Discipleship Definition

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Discipleship Definition – What is it?
“To be a learner” is the literal answer to the question, “What is a discipleship definition?” Dictionary.com defines a disciple as:

  • A person who is a pupil or adherent to the doctrines of another.
  • One who embraces and assists in spreading the teaching of another.
  • Any follower of another person.
“Disciple” is a word that’s not generally considered a part of everyday vocabulary in contemporary society, but it gets tossed around a lot in Christian circles. You might hear phrases like: “called to be disciples of Christ,” “make disciples of all nations,” “walk as a disciple.” The concept seems very intimidating, and to a person who hasn’t spent a lifetime in church, but who wants to know God, it can be confusing.

In one way or another, we are all disciples already. We may not necessarily be disciples of Christ or of the Christian faith, but we are disciples of something. Maybe you have a favorite writer, or a sports star that you grew up trying to emulate. Perhaps there’s a person that you work with that you try to learn from. Maybe it’s something else. But whatever it is, each of us is already a disciple.

In the Bible, Christ’s final command to His followers is to “Therefore, as you go, disciple people in all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The Christian church has taken this command very seriously, but what does it mean to the uninitiated? What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ, much less to make more disciples?

Discipleship Definition – Changing from the inside
The important distinction with Christian discipleship is that we are not only called to learn the teachings of Jesus Christ, we are also called to live them. A disciple who bases his or her life on the teachings of Christ “like a person building a house, who dug a deep hole to lay the foundation on rock” (Luke 6:48). When we make our initial declaration of faith and ask Christ to be our Savior, He will begin changing us from the inside, giving us the ability to understand His word and the desire to live it.

This change happens in many ways. Here are a few examples of how God changes us from the inside:

  • As we read God’s Word, we learn about Jesus and how He lived. We begin to understand what it means to be like Jesus. We learn to put Him first in all things (Mark 8:34-38).
  • We become equipped to listen to the Holy Spirit, who lives within us. He helps us resist temptation and overcome trials (Ephesians 6:10-18).
  • We learn how to examine our thoughts, actions, and words—always comparing them with Scripture. We want to be doers of the Word, and not hearers only (James 1:22).
  • We begin to understand what it means to “abide in Christ.” As we abide, the Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These aren’t things we can conjure up on our own. They are produces by the Holy Spirit—a change from the inside out (Galatians 5:22-23).
  • We start loving other people through action (John 13:35).
  • We long to share our faith with others and tell unbelievers about the changes Jesus has made in our lives (1 Peter 3:15).
And while it is true that when we become Christians we’re called to make disciples of others, we have to remember that discipleship has to start somewhere. Nobody becomes a disciple-maker overnight. God knows our hearts, He understands that we’re going to have to take baby steps to get from point A to point B. So don’t let all that “make disciples” talk frighten you away from seeking Christ and becoming His disciple.

Remember that with the power of God on our side, we are capable of so much more than we could ever imagine. “Those who know your name will trust you for you have not forsaken those who seek you, LORD” (Psalm 9:10). The defining trait of any Christian disciple is faith. Faith in God will give us the power to become disciples, and to make more disciples by leading others to faith.

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Footnotes:
For helpful resources, read our article on Discipleship Resources.


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