Follow Jesus: What is Discipleship?

Have you ever thought that discipleship was meant for someone else…like ministry leaders or one of those super-Christians? Do you want to participate in discipleship but just don’t know where to get started? Are you afraid at the thought of it? Or do you admit that you have no idea what it is?

If any of these thoughts have crossed your mind, this post is for you.

I am a huge fan of simplicity.
I don’t like labels.
And I don’t like long lists of rules.

Sometimes we can make things more complicated than they have to be, right? Discipleship does not have to be one of them.

Think about learning algebra. It sounds complicated too…don’t you agree? But it doesn’t have to be if you master the basics one step at a time. First you learn how to add, and then you learn how to subtract. Once you master those concepts, you eventually learn how to add and subtract integers, among other things. Adding isn’t difficult. Keep adding the basic building blocks, and you will realize that algebra isn’t as scary as you thought. Discipleship is the same way. You just have to start adding, per se.

It’s noteworthy to say that some people learn algebra faster than others, and that’s okay! This isn’t a competition. Everyone has a different faith journey. Let’s commit to being faithful with what we do know right now, okay? Put those blinders on and resist the temptation to compare yourself to others.

I like to teach with simplicity, because Jesus did too. When asked which of the commandments was greatest, His response was simply to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Boom. If you do that, then a very long list of other “rules” naturally fall into place….because when your heart is in the right place, you will want to be an obedient follower of Christ.

So, what is discipleship?

In the most basic sense discipleship is a three step process:

  1. Love Jesus above all else
  2. Clearly decide to follow Him
  3. Intentionally teach what you’re learning to others

You really could whittle it down to five words and say, “Discipleship is a two-way relationship.” First, it is your relationship with Jesus. Second, it is your intentional relationships with others.

Yes, that is a very simple explanation, and I will add details in just a moment. But for right now, just pause and let that concept sink in.

I offer a simple three-step solution to understanding discipleship, because that is what Jesus gives you in the passage Luke 14:25-35. Using NKJV, this is what He says about discipleship.

Leaving All to Follow Christ

25 Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, 26 “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. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 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— 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? 31 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? 32 Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

If any of that sounded confusing to you, no worries. I’m going to walk with you through the text so you can understand it better.

Verse 25: Notice that great multitudes were following Jesus. He had been healing people. Performing miracles. Speaking like no other rabbi or teacher they had ever seen. He was interesting! Many of them were so curious they tagged along just to be a firsthand witness to the next miraculous major-media headline event! Okay, so maybe there were no CNN or Fox News platforms at the time, but for the sake of helping you understand, it does give the passage some teeth if you try to put yourself in their shoes and explore it from multiple perspectives!

You see, there’s all these people around Jesus, and He begins a unique process…sifting…and it’s all done with some simple, but tough, concepts. It’s interesting that Jesus’s message intended to offend folks unlike some teachers today. He didn’t dilute His message to appeal to the multitudes and increase His numbers. Quite the opposite…He sifted.

As the verses unfold, you will see that He goes straight to the heart of the matter.

Verse 26: I’m paraphrasing, but He said that if “anyone” comes to Him and doesn’t hate his family then that person cannot be a disciple. Wow. No exceptions.

You’re wondering, “Did Jesus really say to hate your family? Doesn’t that contradict one of His greatest commandments to love others?” No, and I’ll tell you why.

Often Jesus spoke in parables using word-pictures to help convey a meaning to someone. The picture would be something that the audience would certainly be familiar with. For example, if He spoke to a farmer, He would use an analogy of a field or farming technique.

In this passage He is breaking down a truth, again, that is easier for His audience to understand. He is not literally saying you should hate your family. He is teaching that your love for Him should be so strong that in comparison to your earthly family, your love for them would look like hate.

I don’t know about you, but that is a sobering thought to ponder! It’s also a thought Peter had to wrestle with in John 21:15-19, so if you’re wresting with it….know that every believer has to self-examine and come to the same point of realization. Either you do, or you don’t.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s dismiss any jovial sarcasm and assume that you do love your family…even your in-laws if you have them! Picture the love you have for your parents, your spouse, or your children. Now, picture a co-worker that you’re friends with, but obviously not as attached to or as affectionate with. This doesn’t mean you hate the co-worker. You just have a superior devotion to your family, and there’s a distinct difference in how you relate to each. I mean…if you had to prioritize who you could save on a sinking ship…I’m sure you would choose your family first, right?

Likewise, discipleship begins with a superior love for our Creator…one that is so strong that everything else pales in comparison and is secondary at best. It’s an easy concept to understand, but when you closely examine the reality of your life…are there changes that need to be made in your relationship with Jesus?

In that same verse, don’t miss that Jesus also said you should hate your own life. Again, the context is clearly stating where our hearts and longings should be.

