A few days ago, Guy from “The M Blog” wrote a new post called “Discipleship questions worth pondering.” I decided that I would give Guy some definitive answers to his questions and to all questions ever asked about discipleship. Ok. Not really. But, I did ponder his questions and thought I would offer a few “ponderings” in print.
For those of us who are following Jesus Christ, I think discipling is (or should be) very important. If Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are correct, the some of the last words spoken by Jesus after his resurrection and before his ascension related to discipling others in some form or fashion.
A couple of Guy’s questions seem to be related to me:
1. Can a person be a disciple and not yet a believer in Jesus, a “Christian.”
2. Can you disciple an unbeliever?
Of course, answering these questions depends on defining the word “disciple.” The Greek term translated “disciple” has a range of meanings (as does almost every word in every language). The word translated “disciple” could simply mean “pupil” or “learner.” In that sense, anyone learning anything about Jesus becomes a “disciple” of Jesus. John occasionally uses this meaning of the word “disciple” in his Gospel. (For example, see John 6:66, in which John says, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”) This use of the term “disciple” could include an unbeliever.
However, there are other meanings of the term translated “disciple.” Primarily in the New Testament I think the term translated “disciple” refers to someone who is more than a pupil or learner and is instead someone who follows the life and teachings of a leader. In this case, the “leader” would be Jesus. So, only a believer could be a disciple. In fact, faith in Christ (salvation, if you prefer) is the first step in “following Jesus” or the first step as a disciple.
Here’s another good question that Guy asked:
3. When someone becomes a believer or Christian, can we consider them as a “disciple made?”
In one sense, a “disciple” is made at the point the person trusts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. However, as I said earlier, a disciple is someone who actually follows the life and teaching of Jesus. So, a disciple is never completely made until the person’s life is complete. Thus, the life of a disciple in following Jesus includes always learning more about what it means to follow Jesus.
I’m going to skip a few questions:
9. Are we to obey the teaching component of the Great Commission, or are we to step out of the way and let Jesus (or the Spirit) teach others directly?
Yes. Teaching others to obey everything that Jesus commanded, includes just that – teaching. So, yes, that is part of both being a disciple of Jesus and helping others in their lives as disciples of Jesus. Of course, we know that the ultimate and final teacher is Jesus (through the Holy Spirit). So, while we teach others (and learn from others), we also help them (and learn to) listen to Jesus on our own. The two are not distinct, but complimentary forms of teaching.
And, the last questions that I’m going to “ponder” in this post:
11. If the making of disciples, or discipleship requires that we teach others to observe/obey ALL that Jesus commanded, then wouldn’t that take a considerable amount of time? Are we relieved of our responsibility to teach when we have taught all of those commandments?
Even if we DID teaching all of Jesus’ commands, we would not have done what Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20 (the great commission). Why? Because, as Guy said in the question, Jesus said to teach people to observe/obey. That cannot be completed by teaching a list of commands. It takes time. How much time? Well, as much time as necessary… but more than we usually assume. I think it’s easier to assume that it takes a lifetime.
So, there you go. All you need to know about discipleship.
Actually, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions (or any of the other questions that Guy asked in his post).