What is a “Disciple?”
We are in the process of launching a church in the Denver metro area. The church is called “The Embassy.” Our first gathering is only weeks away and every moment we become more aware of our heart’s greatest desire. By God’s grace we strive toward making disciples in the city of Denver. This desire did not originate with us. The Universal Church has been commissioned to “Go…and make disciples…” But there is a need to clarify what we mean when we say “disciple.” The word can seem nebulous and confusing. It is imperative that we clarify what a disciple is because we are charged with making them. So let’s present the question to ourselves.
What does The Embassy mean when we say, “disciple?” What are we called to be and what are we calling people to? Is there a way of appreciating discipleship that will allow us to know the core value of a disciple? Our working definition is quite simple, “A disciple is a person who is progressively growing toward surrendering every area of their life to the lordship of Jesus Christ.” There are key words that are central to appreciating this definition:
1) Progressively, 2) Growing & Surrendering, 3) Every, 4) Lordship, 5) Jesus
The word “progressively” highlights the fact that discipleship is not instantaneous. In fact, it is a never-ending process. The objective of the disciple is to grow in divine understanding and affection for a God who is immeasurably supreme in all things. Because of the breadth and depth of God man will never exhaust this growth process. Therefore, it is a progressive process. Paul affirmed this when he spoke of the process in a never-ending present tense, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are BEING TRANSFORMED into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2nd Cor. 3:18). When a believer commits to being a disciple, they are not committing to reaching a finish line. Instead, they are relishing and savoring the very process of “being transformed…from glory to glory…” for the rest of their lives.
“Growing and Surrendering”
It may be that the words “growing” and “surrendering” represent the facets of discipleship that give us the most trouble. In western culture we have been taught to celebrate those that are persisters and achievers. In both the academic and professional worlds we laud these traits as means to success. If a person is self-reliant and independent, then we qualify them as leaders. But for the disciple, growth leads to surrender. As the disciple progressively grows toward God and develops a deeper affection for Him he/she surrenders, which makes for a willing vessel through whom God can act for His glory. We become God-reliant; dependent on Him. A disciple is showing growth when daily they turn to God and say, “Today I surrender to you. Achieve holiness through me. Glorify yourself in me.” Again Paul affirms this idea when he says, “…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). For the disciple, God does not cooperate toward holiness. Instead, He operates alone. He lives the Godly life through those that surrender themselves to Him.
“Every” and “Lordship”
For the disciple, God is not Lord over most things. He is lord over EVERYthing. So in surrendering the disciple holds nothing back. There is no area of our lives in which he is not the focus. He is Lord over our finances, children, relationships, homes, cars, jobs, sex lives, etc. The list is not exhaustible. In a most benedictory manner Paul lauded this point by saying, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever” (Romans 11:36)! God has no peer in that he is the sole source, means, and end of all creation. Everything exists for his glory! To grow as a disciple means to see Him in His splendor and surrender every area of your life to His Lordship.
Discipleship is not unique to Christianity. Everyone has either intentionally or unwittingly identified a person or idea as lord and in doing so has assumed the role of disciple. Because of this it is essential for us to be specific when we identify the object of our discipleship. Jesus is the Lord of whom we speak! As God he is supreme in all things and worthy of our surrender, “…all things were created BY him and FOR him” (Colossians 1:16). He is King of kings and the one toward whom the disciple’s heart is focused. He has all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18). He is, by definition, the one and only sovereign Master.
It is God’s objective to have his glory permeate all of creation. He desires to make Himself famous; to put his glory on full display. If he is central in our lives then we join him in the fulfillment of this objective. It is our joyful core value because it is His core value. Our approach to this is simple; “Go and make disciples.” Add to the choir of voices that will live for Him and sing his praises. That is the call of the disciple. And by “disciple” we mean, “A person who is PROGRESSIVELY GROWING toward SURRENDERING EVERY area of their life to the LORDSHIP of JESUS Christ.
Striving toward Kingdom Community and Discipleship,