What is a disciple?

Jesus commissioned His followers to concentrate on making disciples, but what is a disciple? What does a disciple look like? Gary Tangeman defined a disciple as “one who has come to Jesus for eternal life, has claimed Jesus as Savior and God, and has embarked upon the life of following Jesus. In essence….a disciple is involved in a lifelong process of becoming like Jesus.” [1]

The word disciple comes from the Greek word mathetes. The word is translated literally as “ learner.” In the New Testament the word is sometimes used to refer to those who follow and learn from a particular didaskalos (teacher). Although the word is sometimes used in a general sense in the New Testament, here I will use the word disciple to refer specifically to a disciple of Jesus Christ. Here are some working definitions of a Christian disciple: 

“A disciple has made an intentional and rational decision to follow Christ.” (Steve Williams)

“A disciple is a learner, a student, an apprentice-a practitioner, even if only a beginner.” (Dallas Willard)

“A disciple is a fully-devoted follower of Christ.” (Bill Hybels)

“A person who has come to Jesus for eternal life and has embarked upon the lifelong journey of becoming like Jesus and following His leadership.” (Steve Rice)

The Apostle Paul’s words to the Colossian church serve as a good description of a disciple as well:      

“Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”  Colossians 2:6-7

1. Gary E. Tangeman, The Disciple-Making Church (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1996), 36.

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