In the Gospels, Jesus called people to follow him. They spent time with him, ate with him, watched and listened as he talked with and taught others, observed his miracles and concern for others, and were witnesses of his death, burial, and resurrection. He called these people his disciples, and one of Jesus’ last commands to them was for them to “make disciples.”
When Paul sent a letter of encouragement to his “son”, Timothy, he reminded Timothy of his teaching along with his way of life. As Paul said elsewhere, he followed Jesus Christ, and then challenged others to imitate his example of following Christ.
In the New Testament, being a disciple means following Jesus. While it certainly includes learning certain information (facts) about Jesus, learning facts does not make someone a disciple.
Today, Christians often reduce discipleship to a series of classes or lessons. Churches develop discipleship programs and enroll as many people as possible into these classes. While instruction and classes can help a Christian understand Scripture, they are not a replacement for following Jesus and being his disciple.
Paul reminded Timothy of something very important in his second letter:
You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra — which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. (2 Timothy 3:10-11 ESV)
Timothy had spent much time traveling with his mentor. He not only heard Paul teach, he also saw Paul’s way of life. Timothy saw how Paul dealt with trials and struggles. He knew why Paul traveled from city to city and joyfully faced such persecution. Timothy was discipled by Paul by sharing Paul’s life – both the good and the bad – and through that, Paul was able to help Timothy follow Jesus as his disciple.
In order to disciple one another today, Christians must begin by sharing their lives with one another. They must be willing to live openly and honestly, showing others the good and the bad – the beautiful and the ugly – parts of their life.
Only by sharing our lives with one another can we begin to help one another be disciples of Jesus Christ. Classes can never do this.