Yesterday I bought a book in the BARGAIN BOOKS section at our local Christian bookstore; and having read the introduction and first chapter last night I’m pretty sure it was a good buy. (Mere Discipleship by Alister McGrath, Baker Books, 2018)

Usually when we use or hear the word disciple we think of those who are followers of Jesus. While the term most often does refer to a follower of Jesus, disciple is not limited to such usage. One definition of disciple is “a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.”

Surprising to me, the word disciple is found in the New Testament only in the Gospels and the book of Acts. And it is the usage of the word in the Gospels that gives us the basic definition of a disciple as a follower. In the Gospels Jesus’ first disciples literally followed him.

Today a Christian is a disciple of Jesus, but obviously is not someone who physically follows him as his first disciples did. Nevertheless, even though we as Christians do not and cannot literally follow him, we are still his followers. To be a disciple of Jesus today means to follow him in ways that go beyond walking with and behind him.

Our following Jesus today as his disciples is where the word discipleship comes in. And I learned last night that the word discipleship is not used in the Bible. However, the way we use the word discipleship today is clearly a biblical concept.

My own definition of discipleship is that it is the process of becoming more and more the person Jesus has called us to be as his followers. It’s about growing as a Christian and it is a process that is never complete in this life. The teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, and the teachings in the letters in the New Testament, are about walking on the path of discipleship as a follower of Jesus.

I find that to be both challenging and exciting. And if you are like me, sometimes it’s three steps forward and two steps back – but the result is that we are making progress. Discipleship is about learning from the Bible how we are to live and putting what we learn into practice.

I conclude with a quote from McGrath’s opening paragraph about discipleship, “It is about a conscious and committed decision to be followers of Jesus Christ in every way possible, including the way we think, love, and act. It is about growing in our faith, as we quest for wisdom rather than the mere accumulation of information about Christianity” (p. iv).

It’s a journey worth taking.

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Are there people you follow on Twitter? How about on Facebook? Are there one or more blogs you follow? Do you have a favorite baseball team you follow? Are you excited about the beginning of another football season because you have a favorite college or pro team you follow? Is there a favorite TV show you follow? We have many options when it comes to who and what we want to follow, don’t we?

The person I am most interested in following is Jesus. There is nothing wrong with any of the other options mentioned in the first paragraph; it’s just that the most important person to follow is Jesus. And to follow Jesus does not mean we cannot follow someone on Twitter or have a favorite team we follow.

During His ministry Jesus called people to follow Him and explained what that meant. Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23 all record Jesus as saying, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” There is additional important teaching from Jesus that follows this verse, but this verse is the essence of it.

To be Jesus’ disciple is to follow Him—that’s what it means to be a disciple. His first disciples literally followed Him from place to place, but today we do not have that privilege. New Testament and Greek scholar William Barclay suggests a number of ways follow was used in classical Greek that adds to the meaning of following Jesus: among other associations it was used of a soldier following his commander, it was used of slave attending his master, it was used of following or obeying someone’s advice or opinion, and it was used of obeying the law.

In His own words Jesus said to be His disciple requires the denial of oneself. When He adds a follower must “take up one’s cross” He deepens the qualification of denying oneself. Those who first heard Jesus offer this challenge would have understood that taking up one’s cross meant to carry a crossbar to the place of one’s execution by crucifixion. While crucifixion was a reality for some early Christians, taking up the cross for us has to do with self-denial. It means we must completely give ourselves to the Lord and surrender to Him. Only Luke has the added word daily in connection with taking up one’s cross, which tells us it is not something that is done only once but is to be a way of life. The reality is that to follow Jesus often calls us to sacrifice.

Those first disciples who followed Jesus gave up something to follow Him. Peter, Andrew, James, and John gave up their work as fisherman (Mark 1:18 and Luke 5:11). Matthew gave up his lucrative career as a tax collector to follow Jesus (Matthew 9:9). We don’t know about the others, but we can be sure they too gave something up. And it seems consistent to conclude that those who follow Jesus today will be expected to give something up in order to do so.

Let’s ask again what we did in the title of this post: who are you following? Or, even more direct, are you following Jesus? Simply appreciating and admiring Jesus will never be enough. We are called to follow Him; and that means a denial of self and a taking up of our cross to do so. How a person responds to Jesus is the most important decision they will ever make.

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Usually the phrase “the bottom line” refers to the net profit gained or lost with a business after expenses. But the phrase is also used in a variety of other contexts to note the essential or most important consideration for an endeavor, decision, or result. What is the bottom line when it comes to following Jesus and serving Him? An exchange between Jesus and the Apostle Peter following his well-known triple denial of Jesus the night He was arrested suggests an answer to the question.

Those familiar with the biblical record will remember earlier that night Peter boasted “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matthew 26:35). He was responding to Jesus’ warning and referring to his fellow apostles. In response to Jesus’ prophesy Peter would deny Him three times Peter insisted “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (verse 35). Jesus, of course, was right and Peter was wrong.

The exchange between Jesus and Peter I find so comforting and encouraging occurred early one morning a few days following Jesus’ resurrection on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The editors of my Bible have the heading “Jesus Reinstates Peter” over the section beginning in John 21:15. Jesus asks Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” I’m not sure what Jesus meant by “these,” but His question is clear. Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” And Jesus commissions him, “Feed my lambs.”

Two more times Jesus asked Peter the question. And most observers think Jesus asked him three times because Peter had denied Jesus three times. Peter said yes the next two times and Jesus responded “Take care of my sheep” and “Feed my sheep.” We can relate to Peter I’m sure when John tells us “Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time” but Jesus was making a point. And the point was, and still is, that the bottom line for following Jesus and serving Him—no matter how miserably we have failed—is our love for Jesus.

In volume 2 of his brief books John for Everyone N.T. Wright affirms, “Here is the secret of all Christian ministry, yours and mine, lay and ordained, full-time or part-time. It’s the secret of everything from being a quiet, back-row member of a prayer group to being a platform speaker at huge rallies and conferences. If you are going to do any single solitary thing as a follower and servant of Jesus, this is what it’s built on. Somewhere, deep down inside, there is a love for Jesus” (p. 165).

I think Wright’s right. What do you think?

Tell us in the comments below and share this post if you think others would be encouraged by it.

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