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Marks of a Disciple



Introduction


The Great Commission gives Christians direct instructions that many have taken to heart, uprooted their lives, and sacrificed their own goals and ambitions. Others have built dreams around the Great Commission. This paper will attempt to draw from the teaching of Jesus Christ, those who were disciples of Jesus, and other scholarly commentaries to identify the Essential marks of a Biblical disciple. After careful review, I have determined four characteristics that a disciple possesses. First, a disciple must place their trust in Jesus. Second, a disciple is a life-long learner and should always commit themselves to the study of God's Word. Third, A disciple must participate in a community with other believers. Lastly, a disciple must bear good fruit and reproduce other disciples who follow Jesus.


Trust Jesus


Perhaps it's common sense to say that a disciple trusts Jesus, yet many people live their lives without the apparent need of Jesus Christ as their savior. The church in Laodicea found security and protection in their wealth and natural resources. Still, as Jesus says in Revelation 3:17, For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. It's no surprise that not much has changed since John recorded Jesus' words in his vision, which begs the question, how do I follow Jesus? Fortunately, Jesus is evident on how to be a true disciple, we see in John 8 where Jesus is addressing a group of Pharisees who were challenging his authority, yet many of those in attendance believed Jesus. "So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, 'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" We abide in Christ when we place ourselves in Him and continue there, drawing life from his words. This produces ongoing discipleship. A true and obedient disciple will find the truth by knowing the one who is the truth, Jesus himself When we make the decision to remain in Jesus, we commit ourselves to faithfulness and obedience. Jesus' ministry began with Him preaching, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Simply put, our first steps with Jesus should be the omission and repentance of sin followed by the example of baptism that Jesus gives us in Matthew 3:13-16,

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Jesus, however, didn't need to be baptized because of sin, but because of obedience to God, setting the example for all believers to follow.

Jesus is accessible to anyone who will confess Christ as their savior, but as seen with the rich man in Mark 10:17-27, obedience to Jesus requires complete trust. While the man was able to keep all of the commandments since his youth, he could not place his trust in Jesus by giving away his fortune. The "one thing" this man lacked was not understanding the requirements of the law but a radical trust in God that would allow him to abandon all his property and follow Jesus. This mark of a disciple requires complete confidence in God to supply our needs, where the church in Laodicea and the wealthy man in Mark 10 failed to release their false securities in favor of a dependable God.




Learn and Grow


Riddled throughout the gospels are examples of the 12 disciples asking Jesus questions, some complex and challenging while others were basic and now draw criticism from modern Christians. However, Jesus fostered an environment where His disciples felt comfortable asking questions. Asking questions and fielding questions is a critical piece of the discipleship puzzle. Suppose a person is willing to walk away from their career and loved ones; it is only reasonable to expect that they should have some questions along the way. Jesus didn't lord over his followers like a tyrant; he shepherded them and didn't expect them to follow Him blindly and ignorantly. Jesus built an environment where his followers could learn. Jesus was constantly teaching not only the audiences in the towns that they traveled to but also His disciples. Mark 4:34 says He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. Because the disciples had committed to following Jesus, they got more information from behind the scenes than the public. While the public greatly misunderstood Jesus and the purpose of His presence, Jesus never allowed those committed to Him to fall into this same ignorance. Nothing went unexplained or unanswered. Jesus did not hide anything from his disciples. He wanted them to know and understand the truth about himself, his mission, and his teachings.

Jesus allows His disciples to grow under His leadership by giving them real-world experience. In Mark 6:6-13, we see Jesus sending out his disciples in pairs, empowering them to do the ministry he was calling them into. "And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over the unclean spirits." At the time of the great commission, those He challenged were not ill-equipped for the task He was giving them. It was the logical next step because they had spent time learning under Jesus' leadership. In the same way, the disciples committed themselves to training; modern disciples should replicate this process.


Participate in Community with Other Believers


Early in Jesus' ministry, He made it clear that His disciples were more than just His apprentices; they were his family. Mark 3:32-35 as Jesus' family comes to intervene in His ministry, Jesus boldly states that His family is those who submit to the "will of God."

And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you." And he answered them, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother."

When you do the will of God, you become part of a greater family that serves one another, worships together, and supports those in need. Jesus modeled servanthood masterfully in John 13 when He took on the role of a servant and washed His disciples' feet.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

While there is significant theological depth found within this scene, the unmistakable image of the messiah taking on the role of the servant would have been an unforgettable image that the disciple would be hard-pressed to forget.

Servants perform this task in the majority of cases, Jesus implicitly assumes the role of the servant in washing the feet of the disciples. But in order that this aspect is not missed, Jesus actions themselves draw attention to the function of the slave. Jesus removes his clothes and girds himself with a towel, attire that is reminiscent of the dress of servants depicted in Roman works of art. John also describes the taking of the basin and the drawing of water, actions that were assigned specifically to slaves according to the evidence from antiquity.

