Four Things a Disciple of Jesus Isn’t
Jesus calls us to be his disciples. He calls us to make disciples. Disciples and discipleship has almost become a buzz word in the Christian sub culture. But what is a disciple? Before we can understand what a disciple is, we first have to take a look at what a disciple isn’t. While each of the following is an aspect of a disciple, none of them by themselves give us a full picture of what a disciple is.
First, a disciple isn’t a mystic. A mystic’s whole life’s goal is to seek to be in the presence of Jesus. They will separate themselves from society with the purpose of total devotion to the presence of Jesus. While this is a noble task and one that we should all seek to some degree, it is not a disciple.
Some would say that a disciple is a student. A student’s goal is to gain knowledge from a teacher. They read books, take classes, and want to know what the teacher knows. While we need to grow in our understanding of Jesus and the gospel everyday, a student and a disciple are two different things.
Third, some think of a disciple as a practitioner, focused on actions. They want to do what Jesus did. They love seeking out the methods of Jesus and seek to do the same thing as He did. While we need to learn to do what Jesus did, this isn’t a disciple.
Lastly, some people think of a disciple as a professional. In his or her mind, a disciple is someone who has finally arrived. They have read several books, taken classes, and probably hold a title in the church.
So if a disciple isn’t a mystic, student, practitioner, or professional, what is a disciple? To begin, we need to take a look at what it would have culturally meant to be a disciple during the time Jesus was on earth. Ray Vander Laan talks about the education system and the relationship between a rabbi and disciples.
A few (very few) of the most outstanding Beth Midrash students sought permission to study with a famous rabbi often leaving home to travel with him for a lengthy period of time. These students were called talmidim (talmid, s.) in Hebrew, which is translated disciple. There is much more to a talmid than what we call student. A student wants to know what the teacher knows for the grade, to complete the class or the degree or even out of respect for the teacher. A talmid wants to be like the teacher, that is to become what the teacher is. That meant that students were passionately devoted to their rabbi and noted everything he did or said. This meant the rabbi/talmid relationship was a very intense and personal system of education. As the rabbi lived and taught his understanding of the Scripture his students (talmidim) listened and watched and imitated so as to become like him.[i]
A disciple doesn’t want to know what the rabbi knows or do what the rabbi does or simply be in the presence of the rabbi; he wants to do all these things to become who the rabbi is. A disciple’s sole focus is to become who the rabbi is. So this shapes my personal definition of a disciple:
A disciple is someone who is on the path to becoming like Jesus by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. As the disciple becomes more like Jesus, they find their identity in Jesus and image Him by worshiping God with all their lives, living in gospel community with other disciples, and going on mission to make more disciples of Jesus.
I’ll be writing about being a disciple more in the future. My understanding of being a disciple has shaped my relationship with Jesus. I hope it will help you better understand your relationship as well.