The point of the Great Commission is that the goal of Jesus is the making of disciples. There is the initial discipleship required for baptism and the ongoing discipleship needed for teaching. People are to be baptized when they have arrived at the initial discipleship stage. At that point, they are disciples, although not fully mature. That's why Jesus suggests that we baptize "them," these initial disciples, and continue teaching them in an ongoing discipleship model. It is with this thought in mind that we wish to examine the statements of Jesus about becoming a disciple. It would be these statements that Jesus would have had in mind when He commanded His followers to make disciples. The statements we examine here are those that Jesus indicates are needed in order to become a disciple. Thus Jesus is here dealing with the initial discipleship needed before baptism rather than the ongoing discipleship received after baptism. The first passage detailing what it means to be a disciple of Jesus is found in Matthew 10:24, 25.
A student [matbetai] is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!
This passage indicates that one who becomes a disciple enters into a learning relationship with the Master. The disciple is one who has willingness to learn he or she is therefore teachable. This teachable spirit is an absolute requirement for one who is to be baptized as a disciple of Jesus.
This passage also suggests that the one who becomes a disciple of Jesus can expect to be treated as Jesus was, with misunderstanding and persecution. When people first come to faith in Christ, it is difficult for them to endure trying circumstances for their faith. If, as this text suggests, one who is a disciple is able to withstand these attacks, then that person must have come to a basic maturity of faith in Christ before becoming a disciple. Therefore, part of the evangelistic process of making a disciple is to help that person develop a faith mature enough to withstand persecution or ridicule. This was especially true of the earliest Christians, who many times lost their lives soon after their commitment to Christ.
Discipleship, then, requires a strong commitment to Christ as well as a teachaThe religion Christ offers when He invites people to become His disciples is not one of ease and selfindulgence but of cross bearing. It doesn't mean that the Christian goes through life moodily and joylessly, but it does mean that the one who has become His disciple finds joy in the affliction and trouble caused by his allegiance to Christ, counting it a privilege to suffer with Him. Christ does not promise ease and pleasure in this world, but He does promise inner peace and happiness. To secure this, theble spirit. This does not usually happen when one first prays the sinner's prayer, but is the result of some initial growing in the Christian faith, so that the person has not only submitted to Christ but has actually begun to learn that he can trust Christ with his very life. The second major passage on Jesus' understanding of becoming a disciple is found in Luke 14:26, 27, 33.
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. . . . In the same way, any of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciple.
This passage tells us that large crowds were following Jesus (verse 25). If Jesus believed in mass movements of unconverted people coming to faith, then He made a very inappropriate, discouraging response to the masses in the statement here. There is a cost to following Jesus. Jesus doesn't want half-hearted followers, He desires discipleship was full surrender to Himself and a willingness to give up everything to follow Him.
To become a disciple, Jesus declares, is to be willing to bear "His cross." Note that it is not "my cross," but "His cross." Since those crucified were usually slaves or those convicted of the most terrible crimes, the one crucified often bore his own cross to the place of crucifixion. They were often hated and despised by society. Thus, to bear the cross is to do just what Jesus did when He bore the cross, to endure without complaint or regret the frown of friends and relatives and to bear reproach with patience and humility. To be a disciple, one must be willing to bear "His cross." The disciple then has supreme fellowship with Christ in His sufferings. No greater honor can come to any person.
The religion Christ offers when He invites people to become His disciples is not one of ease and selfindulgence but of cross bearing. It doesn't mean that the Christian goes through life moodily and joylessly, but it does mean that the one who has become His disciple finds joy in the affliction and trouble caused by his allegiance to Christ, counting it a privilege to suffer with Him. Christ does not promise ease and pleasure in this world, but He does promise inner peace and happiness. To secure this, the fully committed individuals. Those who decide to become His disciples must be willing to give up everything, including home, family, relatives, wealth, and position, in order to follow Him.
According to church growth specialist, Donald McCavran, Jesus should have received the entire crowd and not worried about commitment-He could address that later. But that was not the approach of Jesus. Even when the rich young ruler came to Christ, Jesus discouraged him by demanding full commitment before He would bestow discipleship upon him. McGavran's theology would have been to accept the rich young ruler as he was, make him a disciple, and then hope commitment would come later. That, however, was not the pattern of Jesus. To Jesus, the prerequisite to disciple of Jesus gladly bears "His cross."
This statement of Jesus about initial discipleship emphasizes commitment more than "head knowledge." Discipleship involves total, absolute commitment to the person of Christ more than simply subscribing to a set of doctrines. That is not to say that understanding basic doctrine is not an essential preparation for baptism, but the understanding of doctrine must be for the purpose of helping people give themselves totally to the person of Christ. One does not make a commitment to a person one does not know. Understanding doctrine in the context of this passage should help new Christians learn to know Jesus so that they will feel comfortable making an unreserved, radical commitment to Him.
The third passage which deals with being a disciple of Jesus is found in John 8:31, 32.
To the lews who had believed him, lesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
In this passage, Jesus is speaking to people who already believe in Him. If Jesus were to have accepted McGavran's understanding of disciple, these people would be considered disciples already. Yet Jesus declares that it is not sufficient so much due to their correct methodology as to their consistent witness by exemplifying in their lives the clear marks of discipleship that Jesus modeled for them. It is a tragedy when the "masses" are brought into membership in the church without these clear evidences of discipleship. This destroys the natural witness of the church and weakens Christianity. Jesus instruction on disciple making as the job of the church seems to be designed to prevent development of a church that would compromise its witness. Jesus is concerned about reaching the masses, but He wants them reached with the "real thing," not with artificial Christianity.
The final passage in which Jesus refers to disciple making is John 15:8.
This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Connection with Christ means fruit bearing. It is the inevitable result of such a union. Because it is inevitable, if the fruit is not there, we can know that discipleship is not occurring. Here is another of Jesus' tests by which the church can measure whether or not a person has become a disciple. The person must be producing fruit. What is this fruit? Some may suggest that Jesus has in mind the fruit of the Spirit enunciated by the apostle Paul in the book of Galatians. However, Jesus is speaking prior to Paul. In the context of this passage, Jesus is referring to Himself as the vine and His followers as the branches. The job of the branches is to produce fruit because of their living connection to the vine. Otherwise, they are cut off as nonproductive.
The whole context of this passage seems to center on a mission understanding. The Christian who is not reproducing by creating other disciples is not really a disciple. It is impossible, then, to be a follower of Jesus and not share Him. Disciples must not only share, they must also make disciples; otherwise, they themselves cannot be considered disciples. Jesus' discipleship invites people into a lifetime of disciple making. Jesus wants us to produce much fruit; this is not to be a casual convert once in a lifetime.
Russell Burrill is director of the North American Division Evangelism Institute.