Unless you stumble upon a rousing trivia game including categories like “Biker gangs of the 1960s” or “Christian Heavy Metal Bands,” you’re unlikely to hear the word “disciple” very often in everyday conversation. It is simply not common language. Yet for followers of Christ, it is an incredibly important word. It is descriptive of who we are, and it bears a striking imagery of following in the footsteps of our Master. In this article, Zane Pratt discusses six marks in the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Disciples are followers of Jesus. They have turned from their sin and trusted in Jesus as their Savior. They have died to themselves and surrendered their lives to Him as Lord. Christ now lives in them, transforming everything about them from the inside out, resulting in six primary marks of a disciple. The first of these marks (a transformed heart) occurs at the point in time when a disciple places initial faith in Jesus. The rest of these marks are found in increasing measure as a disciple grows through faith in Jesus as a member of His body, the church.
The six primary marks of a disciple of Jesus:
Disciples are spiritually regenerate—they have been forgiven of their sin and they are now indwelled by God’s Spirit. By supernatural grace through saving faith in Christ, disciples have been acquitted before God the Judge and adopted by God the Father. Such gracious regeneration has triggered a glorious transformation in every disciple of Jesus.
Disciples have been acquitted before God the Judge and adopted by God the Father.
Having been brought from death to life, disciples are new creations who now live as servants of the King and heirs of His kingdom. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they grow in holiness as God gradually transforms them into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another. Disciples hold fast to the sure hope of full and final future glorification with Christ.
Bottom Line: To be a disciple you must first be born again. Evangelism resulting in biblical conversion is the essential first step in biblical discipleship.
Disciples are biblically grounded—they believe what Jesus says. Disciples of Jesus trust the truth of Jesus and view the world around them through the lens of God’s Word. As disciples abide in Jesus, reading, hearing, studying, understanding, memorizing, and meditating on God’s Word, He molds their minds to become like His. They are continually being renewed in knowledge after the image of their Creator.
Bottom Line: Disciples of Jesus are passionate about the Bible. As they hear, read, study, memorize, and meditate on it daily, it completely reshapes the way they think. The worldview of the Bible becomes their worldview. They approach the Bible with a pre-commitment to believe, understand, and obey everything it teaches. They learn the big picture of the Bible, and they interpret individual parts in the context of the whole.
Disciples are deeply satisfied—they desire what Jesus desires. Their pursuit of peace, joy, and life has led them to Jesus, who has not only saved them from their sin, but also satisfied their souls. Disciples, therefore, grow to participate in spiritual disciplines not out of a sense of duty, but out of a sense of delight: enjoying the exaltation of God in worship, craving communion with God in prayer, hungering for God’s Word more than daily food, confessing sins with grateful contrition, and loving God’s glory more than their own lives.
Such love for God continually pushes out love for the things of this world. Disciples daily crucify the desires of the flesh as they bear the fruit of the Spirit and long for the return of the Son.
Bottom Line: Disciples of Jesus grow to love what He loves, value what He values, and hate what He hates. Their affections are set on the things of God, and those affections grow to supersede the attractions of sin and the things of this world. They grow to obey God out of desire, not simply out of duty.
Disciples see imperatives in the Scriptures as invitations from the Savior to experience the joy of active submission to Him.
Disciples are humbly obedient—they do what Jesus commands. Disciples of Jesus do not merely hear the Word and so deceive themselves; they do what it says. Disciples see imperatives in the Scriptures as invitations from the Savior to experience the joy of active submission to Him. The more they walk according to God’s Word, the more Jesus conforms their ways to His will.
Bottom Line: Disciples of Jesus obey God by obeying everything His word teaches. They do not obey in order to make themselves right with God, or to add anything at all to the work of Christ, but out of the faith, hope and love that flow from the gospel.
Disciples are sacrificially loving—they serve as Jesus serves. Having been reconciled to God through Christ, disciples continually work toward reconciliation with others in Christ: forgiving one another freely and serving one another selflessly. Disciples of Jesus join together as members of local churches where they love one another by laying down their lives for each other. Such sacrificial compassion extends beyond the local church as disciples care for their families, the global church, the lost, and the poor.
Bottom Line: Disciples of Jesus love one another as Christ has loved them and love their neighbors as themselves. This love expresses itself practically in forgiveness and service, even to our enemies. Our love includes our church, our families, the global body of Christ, the lost, and the poor.
Disciples are missionally engaged—they make disciples who make disciples of all nations. Compelled by God’s grace, disciples are captivated by the Great Commission. Jesus has not only transformed their way of life; He has revolutionized their reason for living. Disciples live—and die—to share the gospel of Christ, to reproduce the life of Christ, to teach the Word of Christ, and to serve the world for Christ by praying for, giving to, and going to people around them and peoples around the world for the sake of God’s fame.
Bottom Line: Disciples of Jesus share the gospel, disciple other believers, and engage in the global spread of the gospel to all peoples.
To dig further into what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, check out this article on disciples also being disciple-makers.
Zane Pratt is Vice President of Training for the International Mission Board.