Features Of A True Disciple Of Christ

By Timothy P. Hadley

A Disciple Is A Learner 
In the Bible we usually find a disciple with his teacher – living with him, following his every move and serving him however he could. The Lord Jesus had many disciples. Some were with Him only until things got tough, while others were true converts (Jn. 6:60-69). From His large group of followers, the Lord Jesus chose twelve who were also called “apostles” (Mk. 3:13-19; Mt. 10:1-2). An apostle is one who is sent with a commission or charge.

Qualifications for a man to be an apostle of Jesus Christ included having seen the risen Christ (Acts 1:22; 1 Cor. 9:1) and being specifically chosen by the Lord Jesus (Eph. 4:11). The apostles fellowshiped with the Lord until He was taken up into glory (Acts 1:21-22) – Paul was the only exception. In the strictest sense of the word, we do not have apostles today because no one can meet these qualifications.

Paul saw the risen Christ and became an eyewitness “as by one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:5-8 NKJV). Christ taught him for 31/2 years in Arabia (Gal. 1:15-17). This apostle was personally chosen – a calling “not from men, nor through man” (vv.1,12).

Matthew 28:19-20, known as “the great commission,” records what the Lord Jesus told His disciples before He ascended to heaven: “Make disciples of all nations.” By that time He had already taught His apostles (10:1-15). He also gave instruction for future disciples (vv.16-23) and present-day disciples (vv.24-42). This includes specific direction for all who desire to follow Christ today. The Lord set forth the essence of Christian dedication – the features and cost of being a real disciple of Christ.

A Disciple Of Christ Imitates Christ 
Read Matthew 10:24-25: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household!” A true disciple becomes like his teacher in just about every way. First John 2:6 reminds us that “he who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” There are several passages in the gospel of John where the Lord gave insight into this:

  • “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed” (8:31).
  • “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (13:34-35).
  • “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples … No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (15:8,15-16).

John 15 goes on to say that as we bear fruit as His disciples the world will hate us because it hated Him. This ties with what He said in Matthew 10:25, that if we are like the Lord Jesus we will begin to suffer as He did in this world. However, we should not fear while we suffer (v.26).

A Disciple Of Christ Does Not Fear The World 
The Lord Jesus reminds us three times in Matthew 10:26-31 not to fear. This is a vital key to true discipleship, challenging us with the question, “Do we fear man or reverence God?” Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.” As followers of Christ we have been given the love of God which was poured out in our hearts (Rom. 5:5), and Paul told Timothy “that we have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). This perfect love, we are told, casts out fear (1 Jn. 4:18). So when we are enjoying His love and all that He has brought us into because of it, we receive moral courage to speak for Him in a world where He was rejected (Mt. 10:26-27). He instructs us to proclaim publicly whatever He tells us in private.

The secret to this courage is to be built up and fortified on the inside by what He whispers in our ear. As His servants our ears need to be open! In Isaiah 50 we read of the perfect servant, the Lord Jesus. He also was the perfect disciple in the sense of having “the tongue of the learned” (v.4), to speak a word in season. Notice it was not only His tongue that was affected, but His ear was open to be instructed (v.5). Moral courage comes from being in the Word of God and from the Word of God being in us!

Having moral courage leads us to physical courage. The Lord said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28). This is what gives many the strength to endure persecution and suffering. There is a cost to discipleship – a price to be paid! But the person who fears, or reverences, God alone never needs to fear man. The fear of God is the fear that cancels all other fear.

Spiritual courage (vv.29-33), a third type of courage, is taking God at His word and laying everything on the line for Him. This courage is developed by being in the Word of God – listening with open ears and having our eyes looking for the greatness of the glory of Christ on its every page.

This courage is what Stephen had in Acts 7. He was so occupied with the person of Christ that he began speaking of the God of Glory, and he ended up seeing the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ. Stephen was occupied with Christ to such an extent that he had the physical courage to give His life for Him. He also had the spiritual courage to be like Christ, saying, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (v.60). Stephen imitated his Master and entered His presence.

A Disciple Is Valued, Cared For And Protected By God 
We saw this in the life of Stephen and see it was taught by the Lord in Matthew 10:29-31. The Lord emphasized the value of His disciples: “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.” In Luke 12:6 we read: “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God.” The point is very clear: The Lord takes notice of each one. How much more valuable are the followers of Christ! He loves us and will provide and care for us (see Mt. 6:25-26). We do not need to worry or fear.

A Disciple Confesses The Lord And Is Evaluated By Him 
There has been much confusion over Matthew 10:32-33. It is important to remember that this section is about service rather than salvation. Some people profess to be followers of Christ, but when trials come, they run. Others are false prophets and actually deny the Lord, bringing destruction on themselves (2 Pet. 2:1-2).

To confess Christ is much more than lip service; it is life service. He takes note if we live in a way that acknowledges Him. One day the Lord will evaluate each act of our service as by fire. What was truly done for the glory of Christ will be revealed (1 Cor. 3:12-15), and rewards for service will be distributed (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10). But if we have denied Him we will suffer loss.

