Disciple(s), Are All believers!
If you continuously “follow” Jesus Christ, you are a “disciple”!
After joyfully, yet meticulously studying the book of Acts, I interestingly discovered a different way in which today’s evangelicals use the word “disciple”, which is in contrast to the early church’ employment. Over the years, I have attended many churches which taught that a “disciple” of Jesus Christ, connoting a different meaning or usage, other than the way God originally intended in the book of Acts, nearly 2,000 years ago. “Disciple” which once was used to identify all followers of Jesus Christ, is now being employed ambiguously or rarely to identify Christians. Interestingly, even some churches that maintain staunch, austere doctrine, and, are fastidious to Biblical accuracy, have acquiesced to the tergiversation or scant way the word “disciple” is employed. To them, a “disciple” typically references a special type of Christ follower; a unique individual; someone possessing zealous aspirations to follow Christ, thus requiring special “discipleship” training, and, not all believers are equipped for it. Nothing could be further from the truth! If you possess the Holy Spirit (which all believers do-1 Cor. 6:19), you are considered a true “disciple”; ALL believers of Jesus Christ and who persevere, are indeed “disciples”; no special training or instruction is required. The only exception is leadership training and I will explain this later in more detail.
However, being a disciple of Jesus Christ does require obedience and willingness to submit to His Lordship and no believer is exempt. It is not as simple as accepting His doctrine, or believing in His performed miraculous recorded in the four Gospels. In the Great Commission for instance, we are exhorted, to “observe”; watch over; guard, ALL that Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:20). The nascent and amelioration of Christ’s church depicted in Acts, is the quintessential paradigm for Christ followers i.e. disciples. According to Acts, everyone who believed in Jesus Christ, followed Him, or those who were instructed and believed in Him, were called “disciple”. The ISBE Bible Dictionary, defines the word disciple as; “A learner”, Grk; Mathete; “to learn”, Grk; Manthano;” a scholar” Latin, discipulus; “a pupil of someone, in contrast to the master or teacher”, Grk; didascalos. Or, Easton’s Bible Dictionary: “A disciple of Christ is one who 1) believes his doctrine, 2) rests on his sacrifice, 3) imbibes his spirit, and 4) imitates his example” Mt 10:24 Lu 14:26,27,33 John 6:69. The original language of Greek, and a exceptionally concise definition of “disciple”, which brings one to understand how distinctive this label identifies Christ followers of “disciple” –is the Greek word “archaios“, meaning “one from the beginning” [Pentecost], in Acts 21:16. However, a disciple can just be a temporary follower of Jesus Christ and ultimately walk away from Him, (John 6:66, 1 John 2:19). But, in the book of Acts there is no such recorded apostasy, all who were disciples of Christ, remained followers of Christ.
Throughout Acts, followers of the apostles, but ultimately Jesus Christ, were referred to as “disciples”. Here are some examples: “…the disciples were increasing in number…” (Acts 6:1); and “…the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem,” (Acts 6:7); and “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord…” (Acts 9:1); and “Now in Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas);” (Acts 9:36); and “…the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:52). After being stoned and left for dead, we read the apostle Paul arose and the very next day, departed with Barnabas to the city of Derbe to peach Jesus! Also,“…after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:21-22). The apostle Peter, in response to the Pharisee’s legalistic command, attempting to demand that all Gentiles must be circumcised to obey the law of Moses, in order to be saved; declared; “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). “…And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer… (Acts 16:1). These are but a few examples recorded in Acts; Acts is fraught with references to Christ followers (Christians) being referred to as “disciples”. (Acts 18:23, 27, 19:1, 10, 30, 20:1, 30, 21:4, 16). In fact, it didn’t matter if you were men, women, Jews, Gentiles; all ethnicities were equally called disciples of Jesus Christ; today’s Christians should not be any different, all believers are immutably Christ’s beloved, and if you follow Him, you are a disciple. Incidentally, the Bible does have various situations where a “disciple” is described as a specific follower of someone or group. For instance, John the Baptist had disciples of his teaching (Matt. 9:14; Luke 7:18; John 3:25); as did Moses (John 9:28), even the Pharisee’s had disciple’s of their teaching of Judaism (Matt. 22:16; Mark 2:18; Luke 5:33), but, in the broadest sense of the words usage; disciple, as employed in the book of Acts, indicated a follower of Jesus Christ.
The Christian walk should be a never-ending ambition to learn and obey Christ; the heart desire ought to reflect an eagerness to follow Him. Unbelievably, when John MacArthur published the book “The Gospel According to Jesus” (Lordship salvation-Jesus Christ is not only Savior, but also Lord, and to be obeyed); the book was earnestly challenged by many evangelicals in the “No-Lordship” salvation camp. They embraced Christ as Savior, but denied His Lordship. Inconceivably, this erroneous thinking popularly applies to many professing evangelicals today, they accept Him as Savior, but do not believe they have to obey Him. I ask; how could you be “bought with a price“, and not have a master (1 Cor. 6:20)? I think it is safe to say, the Lordship issue would not at all have been controversial in the early church; the disciples obeyed Jesus Christ with alacrity!
I also believe it would be beneficial for Christianity to habitually refer to true Christians as “disciples” and more precisely, “disciples of Jesus Christ”. Using this identifier would probably eliminate many false religions that claim to believe in Jesus Christ, which thus muddy-up the secular worlds’ understanding of just what a Christian truly is, for they already have a perverted view of Christians. Today, more than ever, true Christ followers, need a distinction which sets them apart from all other religions. Tragically, many of these false religions claim belief in Jesus Christ, and do not hesitate to trumpet His name, but clearly deny His deity or His incarnation. Therefore, what they believe is NOT the Jesus of the Bible–the Jesus we desperately must herald to all people! They need to know the real Jesus, and this can be accomplished by the identifying Christians as disciples of Jesus Christ. Again, a disciple of Christ is defined as a “learner”, “scholar”; “imitator of Christ’s holiness”. Additionally, it implies a completeness, a uniqueness; exclusivity in Jesus Christ alone for salvation (Acts 4:12).
Do not get me wrong, there are certain circumstances in the local church, where an individual is promoted to a leadership role, such as: pastor, elder, overseer, or deacon (1 Tim. 3:1). In that case, an individual is required to possess certain qualifications (1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:1-6) and receive special training (leadership training), so he can appropriately answer that divine calling. These situations are special callings from God, and only certain saints receive this calling and giftedness from God (Eph. 4:8-11). Incidentally, all churches should be equipped to instruct men for those esteemed positions. The apostle Paul for example, was constantly equipping men for leadership wherever he planted a church on his missionary expeditions.
I close with this thought; the word “disciple”, as used in the book of Acts, was a crystal clear way God used to identify followers of Christ. A Christian should possess an accurate understanding and realization of just what his or her responsibility and mandate is to God, in regards to glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ. Since we are all considered “learners” and “scholars” of Jesus Christ, we ought to ever-increasingly strive to excel in service to Him. Let us expand in Biblical knowledge, wisdom, discernment, productivity and love for God’s kingdom; ultimately seeking to exalt and glorify Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1:9-11). Sha-Lom a-ley-Khem