Are you in love with your life, so much so, that you would opt to postpone a trip to Heaven? Are you living the American Dream with a house, a pool, 3.2 kids, a dog, and several shiny cars in the drive? Or maybe you’re still chasing that dream and have thought, “I’ll be ready after I get married. Or, after I have children. Or, after I get to a certain point in my career.” I’ve reeled through the “afters” earlier in my journey too, so no judgement here! Thankfully, God has reshaped my thought process, and I want to help you do the same.

Please stay with me. I’m fully aware this may be the point in the post where I’ve begun to “sift” some readers! Conviction is good. Let it do it’s thing. It’s only proof that Jesus cares and is intently focused on you…doing some molding that only the Master Potter can do!

Verse 27: Jesus continued sifting the crowd. He told them to bear their cross and come after Him. Again, this was not an exclusive statement meant for a few…not just the ministry leaders. It applied to everyone wanting to be a disciple, a follower of Christ…a believer.

What does it mean for you to bear your cross, or to carry your cross as some translations read? Think about the crucifixion of Christ. The cross was a well-known instrument at the time and used for a single purpose. Torture.

The cross was not designed to offer a quicker and more humane way of carrying out one’s death sentence like today’s lethal injection. Both methods are difficult to think about, but hands-down, the cross was meant to savagely offend people as the one hanging on it died a slow, brutal death!

Does this mean you have to be tortured to be a disciple? Of course not. I’m not saying that it couldn’t lead to that in an anti-Christian culture if that is what He has in store for your life…but, what Jesus is symbolically teaching is that we should die to our selfish desires and live a life wholly devoted to Him.

Does this mean it’s wrong for you to have a house, or a pool, or a dog, or even a car? Having things in general are not bad, but if those things have a grip on you and keep you from having a relationship with Jesus that is superior to all else, then you must consider making some changes. An easy litmus test would be to ask yourself, “If He called me to be a foreign missionary in a third-world country and leave all my belongings behind, would I struggle with that?” Would you hesitate?

Dying to self is not always an easy thing to do. Pray for Him to change your desires, your passions, and your pursuits and ask Him to align them with His plan and purpose for your life. He will guide you and give you strength to make the necessary changes. You can read more about this in my post The Power of Desire.

Verses 28-33: Reading on in the next verses, Jesus said that a disciple must count the cost. He illustrated how someone would not move forward with a major decision without being fully informed. If you tried to build your house without a set of plans and no financing available, the local planning commission and general contractor would most likely laugh at you…and they wouldn’t give you a builder’s permit either. Similarly, let’s pretend you as an individual invented an ingenious product but barely had two nickels to rub together, therefore being unable to market and/or defend your prototype. It would be silly to think you could successfully compete against a major corporation with billions of assets. They would probably buy you out!

The point is this…Jesus said you must be passionate about Him. You should follow Him with eyes wide open. Know what you’re getting into. Don’t make a flippant decision because you had a “feeling.” Feelings, like possessions, aren’t necessarily bad, but the Bible warns that our hearts can’t always be trusted. The probing question He seems to be leading us to is this: “Did you really mean you would follow Me?” It’s the authenticity of salvation in question.

How many people have you known that made a “decision” to follow Christ, but you never saw a change in their lifestyle? Have you wondered how they could continue on the same path with the same sin patterns as before? Was their salvation really…real?

Don’t shoot the messenger here, but Jesus said those people will be mocked. From the enemy’s and the world’s perspectives, it’s laughable when someone says they’re a follower of Christ, but there is no real following of Christ…there is no evidence of change.

The bottom-line nugget I hope you get from this post and the critical question you must face and answer is this: Have you made the decision to whole-heartedly follow Christ after counting the cost and knowing that it will be a continual process of dying to self? If your most honest answer to that question is no, and if you don’t have a pastor or Christian friend as a resource, you can privately reach out to me HERE and I will be glad to answer any questions you may have, or you can publicly submit them below for others to see as well. The mission of this blog is always to help.

Even after one has made an authentic decision to love and follow Christ, I believe there is the crippling notion of preparedness that seems to scare people away from discipleship…the teaching of others. Is this you? Do you wrestle with the idea that you aren’t prepared enough? Do you feel like you need a degree in theology before you attempt to disciple someone else?

Let me encourage you. Jesus didn’t say you have to go to seminary before you can be His disciple. Search the Scriptures and please let me know if you find otherwise. It’s just not there.

As you can see from the text, He explains that discipleship is rooted in your total surrender and pursuit of a relationship with Him. Only then can you passionately and effectively share your Christian faith with others.

I guarantee you that once you begin to learn from Him, even on Day 1, that you will know a little bit more than someone else in your sphere of influence. Who is that person? Is it a family a member? Is it a friend? Is it a child? Identify that person and intentionally take time to talk with them, passing on what you’ve learned. That’s discipleship!

Relax. You will continue to learn as you follow Jesus. It will be a lifelong journey, and you will never know it all. Keep exploring His Word, keep pursuing His will, and keep passing it on to others!

Thank you for reading!
Exploring, Pursuing, & Persevering together,

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