At Triangle Community Church, our mission is not merely to make Christian converts, but to take the next step and “make disciples.” A disciple is a Christian who has committed himself to learn and grow in his relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus gives us four distinguishing marks of a Christian disciple. It is important to note that no one will perfectly bear these marks in this life, but we should all aspire to them.
The first mark of a disciple is a supreme loyalty to Jesus Christ, as seen in Luke 14: 25-27. Here, Jesus uses a figure of speech called hyperbole, in which exaggeration is employed to make a point. When Jesus speaks of hating one’s family members, he is not speaking literally. That would contradict all that he stands for. Rather, Jesus is saying that our love for our family should seem like hatred when compared to our love for and devotion to him. The idea here is that a disciple can only have only one supreme loyalty, and that must be to Jesus. He alone is worthy of our supreme allegiance. Devotion to all others must take a back seat to him.
There is a second mark of a disciple, and it brings this first mark into proper balance. Disciples are to demonstrate love for one another (John 13:35). Jesus is not speaking of love as an emotion; rather, he is speaking of agape love, which is defined as tangible, compassionate, and sacrificial action. Such love involves a commitment to meet others’ needs, even when it may be personally costly. It means considering others as more important than ourselves. No one exemplified personal piety and sacrificial love more completely than Jesus, who laid down his life for us as he hung on a rugged Roman cross, bearing your sins and mine. Jesus didn’t just talk about love, he demonstrated it! 2 As Christ’s disciples, Jesus commands us to love one another. And because it is a choice, not an emotion, we can obey it. Jesus says, “If you love others this way, people will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:35).
Let’s consider yet another mark of a disciple of Christ. We find it in John chapter 15, verse 8: “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.” According to this verse, one proof of true Christian discipleship is fruit-bearing. Jesus uses an allegory drawn from horticulture to teach a powerful spiritual truth. Jesus asks his disciples to envision a vineyard, then he reminds them that the secret to a bountiful harvest is found the life-giving sap of the vine. Separate the branch from the vine, and it will wither and die. In the same way, our fruitfulness as Christians is dependent upon our consistent communion with Jesus—our spiritual vine. If we want to be fruitful, we must maintain an unbroken connection with Jesus. We must rely upon him and obey him. If we don’t consistently look to him for direction and strength, we too will bear little fruit. But Jesus wants us to be fruitful, and so he beckons us to abide in him. There is another key to fruitfulness in this passage. It involves divine pruning. Just as a gardener prunes his vines to maximize their fruitfulness, so God the Father prunes away those things in our lives which hinder us from being all that he desires. Quite often, that pruning process is painful. It may involve divine discipline (Hebrews 12:7-11). Whether or not we benefit from this pruning process is up to us. Will we respond with trust and obedience, or will we fight him every step of the way?
The fourth mark of a disciple is a commitment to Biblical truth. A true follower of Christ isn’t still debating the authority of God’s Word in his life. For him, God has spoken, and he has caused those words to be recorded in the Bible. When confronted with Biblical teaching, his question is not “Will I obey it?” but “What will my obedience look like?” You will never know that God’s Word is true—that it reflects reality— and you will never experience the liberation that God’s Word can bring, until you commit yourself to obey it. And that is one of the marks of a disciple: a life marked by obedience to the teachings of Christ. Through that obedience, a disciple can experientially testify to the transforming power of the Word of God.
- Make whatever changes you must in order to give Jesus first place in your loyalty and devotion.
- Whom have I failed to love? Take tangible steps this week to love them better.
- Evaluate your life for specific evidences of spiritual fruitfulness.
- What areas of my life might God want to prune, so that I can bear more fruit for him?
- Am I willing to live under the authority of God’s Word? What stands in the way?