What is a Disciple?

“Disciples are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ. We are in a growing relationship, always. A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a school room, rather at the work site of a craftsman. We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith.”  — Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction 

Definitions of discipleship are numerous partly because the word encompasses so much - beliefs, commitments, and practices – but a cursory look at the Gospels provides a good starting point; a disciple is someone who simply follows Jesus. Obviously this doesn’t imply a prerequisite of infallible belief, unfailing trust, or perfect obedience. Instead, the disciples are depicted as confused, sometimes cowardly and persistently failing. But what characterizes disciples even in their failing is their trust in Jesus which motivates a commitment to follow him into the gradual process of conforming their heads (intellect), hearts (affections) and hands (practices) to the likeness of his life, death and resurrection. Submitting to this process involves receiving the gospel of God’s love more deeply in all the circumstances of life and allowing it to strengthen our identity in Christ as his children, missionaries, and servants.  This implies that discipleship is deeply individual and personal and inherently communal and public.

A Disciple’s Identity

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old is gone and the new has come.” 

— 2 Corinthians 5:17

We aren’t defined by what we do. We are defined by what God has done in the person and work of Jesus Christ—the gospel. What we do is based upon and motivated by the gospel. Our doing flows out of our being. Our being comes from the gospel.

Adopted Child of God. In light of our faith in who Christ is and what he has done, we have been adopted into the family of God. We are sons and daughters of God. We are heirs (Genesis 12:1-3; John 1:12-13; Romans 12:10-16). As family, we care for one another, and learning how to genuinely love one another in Christ, not in cultural expectations. Disciples see one another as loved and adopted by God.

Missionaries sent by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells within the disciple, reminding the disciple of who God is and what he has done. We speak the good news to others and we participate in sharing the good news by serving. (John 1:14; 20:21; Colossians 1:19-20; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). As missionaries we invite people into community, speaking the truth about God and what he has done in you (the gospel), inviting people to follow Jesus which usually looks like prayer, Bible, loving one another, serving the poor, communion, worship.

Servants of King Jesus. Jesus has all authority on heaven and on earth. His kingdom, where everything is made right, is here and coming. We are servants of Jesus and citizens of his kingdom. He is our Lord and Savior (Matthew 20:25-28; 25:31-46; John 13:1-17; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Peter 2:16). As his servants we engage the brokenness of the world as servants with the hope of the Kingdom.

A missional community is a group of disciples, growing in practice what they are in Christ: a family of servant missionaries. They are learning to follow Jesus together in their identity. They are regularly contending with each other to “remember who you are.” 

Brad Watson is one of the elders at Soma Culver City. Brad and Mirela help lead the downtown Culver City missional community. He is the author of multiple books including Raise? Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection. He has a masters in theology from Western Seminary.