciples called):

    “The English word “disciple” fails to convey the richness of relationship between a rabbi and his talmidim in the first century.... Teachers, both itinerant like Yeshua (Jesus) and settled ones, attracted followers who wholeheartedly gave themselves over to their teacher (though not in a mindless way, as happens today in some cults). The essence of the relationship was one of trust in every area of living, and its goal was to make the talmid [disciple] like his rabbi in knowledge, wisdom and ethical behavior…” (p. 23).

This unique ministry of discipleship cannot be repeated today. We can draw applications, however, and experience less perfect discipleship models. For example, Paul said, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Perhaps the best model for discipleship in the church age (now that Jesus is not physically present and walking the earth) is that of 2 Timothy 2:2: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”

Pastor Ed

Highland Park Church   516 W. Sycamore St. Kokomo, Indiana, 46901 USA   (765)452-1779    church@highlandpc.com    Main Service: Sun 10:30 a.m.