We are commanded to “make disciples.” Have you ever wondered what exactly is a disciple? We can’t know if we have made someone a disciple, if we don’t know what a disciple is.
Very simply the term disciple means a learner. However, we know from looking at the New Testament pattern that the kind of disciple we are commanded to make is more than someone who simply learns information. We can see it is someone who experiences transformation. I believe when we look at the pattern of the New Testament we see four key characteristics of a disciple.
1. Saved: A disciples has trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior. As Jesus says to Nicodemus, they have been born again (John 3:1-21). That is the reason John wrote his gospel (John 20:30-31). There is saving power in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12). The invitation is for everyone (John 3:16-17, Romans 10:9-13; Titus 3:5). The first mark of a disciple is that they are saved.
2. Surrendered: The decision to trust Jesus as Savior is not the final decision to surrender to Jesus Christ. The life of a disciple is characterized as a life of faith (Hebrews 11:6), which is a life of continual surrender. The first step of surrender after salvation is baptism. The very passage that commands us to make disciples commands that we baptize them (Matthew 28:18-20). Baptism is the New Testament way of declaring to the world that you have surrendered your life to Jesus Christ. The second mark of a disciple is that they are surrendered.
3. Relating: What we see naturally happens as a pattern in the New Testament after someone trusts Jesus as their savior is that they get into relationships that are grounded in God’s Word. Acts 2 is an excellent example. In one day 3,000 people had repented of their sin, trusted Jesus as their Savior, been baptized and then we see that they were meeting together regularly (Acts 2:40-47). They were in relationship with one another. As you look through the New Testament you see command after command that requires that we are in close relationships with other believers. They are called the one anothers of scripture. Things like “Be devoted to one another” (Romans 12:10), “confess sin to one another” (James :16). These types of commands can only be fulfilled when a disciple is in authentic relationships with other followers of Jesus. The third mark of a disciples is that they are in relationship with other disciples of Jesus. This is one of the reasons why being a part of a local church is so important.
4. Reproducing: We also, see that a genuine disciple is reproducing themselves by sharing their faith. The easiest passage to demonstrate this from is Matthew 28:18-20, but we see it everywhere. That is what the book of Acts is all about. That is why you see Paul starting so many churches after his conversion. This is the reason why God leaves us here after we trust Jesus as our Savior. He could beam us straight to heaven, but instead He leaves us here to seek and save the lost. It goes beyond merely leading them to the saving knowledge of Jesus though, we are to help them grow as well. Part of the Great Commission is that we teach them everything Jesus has taught us. The fourth mark of a disciples is that they are sharing their faith with others so they too can be saved and in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
For more on making disciples you can watch a sermon I preached on this here: Engage
These are the four key marks of a disciple that I see when I study the New Testament. I will conclude with two simple questions:
1. Are you a disciple who demonstrates all four of these characteristics? Are you saved, baptized, in biblical relationships with other believers and sharing your faith with people who are yet to know Jesus then teaching them to grow in that new relationship?
2. Do you see more or less characteristics of a disciple as the New Testament pattern of discipleship?