A Disciple Gives Christ The Pre-eminent Place 
As we continue in Matthew 10 we hear the Lord say something that might sound very strange to us, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (vv.34-37). People in Christ’s day were looking for the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6; Ps. 72). They did not realize that before the glory, the Lord must be rejected and suffer on the cross (1 Pet. 1:11). The Lord began to prepare His followers early for the conflict that He would endure and which they would not be able to escape.

We must remind ourselves that the context here is about service and that the Lord is expressing the need for His disciples to give Him first place in their lives. It is also helpful for us to realize that there is a new relationship that has been established through His finished work on the cross. The Lord emphasized this in Mark 3:35: “Whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”

The Lord Jesus was teaching that if we are going to be His disciples He must be the priority in our lives. It has often been said, “In many believers’ lives He is present. In some believers’ lives He is prominent. But the real question is this: ‘Is He pre-eminent in my life?’” All other relationships are to take second place. This really is the idea of sanctification.

“Sanctify” means to set apart or separate for a purpose. The Lord said that He “did not come to bring peace but a sword.” The sword is something that separates (Heb. 4:12). Also, one family member would be against another: “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” The word translated “against,” which is only used here, means “to cut in two.” It has the thought of complete and often permanent separation. No one can half-heartedly serve the Lord. The Lord cannot have disciples who have a divided commitment. He said, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:57-62). 

A Disciple Offers His Own Life 
The disciple of Christ must put his love (Mt. 10:32-36) and his life (vv.38-39) on the altar. The love for Christ in verse 37 is the motivation for verse 38. For one to take up the cross, speaking of death, is to abandon oneself without reservation to the lordship of Christ. The Lord expanded on this thought in Matthew 16:24-25, tying it with His own cross (v.21).

For the follower of Christ, the cross is the willing sacrifice of everything one has, including life, for the sake of Christ. There is no middle ground – either we spare our lives or sacrifice them. If we protect our own interests we will be the losers; if we live for His interests we will be the winners. This might be what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:1-2).

A Disciple Is A Blessing To Others 
A true follower of Jesus Christ is a blessing to others. This comes out in the remaining verses of Matthew 10: “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (vv.40-42). A person who receives the Lord’s servants also receives the Lord Jesus and the Father who sent Him (Jn. 13:20).

We learn here that anyone who receives one of the Lord’s spokesmen receives a reward. This is the unlimited grace of God. He not only rewards the prophet for his faithfulness, but He rewards anyone who receives a prophet – even giving him a prophet’s reward. He goes on to say that anyone who accepts a believer for Christ’s sake receives a reward. The Lord goes even further by saying there is a reward for “whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple” (Mt. 10:42). This term “little ones” has the thought of those who are seemingly insignificant and unimportant (consider Mt. 18:1-3, 25:31-46). 

As followers of Christ we are His ambassadors to bring others to the Lord Jesus: “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:18-21).

God loves to give. He gave the greatest gift of all: His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus! He continues to give by blessing those who have received His Son, blessing them with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3). In fact, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (Jas. 1:17). In a coming day the Lord Jesus will reward the faithfulness of all those who served Him and had His interests at heart. 

It is good to remind ourselves once again that this portion in Matthew 10 is speaking of discipleship, not sonship – service rather than salvation. We become children of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are His disciples as we faithfully follow and obey Him. Sonship never changes, but how we serve as disciples may. There is a great need for true and faithful disciples. Will you be among those who learn from Christ and live for Him? 

How Are Disciples Made Today? 
I have been struck by the fact that the word “disciple” is never used beyond the book of Acts. In the Epistles we see the followers of Christ referred to as Christians, brothers, saints, believers and the Church, but never as disciples. The “great commission” is never repeated in the Epistles either, although there is the command to preach the gospel (2 Tim. 4:2).

We see Paul making disciples in Acts 14:21: “And after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.” But Paul never instructed, commanded or exhorted anyone else to do so. Why not? Consider how these disciples were made. It was a direct result of Paul and Barnabas preaching the gospel, teaching God’s Word. In Acts this was done through a variety of ways, including discussions, debates and conversations with unbelievers. It is good to keep in mind that not all preaching and teaching is done from a pulpit. 

Teaching is emphasized repeatedly in the Epistles. Followers of Christ must be taught the Word of God – they must be learners. When Paul returned to the cities where he had preached and made disciples he appointed elders who would continue to teach the believers.

The task of an elder is crucial in the local assembly, and being able to teach is one qualification (1 Tim. 3:2). He must “hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may able by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict” (Ti. 1:9). As Paul was leaving Ephesus he exhorted the elders, saying, “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves … So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:28-32). This warning describes the Church today. 

May the Lord raise up those with the features of true disciples as well as individuals in the local assembly to teach and strengthen the flock of God.