In the first few years I played softball, I’d often drop a pop-fly or miss a simple grounder. Although I made countless mistakes, they didn’t change my identity. I was a softball player. I wore the uniform, I trained, I played, and I improved. Over time, my muscles strengthened in technique and my mind strategized the plays. But from the first day I joined the team, no matter my skill or performance, I was a softball player.
A disciple is a learner, student, and follower. Disciples of Jesus are not perfect people. They are those who bear the name “child of God” and call Jesus their Savior. A disciple is someone who reveres the Word, runs the race of faith, and grows every day in the likeness of Christ. If I had waited until I was my strongest or smartest on the field, I never would have joined the softball team. In this same way, if we think we have to “make it” to a certain standard before we can pursue discipleship, we’ll never get started.
A Lifelong Student
Miriam Webster defines “disciple” as a student of a teacher. What special qualifications did the twelve disciples have? It wasn’t their abilities, their merit, or their personalities but their decision to drop everything and follow Jesus. The moment they committed their lives to the Messiah, they were made disciples. They were students of the teacher. They spent their time learning, asking questions, serving, and following. And they were devoted, not perfect.
The great commission is to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). What are we doing to pursue hearts and bring them to the feet of the cross? How are we helping those in our community commit their lives to Jesus? No matter our career or location, we are surrounded by opportunities to share, witness, and teach the good news. From the children under our roof to the barista at the local coffee shop, from the newly baptized church member to the senior-saint, from the culturally captivated to the prideful pharisee. Discipleship begins with entering into the lives of the people around us and sharing God’s good plan for salvation with them through both action and word and, in doing so, inviting them to become a student of Jesus.
A discipleship journey begins after initial salvation. Slowly but surely, a believer grows into a mature disciple (Hebrews 5:12-14). A student learns, actively participating in the process. As a disciple, we are growing in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). No matter how long we’ve been a follower, we never cease to be a student. We should strive to be discipled and to disciple others at all times.
Teaching Others Teaches Us
Before we exclude ourselves from this calling, let us consider the twelve. The disciples physically and tangibly participated in Jesus’ earthly ministry but should not be put on a pedestal. Discipleship is not equivalent to perfection; they were sinful, desperately in need of the Savior they were following.
For example, Peter denied knowing Christ three times prior to his crucifixion. Shortly after Jesus taught for the second time about his death and resurrection in Mark 9, we see the disciples reveal pride and arrogance as they argue over who was the greatest among them. They didn’t understand the significance. They were focused on their desire for an earthly liberator and longed for physical freedom from oppression and persecution through honor and glory. And they weren’t perfect people before they were called disciples.
But they continued to press in, journeying alongside Christ, practicing and growing as teachers. In Teaching to Change Lives, Dr. Hendricks explains that psychologists believe the percentage of memory jumps from 50% to 90% when learning is combined with hearing, seeing, and doing. Many of us can memorize facts in order to ace a test, but after weeks go by, do we remember them? When we are engrossed in the learning process, we understand better. When we are invited to ask questions and think critically, we truly begin to grasp the content we are trying to master.
The same goes for growing as a follower of Jesus. As we invite others into our lives with the intent of making disciples and developing disciples, we grow as disciples too. This is how Jesus raised the twelve.
So, if you’re wondering when you are ready to start discipling, it’s now.
Many of us are intimidated when we hear the word “discipleship.” We immediately write ourselves off as unqualified. Yet, from the world’s perspective, the twelve could not have been less qualified. Among this group were a thief, a tax collector, and a fisherman. They were sinful and ordinary. Jesus didn’t ask for a resume beforehand; they were qualified simply because he called them.
As brothers and sisters on this side of the cross, we are qualified and called the moment we receive his grace. God’s grace compels us to share the good news. It doesn’t mean we cease to sin or know “all of the answers;” it means we have received the gift of salvation through grace and faith and know that sharing this gift with others is the single most important way we could spend our lives.
Students of the Teacher
As disciples, we are students of Jesus. If we are truly living our lives following the ways of Jesus, we will see the responsibility we have to disciple. Students of Jesus are learning from gospel-centered teaching, reading the Word daily, living in community, and pursuing a relationship with God.
Their dedication to growth is similar to that of an athlete. My initial identity as a softball player gave me the desire for growth. Growing demanded discipline, action, and reverence for the game. Often it was through error and trial that I became a more mature player. Likewise, students of Jesus do not need to fear misguiding, misleading, or taking on the weight of salvation, because God is sovereign over our missteps, and he is the only One who saves.
Jesus qualifies us. His work on the cross gives us the grace we need to pursue hard relationships, engage in challenging conversations, and take up our crosses. He has laid the foundation that we are to walk on, a foundation that should stir in us a desire for all to hear of the grace and mercy of the eternal Savior.
Amy Hornbuckle | Meet the Author
Amy teaches believers how to become independent students of God’s Word through a systematic and transparent biblical literacy tool called The Bible Study Workbook. As a first-time mom, wife, Children’s Director, Women’s Director, and Bible Teacher she is learning daily what it looks like to grow in grace and knowledge of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You can find her Bible study tool and teachings at ingraceandknowledge.com.