Jesus performed this task not because it was the expectation; Jesus was the most important person in the room and would never have been expected to serve in such a manner. The unique aspect of Jesus' action emphasizes that the foot washing was motivated by love. By washing the feet of the disciples, Jesus modeled grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love for God's people.

Secondly, Paul, the Apostle, writes in Hebrews 10:25 to correct the misconception by some believers that it is acceptable to neglect meeting together. Believers are to worship together, pray together, and grow together. Paul also charges his disciple Timothy to "devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching." Gathering together with other believers or going to church is one of the most important things we can do as a disciple. At church, we're not only worshipping God but also being strengthened by the community of believers that we encounter at a healthy church. The church is meant to worship God and learn His Word together. Yet, it is intended to do more; God wants us to share our lives with one another.

Lastly, disciples support one another in the community. The early church modeled this well in Acts 2:45, where the believers were united and, "They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need." While this is an outstanding example of caring for our fellow believers, taking care of one another doesn't always include material things. Disciples can serve and love one another in many different forms. Some examples may include providing a meal for a family during a time of great stress or grief, contacting a friend from church who is struggling, or offering to babysit children to allow parents to have a night out. Disciples take care of one another, and they share life with one another.

Do we see ourselves as fellow ministers of Jesus to the body, or do we believe the only minister is the pastor, bishop, or priest? Do we invite people to go with us fishing, golfing, shopping, to the movies, or out for dinner? Do we take time to just hang out with other believers? Spending time with other believers offers a great chance to invite an unbeliever to hang with you as you gather.

Jesus addressed the importance of community directly in John 13:34-35 when he said, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."


Bear Good Fruit


This final mark of a disciple is perhaps the most consequential, specifically to the next generation of disciples. At this point, a disciple moves from follower to influencer. The Apostle Paul understood the importance of pointing people to Jesus with his own life in 1 Corinthians 11:1, Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. The importance of following Christ is highlighted in Paul's discipleship. It's crucial that disciples of Jesus continually seek to lead people to Jesus. There is perhaps no more precise image of this than by the example set by John the Baptist in John 1:35-37 when he declared Jesus as the Lamb of God, then "The two disciples [Andrew and the other was unnamed] heard him say this, and they followed Jesus." Their immediate response of following Jesus proves the convincing effect of the Baptist's testimony, which enabled his disciples finally to accept Jesus as the Christ.

A disciple-maker should continue with all other marks of discipleship in their own life but should then seek to mentor others along their journey. It's also appropriate to mention that a disciple has the responsibility to disciple their own families first and foremost. This is evident in Paul's requirements for elders within the church when he says, among other provisions that, He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive If a disciple is unwilling to first disciple their own household, they have no right to attempt to disciple and influence others outside of their home.



Conclusion

The overarching sense of this study into the marks of biblical discipleship has exposed the reality that modern Christians might need to reevaluate their approach to discipleship. When the church, church leaders, and followers of Jesus fail to obey Christ's teachings, it's time to recalibrate and redirect our priorities. Trusting Jesus is the first mark of discipleship. Without trusting in Jesus, it is impossible to be His disciple. Second, a disciple is committed to learning and studying scripture. There is a wealth of spiritual and theological depth that provides a follower of Jesus a lifetime of material from which to draw. Third, a disciple participates in community with other believers. A disciple loves others and looks for opportunities to serve one another, and finally, as Jesus commanded in the Great Commission, a disciple makes other disciples.

Church leadership must place Jesus and His Word at the forefront of their approach to ministry. There are many marks of success that man positions yet have no meaningful spiritual significance. Yet when the church places the priorities that Jesus has set before us, we are in His will, and there is indeed no better place to be than in the will of God our Father. With each mark outlined in this paper, several subpoints could in of themselves be examined closer. This should come as no surprise because of the depth of spiritual significance in all of Jesus' teaching. Further study should include ordinances that Jesus outlined and expected His followers to carry on. Finally, we can rest in knowing that we are never alone in our pursuits of obedience and discipleship.

There is one word more remaining, which must not be overlooked, and that is Amen; which is not a cipher, intended only for a concluding word, like finis at the end of a book, but it has its significancy. 1. It bespeaks Christ's confirmation of this promise, Lo, I am with you. It is his Amen, in whom all the promises are Yea and Amen, "Verily I am, and will be, with you; I the Amen, the faithful Witness, do assure you of it." Or, 2. It bespeaks the church's concurrence with it, in their desire, and prayer, and expectation.

Matthew Henry's commentary on the great commission reminds us of this, Jesus is "with us always, to the end of the age."

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