Define and Describe “Discipleship”

Synthesize the readings from the Dempsey & Earley and Putman et al. textbooks and give 3 characteristics of a follower of Jesus Christ. Create your own definition of a follower of Jesus; use Scripture to support your definition.

Response

Defining discipleship faces the same challenge as defining terms such as parenting. The definition of parenting far surpasses the process of gestation and includes changing diapers, fixing meals, going to soccer games, and helping with homework, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Similarly, Rod Dempsey attempts to define the word “disciple” by identifying ten traits: (1) one who considers the cost, (2) loves others, (3) abides in Christ and bears fruit, (4) continues in the Word and experiences freedom, (5) follows Christ’s desires, (6) makes disciples, as well as one who is (7) committed, (8) sacrificial, (9) willing to give up possessions, and (10) full of the Holy Spirit.[1] However, the relational aspect of the word, much like parenting, defies the ability to ever comprehensively define it via traits. Dempsey then distills the traits into three characteristics of a follower of Jesus Christ by suggesting a disciple is sacrificial, relational, and transformational in thought, attitude, and action.[2] Jim Putman, Bobby Harrington, and Robert Coleman attempt to define discipleship by using Matthew 4:19, and suggest that “follow me” represents the acceptance of Christ at a head level, “and I will make you” represents a transformation at the heart level, and “fishers of men” represents a change in one’s actions or hands.[3]

Dempsey’s full definition of discipleship provides several important elements of discipleship, but it primarily focuses on the individual who trusts, surrenders, commits, and develops their potential for Christ. [4] However, the core of discipleship is not primarily about the individual, the traits of an individual, or the effort of an individual. Instead, discipleship is about the gospel, which is what Christ has provided for the believer – a new birth and identity accepted in Christ (cf. John 3:1-8; 2 Cor 5:17; Eph 1:11-14; Col 2:9-10). Joel Green suggests the discipleship language in Luke 14:25-27 is a call of Jesus for “the reconstruction of one’s identity, not along ancestral lines or on the basis of one’s social status, but within the new community.”[5] In other words, discipleship begins with a deep-seated belief that claims a new identity completely accepted in Christ, which undermines the power of idols to deceptively convince humans that acceptance, approval, and goodness can be found in such things as money (cf. Luke 14:33), self (cf. Lk. 14:27), and other people such as parents, spouses, and children (cf. Luke 14:26).

The appropriation of the gospel provides the foundation for ongoing growth as God transforms the disciple as they place their thoughts on God’s truth as opposed to the lies of the enemy (cf. Rom 12:1-2; Eph 6:10-12, 16). Aligning beliefs and thoughts with God’s truth result in the fruit of the Spirit of truth (cf. John 16:13) for those who “belong to Christ Jesus” (Gal 5:22-24). In other words, the emotions of strife and jealously dissipate (cf. Gal 5:19-21) as God’s truth of acceptance sets the believer free (cf. John 8:32) to experience love, joy, peace, etc. (cf. Gal 5:22) as the believer’s identity detaches from the false hope of the idols. Finally, the result of the fruit of the Spirit is complete obedience to Christ in word and deed as the disciple lives and walks by the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:25). At this point, Richard Lovelace’s assertion crystallizes the point, “The justifying work of Christ…will produce increasing sanctification” (cf. Rom 3:21-25; 4:22-25; 5:16-17).[6] In other words, justification and sanctification are inextricably linked. Accordingly, a potential definition of a disciple is a person whose beliefs appropriate the justifying work of Christ, which forges an identity in Christ that allows God’s truth to transform his or her thoughts resulting in an emotional life exemplified by fruit of the Spirit that culminates in a transformed life of obedience in word and deed – sanctification.

Bibliography

Earley, Dave, and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is…: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013.

Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997.

Lovelace, Richard F. Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1979.

Putman, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman. DiscipleShift. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

[1] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is…: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013), 22–26.

[2] Ibid., 26–27.

[3] Jim Putman, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman, DiscipleShift (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 47–50. Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[4] Earley and Dempsey, Disciple Making Is…: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence, 28.

[5] Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 565.

[6] Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1979), 101.