I suppose you would have heard enough from the pulpit and at ACM/ECM that the mission of the church is to go and make disciples. But what makes a person a disciple of Jesus? A disciple is a learner and an adherent of what he learns. So someone may go to seminary and learn all that he can about Christianity but it does not make him a disciple. On the contrary, someone may know little about Jesus’ teachings but because he believes in the Lord and adheres to the teachings as he is being taught, he is a disciple. So what then is his goal as a disciple of Jesus? If I may borrow from those Chinese martial art movies, a disciple follows a master in the hope that he may become like his master. Likewise, a master takes on a disciple in the hope that he may continue to propagate his teachings or pass on his skills. So the goal of a disciple of Jesus is two-fold: to become like the Master (the being) and to propagate his teachings in order to fulfil God’s redemptive work (the doing)!
Jesus says in John 15:8, ‘By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.’ Therefore the mark of a disciple is this: he will bear fruits in these two areas, namely fruit of the Spirit (the being) and fruit for the kingdom (the doing). Galatians 5:22-23 tells us what the fruit of the Spirit is, namely love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. A disciple will grow to possess such attributes so that he may manifest Christlikeness in him. Such a disciple will not give in to sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy,drunkenness, orgies, and things like these(Gal 5:19-21). And John 15:16 tells us that we are appointed to go and bear fruit that will last. A disciple will go and make disciples of others after themselves, i.e. disciples who also understand what it means to go and bear fruit. As with the parable of the talents, such a disciple will not be contented to do nothing while waiting for the Lord’s return (Matthew 25:14-30). But the work of the kingdom involves more than just spreading the gospel. For Jesus also taught his disciples to care for the poor, widows and orphans and a disciple will give one of these little ones even a cup of cold water. (Mat 10:42)
Jesus also says that each tree is known by its fruit (Luke 6:44). We should therefore be able to recognize a disciple by the kind of fruits he bears, both in his being and also in his doing, and not one or the other. For someone can be a good-natured person and shows similar attributes of the fruit of the Spirit because of his upbringing but if he does not believe in Jesus and is not burdened with the work of the kingdom, he is not a disciple. Likewise, in Matthew 7:22-23, Jesus warns that many will say to him on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ But he will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil-doers!’ These people were obviously doing the work of the kingdom like the apostles did. Yet the Lord counted them as evil-doers. They were not disciples just because they were also doing kingdom work, for many can be doing it for their own glory. So these fruits alone do not necessarily prove that the person is a disciple, though a disciple should bear them as he grows. So what else may prove that the person is indeed a disciple?
Jesus says, ‘By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’(John 13:35). A disciple of Jesus will naturally develop a love for God and for fellow disciples that others are able to see and testify. Love is the hallmark of a disciple. So how can we make a disciple that bears fruits that are nurtured and motivated by love? The Great Commission tells us that it involves three things after the person has come to faith, namely baptism, teaching and obeying. So baptism is a logical starting place for a person who desires to be a disciple. He should be willing to publicly proclaim his faith in the presence of witnesses through baptism. Then there should be opportunities for him to be taught and disciplined. Jesus spent three years training his disciples. Paul spent time in the churches he set up to teach them and he wrote to encourage, correct and rebuke them when the need arose. So to make a disciple, the church today must be ready to teach the Word faithfully and to exercise discipline when necessary so that the person may abide in Jesus. For Jesus say, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples’(John 8:31). Likewise, he can only be nurtured when there are opportunities for him to practice what he has been taught. So the church today must also be actively involved in the work of the kingdom, both in bringing the gospel to the lost and in caring for the needy in the community.
Finally, Jesus also says, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple; so therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple’(Luke 14:26-27; 33). A disciple of Jesus must be willing to put his Lord before anyone and anything else, including members of his own family and himself. He must also be willing to suffer for Jesus just as Jesus had suffered for his own because opposition and persecution against God’s people remains in this fallen world. To put it simply, Jesus must be King and Lord of the disciple’s life. So it can be costly indeed to follow Jesus but the cost is worthwhile when one considers the rewards that are promised. There is the promise of future blessings when the disciple is saved from God’s wrath and looks forward to eternity in his holy presence. There is also the promise of present blessings when the disciple has peace from Jesus that the world cannot give to calm the troubled heart (John 14:27), as well as the love, joy and support from members of the spiritual family to help one another overcome trials in life. So the question left for me to ask is this: are you a disciple?
February 23, 2014