A disciple is someone who follows someone to learn from them, to learn to do what they do—in a way, to learn to become what they are. They follow to emulate. So to learn what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, we need to understand the one that we follow.
I think that the statement that best summarizes who Jesus is and what he came to do comes from Jesus himself. In Matthew 20:28, Jesus said that “…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
Jesus is saying a number of important things here:
1. He is a man on a mission, he came to earth with a purpose, he has a God-given assignment.
2. He came to be a servant, to be in fact the very model of servanthood.
3. His servanthood would entail extraordinary sacrifice, would in fact be fulfilled through extraordinary sacrifice, and yet it is sacrifice gladly given, because it is in fulfillment of his God-given dream.
So, when we claim as a church that we are followers of Jesus, here is what we are saying:
1. We are people on mission. God has given our church an assignment for the Kingdom, and he has given each person in our church an assignment so that the church can fulfill its assignment.
2. We are servants. We don’t ask what God can do for us, but what we can do for God; not what the church can do for us, but what we can do for the church; not what the world can do for us, but what we can do for the world.
3. We are willing to undergo extraordinary sacrifice in order to fulfill God’s dream in us.
Did you know that was what you were saying? Why not? Probably because most of us accepted Christ because we wanted to be saved from hell, forgiven of our sins, and preserved for eternal life in heaven. Well, sin is a barrier, and it is a barrier that needs to be removed so that we can become what we were created to become. The removal of our sins is a means to an end, but not the end itself. So what is the end? What were we created for?
Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10—“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
We were created for good works. To do good. To serve in ways that lives are positively impacted, that things are made better, that love is able to prosper, that the world is a better place, a place where God is able to prosper—the Kingdom of God. That’s what the first disciples did. They made a positive impact on the world through extraordinary service and extraordinary sacrifice.
Now, somehow, somewhere, the definition of a disciple changed. In the Modern mindset, where education is king, a disciple began to be defined as a one who knows and understands the right things about God. Knowing, rather than doing. So discipleship programs became education programs and this education program was separate from the missions program. In fact, missions programs became educations programs in which we simply learned about others being on mission as opposed to learning to be on mission ourselves. Well, the results are in, and, in the words of John Maxwell, we are educated beyond the level of our obedience.
I believe that we need to get a whole new model of discipleship. When Jesus called his disciples, what did he say to them? “Come FOLLOW me.” We need to stop envisioning disciples as people sitting in a classroom and envision them as people following Jesus on his mission of setting the world to rights in the Kingdom of God.