A disciple is a learner. Externally they are one who loves God and people. But what about the inside? What is at the heart of a disciple, what is the engine-room of love?
In defining a disciple, we normally revert to the obervable - what people should say and do. Its never wrong to do the right thing, but expecting people to simply mimic good behaviour is not the same as transformation.
Often we fall back to a "spiritual performance" mindset, relying on Jesus’ response to a question of law - “What is the greatest command?” In simple terms His response was “If you are asking what are the most important things to obey, I say: Love God and love people”. (Mark 12:30-31)
But life with God is about more than doing law – He offered abundant life. And Jesus knew that our ability to love is inconsistent at best, we needed a change of heart. He highlighted that what we do comes from who we are – good fruit comes from a good root.
To make discipleship only about teaching people what to think and do we miss the point, and our discipleship will be truncated at best.
If we take a fresh look at what Jesus emphasised most in His followers, we get a clearer view of what discipleship could be about, and where disciplers should focus.
Faith: A growing reliance on who God is and what He has said.
Jesus consistently and comprehensively changed the subject from Religion to Reliance. The requirements of law were only able to be met in Himself, and the ability to live a godly life is only possible if we live from grace by faith.
And so faith became His mantra – “Just believe” (John 6:29; Mt 15:28 Mk 5:20 et al). Our life is to be one of faith from beginning to end (Rom 1:17).
Freedom: Learning to live from God, not merely for God.
In offering an abundant and overflowing version of life, Jesus was wrapping the concept of freedom in new words. Our life with Him was to pour out from within and change the world – He was promising a filling of hearts and fuelling of mission all at once.
Freedom turns slaves into sons & daughters. We are no longer in bondage to sin, no longer slaves to a remote God who merely directs humanity. We become co-heirs, partners in His work, empowered by the Spirit.
Following: Discovering and walking in my purpose and unique calling
Jesus’ disciples were specifically called to be followers. They were to not only watch Jesus and copy His works and words, they were to learn His ways.
Jesus said “I only do what I see my father doing, say what he is saying” (Jn 5:19; 5:30). Following the Father’s lead, and fulfilling our design are the ways of true disciples.
Fruitfulness: Multiplying my influence in the world.
Jesus said that if we abide in Him we will bear much fruit (Jn 15:5). That abiding is learned in the previous seasons, and played out in the season of Fruitfulness. The amazing thing about fruit is that is already contains the seeds of new fruit within it – God’s fruit multiplies.
“Good soil”, He said, “will bear a crop a hundred times more than was sown” (Luke 8:8). What that can mean is that whatever gifting or ability God has given you is not for you to simply use – it is to be multiplied in others!
These four elements of discipleship never cease to be in play – regardless of our maturity in Christ. We are always experiencing a season of growth in one or all of them. This happens naturally in the seasons of life we experience.
With this paradigm in place we can create a framework and culture within our churches to propegate lifelong spiritual growth in our people. Discipleship becomes about more than bible reading, prayer and "learning the ropes", it is a journey of continual growth in these four primary heart-markers.