If you asked just about any Christian if they want to grow closer to God, they’d probably say, “Yes!”
Of course we all want to grow closer to God each day. But how? How do we develop a deeper faith? Turns out there’s a one-word answer: discipleship.
What Is a Disciple?
Discipleship is a process that can start as soon as we choose to follow Jesus. A disciple is kind of like a student or apprentice. They seek to learn from their leader and imitate their way of life.
Christians are disciples of Jesus, meaning we seek to learn from Jesus and imitate His way of life.
Jesus is fully God and fully human. This means He was able to live out the way all humans were made by God to live. Jesus experienced a close relationship with God the Father and used His words, relationships, and actions to make a massive difference in the world around Him.
We want the same kind of life. One filled with passion, purpose, and a closer relationship with God. So, we seek to imitate how Jesus lived. But, as you probably know, discipleship isn’t easy.
What Is Discipleship in the Bible?
Probably the most famous disciples in the Bible are the Twelve Disciples of Jesus. Jesus selected these followers to travel with Him for three years. The disciples listened as Jesus taught, and they watched how He interacted with others. They asked Him questions and even had opportunities to practice what they learned from Jesus.
These disciples were like us. They wanted a deeper relationship with God, and they wanted to live a full, meaningful life. But they weren’t perfect. They argued, focused on the wrong things, and gave in to temptation. But Jesus still invested in them. Why? Because discipleship is a journey, not a destination. We’re all in process as followers of Jesus, meaning we all have room to grow.
So as we seek discipleship, remember that it’s not possible to become an all-star disciple overnight. Jesus is patient, so let’s take our discipleship journey one step at a time.
4 Things We Can Learn From the Twelve Disciples
Jesus had twelve closest disciples during His three-year ministry. Each had their own challenges as they followed Jesus, and we can learn a lot about what it looks like to be a disciple as we read their stories.
1. Disciples make some sacrifices.
Jesus didn’t force His disciples to follow Him, and they didn’t become disciples by accident. Jesus invited them to follow Him, but they had to choose to leave their old life to accept His call.
Each of Jesus’ disciples had to surrender something to follow Jesus. Many had stable jobs they had to quit and family members they had to leave behind. And all of them had to deal with the discomfort of an uncertain and uncomfortable future.
We don’t become disciples by accident. We have to choose to follow Jesus, even if it means making sacrifices.
2. Disciples let go of their pride.
Jesus sometimes had to break up arguments between His disciples. What did they argue about? Let’s look at one instance to find out:
Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. Luke 22:24 NLT
They wanted to know which disciple was “doing the best.” Was it the one who gave the best answers? Or the one who performed the greatest miracle? Or was it whoever had been following Jesus the longest?
Here’s how Jesus responded:
Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.” Luke 22:25-27 NLT
How do we measure success in discipleship? How do we know if we’re “winning”? Well, to Jesus, we’re winning if we’re constantly looking for ways to make less of ourselves and more of others.
There’s nothing wrong with being a person the world considers influential or important. But you can’t seek discipleship and fame at the same time. Just think about Jesus. He was God but chose to give up His authority and titles—along with all their prestige, honor, and praise—to become a humble servant-teacher.
So, if we want to seek discipleship, we need to let go of our pride and pursuit of fame. To Jesus, we become great through service without fanfare.
3. Disciples have doubts.
The disciples had faith in Jesus, but they still had questions and doubts. That’s okay, because doubts and questions are often signs of a growing faith.
One evening a disciple named Peter saw Jesus walking across the surface of a lake during a big storm. Pretty strange, right? But Peter was a disciple, and a disciple does their best to imitate their leader.
So, full of faith, Peter chose to step out of his boat and walk across the water too. For a few moments, he was able to stand on the waves. But when He turned his focus to the rough sea, he began to doubt and sank into the water.
… [Peter] was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” Matthew 14:30-31 NLT
In that moment, Peter had little faith in Jesus. But Jesus didn’t abandon him or punish him. Instead, Jesus continued to help Peter, and Peter kept seeking discipleship.
Eventually, Jesus called Peter to lead the Church. It’s fair to believe that Peter still had some questions and doubts, but they didn’t disqualify him. Instead, they gave Him opportunities to keep pursuing Jesus.
As you seek discipleship, you’ll almost certainly have questions and doubts too. That’s okay. In those moments, don’t assume that God is mad at you, or that you can’t follow Jesus anymore. Instead, keep pursuing Jesus through prayer and bring your doubts and questions to trusted friends who follow Jesus.
4. Disciples make disciples.
As you follow Jesus, you’ll grow closer to God and find joy and purpose. But we don’t just follow Jesus for the personal benefit. Discipleship is a personal journey, but it’s not a private journey. Jesus blesses us so we can be a blessing to others.
Here are some of Jesus’ final words to His disciples before returning to heaven:
… “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 NLT
Jesus lived an others-focused life. He consistently used His time, energy, and resources to help people. He shared words of hope with people feeling shame, and He welcomed outsiders. He healed people with lifelong illnesses and spoke truth to people in power. And, as He did all of these things, He invited people to live like Him—with full devotion to God.
Jesus called His disciples to do the same things, telling and showing people what it looked like to be fully devoted to God. So the disciples went all over the world and made new disciples of Jesus. And those disciples made disciples, and the process has continued to the present time.
Now, it’s our turn—or, to put it more directly, it’s your turn. Countless disciples throughout history led to you becoming a follower of Jesus today. You can honor their legacy by continuing to help other people get to know Jesus so they can seek discipleship too. We do this through sharing our faith, and living like Jesus every day.
How to Grow as a Disciple
Every follower of Jesus has a unique discipleship journey—but all the journeys share a few key ingredients.
- All followers of Jesus seek to be more like Jesus every day. We try to love how He loved and live how He lived. Read this article for more on what it might look like for you to become more like Jesus.
- One way disciples become more like Jesus is by pursuing spiritual practices. These are habits that help us remain aligned with our purpose. This article is full of practical ways you can pursue spiritual practices.
- In some ways, discipleship is a personal journey, but we can’t do it on our own. We need close friends who follow Jesus if we want to grow as disciples. Friends provide encouragement and wisdom and give us opportunities to multiply our impact. For more on the value of friendship, and for some ways to build friendships with other followers of Jesus, check out this article.
Discipleship is a journey, and it’s rarely a straight line. Some days are good, others will be challenging. Jesus doesn’t promise that His followers will have an easy life. But the sacrifices are worth it—because they allow us to be the people we were made to be as we partner with God to make earth more like heaven.