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The definitions of Wilkins and Kynes will come as a surprise to many. As noted above, in some churches a disciple is thought to be a Christian who has gone on to make a higher level of commitment to Christ and His lordship than the average Christian. The assumption underlying this idea is that Jesus offers two acceptable standards or levels of commitment. Unfortunately this view fails to notice that Jesus had only one standard. His earthly ministry (up to the cross) was focused on proclaiming God’s kingdom and calling people to discipleship. What this entailed is featured through His work with the twelve, who were first called to be disciples and later chosen to be apostles who would lead the church in the mission of making disciples after His departure. But it is also seen in the many others who became His disciples as His ministry unfolded (Luke 6:13, 17; 19:37; John 4:1; 6:60, 66; 19:38).
The way Jesus uses the word disciple in the Great Commission illustrates the point Wilkins makes above. After God raised Jesus from the dead, He gave Him universal authority over heaven and earth. Jesus then commissioned and sent forth His disciples on a universal mission. No longer were they restricted to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:6). They were now to “go . . . and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe [obey] all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19–20). Clearly in this text there is only one category of follower envisioned: a disciple. Just as clearly the mission is focused on one thing: making disciples. And clearer still, making disciples is a matter of bringing lost sinners to salvation in Jesus Christ and helping them understand and obey His teachings.
A closer look at the text clarifies the point. The main verb in this sentence is an imperative make disciples. It is supported by three participles, going, baptizing, and teaching, that share some of its imperative force.15 The participles serve to clarify key aspects of how disciple making works. It begins with trained disciples following the example of Jesus by going out to announce that the kingdom of God was at hand and to invite people to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Those who respond to this offer of grace are to be baptized and taught to understand and obey all that Jesus commanded His first disciples (found in the Gospels). This was a continuation and expansion of Jesus’ ministry of proclaiming God’s kingdom and making disciples.
In light of this, how then do we define a disciple of Jesus? In agreement with both Wilkins and Kynes but even more concisely, New Testament scholar Darrell Bock says: “At salvation, a believer becomes a disciple.” He goes on to say that “discipleship is a walk that lasts the rest of one’s life.”16 Bock lists some of the key aspects of this lifelong discipleship that are emphasized in Luke and Acts: total commitment; love for God and neighbor; prayer; perseverance in suffering; watchfulness, patience and boldness; faith and dependence; joy and praise; testimony and witness; stewardship of wealth and possessions; commitment to the lost.17 Embracing and maturing in each of these areas takes time and is challenging, but those who receive the grace of God and enter His kingdom are enabled to do so through the empowering presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Bock holds together the grace of God and the demands of discipleship in a helpful way: “Since each Christian must still deal with the presence of sin, his or her walk has successes and failures.” Total commitment to Christ is necessary, says Bock, and “this is something the disciples struggled to learn, but Jesus makes it clear that an absolute commitment is required for being successful at discipleship . . . Nevertheless, he deals graciously with his followers and their lapses. Intention and core orientation are the point, not perfection.”18
With total commitment to orient us, the Word of God to instruct us, the Spirit of God to empower us, the people of God to support us and a gracious Lord to pardon us, we are able to live out faithful and fruitful discipleship leading to increasing Christlikeness. Whether we do so and to what extent in the years after conversion reveals whether we are a good disciple, a stagnant disciple, or a poor disciple—or even a false disciple (Judas).
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