What is a disciple?
Most of us assume the answer. It’s like the saying, “I’ll know it when I see it.” We’re wise, though, to wrestle with the definition, because the definition will inform what we do to make disciples.
To make disciples, it really helps to know what a disciple is.
Definitions of Disciple
At its most basic level, to be a disciple means to be a learner. The Greek word μαθητής means pupil, apprentice, disciple, adherent. But the definition goes deeper. John Starke observes, “As you read the New Testament, you see that discipleship is complex and thrilling.” Discipleship is multifaceted.
Here are some definitions of disciple that I found in my research:
“A disciple is a person who has decided that the most important thing in her life is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do. . . . Disciples simply are people who are constantly revising their affairs to carry through on their decision to follow Jesus.” (Dallas Willard)
“A disciple of Jesus is a worshiper, a servant, and a witness.” (Jonathan Parnell, Desiring God)
“A disciple listens to Jesus … learns from Jesus … obeys Jesus.” (Anthony Carter, Tabletalk)
“Basically, a disciple is a follower, but only if we take the term follower literally. Becoming a disciple of Jesus is as simple as obeying His call to follow.” (Matthew Anderson, Discipleship.org)
“A disciple is one who follows Christ, trusting in him alone for salvation, worshiping his person, loving him with whole heart, imitating his life, and obeying his teaching, living dependently by abiding in Christ, walking in the Holy Spirit, meditating on the word of God, engaging in communion (prayer), and partnering with the body of Christ (local church) resulting in the transformation of the mind, the heart, and the life and leads others to do the same.” (David Talley, Biola)
“A disciple is defined by his or her relationship with God … A disciple is someone growing in adoration of and love for God, and subsequently in love for other people.” (InterVarsity)
“A disciple is a man or woman who is a new creation in Christ that no longer lives for self, but who has (1) believed on Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and (2) lives to learn, follow, and imitate Christ in all areas of life.” (David Schrock, Southern Equip)
“A ‘disciple of Christ’ is someone who has been called first to know Christ, then to follow him, and then to make disciples of all nations.” (Greg Herrick, bible.org)
“A disciple is called to live with Christ, equipped to live like Christ, and sent to live for Christ.” (Man in the Mirror)
“A disciple of Jesus is someone who learns the gospel, relates in the gospel, and communicates the gospel.” (Jonathan Dodson, Gospel-Centered Discipleship)
“An emotionally healthy disciple slows down to be with Jesus, goes beneath the surface of their life to be deeply transformed by Jesus, and offers their life as a gift to the world for Jesus.” (Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Discipleship)
“Disciples are, at the root, those who love God with their heads (minds), hearts (souls), and hands (actions).” (Dana Allin, Simple Discipleship)
“A disciple is one who is following Christ (head), being changed by Christ (heart), and committed to Jesus’ mission to save people from their sins (hands).” (Jim Putman, Real-Life Discipleship)
Toward a Working Definition
How would you define a disciple?
Here’s my working definition:
A disciple is a follower of Jesus who, by God’s grace, is growing in knowledge, love, and obedience in every area of life.
This definition implies that nobody has arrived. Every follower of Jesus has room to grow.
It also emphasizes God’s grace. We don’t grow apart from God’s help. God saves us by his grace, and empowers our growth.
It also emphasizes the multifaceted nature of discipleship. It involves knowledge, love, and obedience (obeying the commands of Jesus and joining the mission of Jesus).
It also covers every area of life: our affections, actions, families, work. Everything.
Do you have any other definitions of discipleship, or any suggestions to improve the working definition? Contact me. I’d love to hear from you.