Saturday, April 30, 2011

Church Talk 101: What is a "Disciple"?

It's a word we hear thrown around the church a lot, but I wonder if anyone really knows what a disciple is. The common consensus seems to be that if you are going to church fairly regularly and trying to lead a decent life and believe Jesus is the Son of God, then you are a disciple. In other words, "disciple" has become synonymous with "believer." But God's word implies a much deeper level of commitment. Webster's includes in its definitions "a convinced adherent" and I like this one. "Convinced" means you really do believe with all your heart; "adherent" means you are sticking to what you believe as if you were glued to it.

There is also the root word which implies that a degree of discipline is involved. Being a disciple is not a passive state of being. Rather it is active and proactive and demands time, sacrifice, and determination. There are no accidental disciples. This is why Jesus warned those wanting to become his disciples that there was a cost attached to that commitment: "Take up your cross and follow me daily" (Luke 9:23).

Disciples are also, in the classic Jewish sense of the word (and let us never forget that Jesus was raised as a Jew and lived in the culture of Judea), committed to serving their Rabbi (which term translates to both Teacher and Master) with the goal of becoming exactly like him. As disciples of Jesus Christ, our goal is to become exactly like Jesus. To help his students achieve this goal, the Rabbi required obedience from his talmidim (disciples). Not only were they his students, but also his servants. As Jesus reminds us, "The student is not above his teacher, nor is the servant above his master" (Matthew 10:24).

The end result of discipleship is a mature believer capable of taking on the role of rabbi for the next generation of talmidim. Every "graduate" of a discipleship program should continue to grow in knowledge and in faith so that he or she can in turn lead other students closer to Christ. That is what Christian discipleship is really all about. "Go and make disciples of all nations" is much more than a command to evangelize. It is a commitment to lifelong growth.

In the Church, we are all students of the one Teacher; we are all talmidim of the one Rabbi, Jesus Christ. We should be committed not merely to study the Word, but also to live by it. In short, our goal should be to become exactly like our Rabbi.

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