What is a Disciple?
When your church is growing, it is easy to just keep services going, while people are actually not really growing, and not being held accountable for their walk with the Lord in any real sense. It is important to learn from the pulpit what discipleship is so it can spill over into one-on-one discipleship during the week. So, I want us to look into the Scriptures in a series to understand what we mean by that. What is a disciple? How do you make disciples? What are the costs of being a disciple? How do you know if someone is a true or false disciple? In this message, I want us to see our Lord Jesus answer the question of what a disciple is.
When you read the New Testament, you find that the title used most often for believers is not the word ‘Christian’. The word ‘Christian’ (in the singular or plural form) appears only three times. The word ‘believers’ appears twice. The word ‘brethren’ appears numerous times as the way believers talk about themselves, and to each other – brothers and sisters. But probably the most oft-used term to describe believers is the word ‘disciples.’ ‘Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ’ is how the Bible describes us. Indeed, the Great Commission in Matthew 28 is not ‘Go and get professions of faith.’ It is ‘Go and make disciples.’
This is how God wants us to think of ourselves – disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now that word ‘disciples’ has fallen on hard times. When you hear ‘disciple’ you think of some strange cult or religious sect; you may even think of some Eastern religion. Sometimes we think of the twelve apostles – we think they were the disciples. But our Lord made it very clear what a disciple is and what a disciple is not in this passage in Luke 14. There are three marks of a disciple seen in this passage. These three are not the entrance standard for a disciple, because then none of us would be disciples. But it is to be what defines disciples, what we grow into, what we strive after.
Luke 14:25-35 – “Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. “Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!””
1. A Disciple Loves Jesus Christ Supremely.
The Lord teaches us this with a striking sentence. He says, ‘You cannot be my disciple unless you hate your parents, children, brothers and sisters and yourself.’ Now what does Jesus mean by this? Is He commanding malice? Is He telling us the condition of following Him is to despise others and ourselves? No, because this would contradict his own teaching. He told us to love our neighbours as ourselves. He told us in the Sermon on the Mount that as we would want others to treat us, so we ought to treat them. He even commanded us to love our enemies – which would make us like the Father. John tells us in 1 John 2:11 – “he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness”.
Furthermore, Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 that no man ever yet hated his own flesh. So if Jesus meant that we must hate ourselves, we would have a contradiction in the Bible. So He cannot mean that we must hate others or ourselves. He must mean something else when he uses the word hate. There is another way the Bible uses the word hate. It uses it to suggest degrees of love. We are told that, when Jacob had the two wives Leah and Rachel, it says in Gen 29:30 that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. The next verse tells us that the Lord saw that Leah was hated. Now Jacob did not hate Leah, but his love for Rachel so eclipsed his love for Leah it was as if she was unloved by comparison. His favour for Rachel was like rejection for Leah. To a degree, this is the case with Jacob and Esau. God still regarded the people of Edom, but by comparison, His love for Jacob’s seed made it like hate.
So this is not about despising anyone, it is about how much you love Christ compared to others. Now who did the Lord list as the examples to be compared with? He listed father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters. Are not these the people in the world we love the most – our spouse, our parents, our own children, our brothers and sisters And then to top it off, He adds, ‘and his own life also.’ Because if there is one person we consistently love more than even spouse, parents, children and siblings it is who? It is self. So the Lord has lifted the bar as high as He can as far as human loves goes. The highest human love in your life must come second to your love for Jesus Christ. Nothing and no one in your life must compete with Jesus Christ. If there is ever a conflict between one of these and Jesus Christ – Christ will come first. If parents, spouse, children, siblings or even your own nature opposes Christ, you must oppose them.
Matthew 10:37 puts it positively: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
– David De Bruyn, Professor of Church History, Shepherds’ Seminary Africa