Characteristics of True Disciples of Jesus
Written By: Dr. Frank A. Nuckolls
Associational Mission Strategist, Flint River Baptist Association, Griffin, Georgia
Jesus called twelve ordinary men to leave their vocations and serve as His disciples. These men were simple, ordinary men who responded to the call of Jesus. This call was to follow Him and become “fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) These men left what they were doing and began to follow Jesus. Before Jesus called out these disciples, He spent time with the Father praying. Jesus spent time with the Father on a regular basis. He realized that His power came from His Heavenly Father.
Jesus did not just issue a call for these men to follow Him. He also spent time training and equipping them to be like Him. A disciple of Jesus is one who learns from Him. Learning from Jesus is a continual process. Disciple, in the Greek language, is mathitis. When translated from Greek, disciple is a pupil or learner. Wikipedia defines a disciple of Jesus as “one who engages in learning from another.” Jesus brought His disciples together as pupils who would learn to be like Him. In Luke 6:40, the Bible reminds us: “A pupil is not above His teacher; but everyone, after he is fully trained, will be like his teacher.” (NASB)
Jesus was the Master Teacher. He was often called rabbi because He taught spiritual truths. Many of these spiritual truths were taught through parables. Parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings. He was the Master Teacher because He embodied the truth. After all, in John 14:6 Jesus reminds us that He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Lois LeBar in the book, Education That Is Christian, stated:
“Christ Jesus was the Master Teacher par excellence because He Himself
perfectly embodied the truth. He perfectly understood His pupils, and
He used perfect methods in order to change people.”
Jesus called out the twelve disciples. He trained them to be like Him. Then prior to His ascension to be with the Father, He commissioned the disciples. Jesus commissioned the disciples in John 20:21 in this manner: “So Jesus said to them again, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” Jesus also brought the disciples together on the mountain in Galilee and gave them the Great Commission. This Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:16-20:
“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which
Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but
some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them saying,
‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go
therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the
name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to
observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even
to the end of the age.”
Jesus commissioned the disciples to make disciples. This commission meant that Jesus was sending the disciples into the world to make disciples, panta ta ethne, of all the nations. In other words, the disciples were commissioned to make disciples in every people group in every nation. Based on the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20, what are the characteristics of true disciples of Jesus?
First, a true disciple of Jesus makes himself available to God. In Matthew 28:16, the Scripture states: “The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them.” (HCSB) These eleven disciples had been with Jesus for three years. During these three years, they had experienced His call to “follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” They had experienced His crucifixion and resurrection. These disciples had learned from Jesus as He taught them to be like Him. Now in this passage, Jesus was seeing if these eleven disciples were still available to serve and follow Him from this point forward.
These eleven disciples obeyed Jesus and arrived at the mountain to which they were called to meet Him. So, these disciples were available to Jesus because they made the decision to gather at the mountain as they were instructed. When a disciple is available to God, he understands what compels him to serve and follow Jesus. What should compel a disciple to follow Jesus? Paul the Apostle reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:14 what should compel a disciple to follow Jesus and make disciples. It is the love of Christ that compels a disciple to go into all the world and make disciples.
Second, a true disciple of Jesus demonstrates his affection for Jesus. In Matthew 28:17, the Scripture states that “When they saw Him, they worshipped, but some doubted.” When the disciples saw the resurrected Jesus, some in the group worshipped Him. They exclaimed praise to the Resurrected King because of what He had done for them—shed His precious blood to pay the penalty for their sin and the sin of the whole world. Yet, there were some in the group, perhaps Thomas, who doubted and needed more proof that this was indeed Jesus.
When a true disciple stands in the presence of the Lord, all he can do is worship and express praise, adoration, and glory for who Jesus is and what He has done. A true disciple worships because he realizes and understands the sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross. True disciples should also live sacrificially for the Lord. As Paul writes in Romans 12:1: “Therefore brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.”
Third, a true disciple of Jesus demonstrates respect for the authority of God. Jesus, as the Son of God, had been given all authority. Where did He get this authority? He got it from His Heavenly Father. In Matthew 28:18 the Scripture states: “Then Jesus came and said to them, all authority has been given to Me in heaven and earth.” This authority given to Jesus was the divine power of God. He was reminding the eleven disciples that His authority, His power came from God the Father. The disciples had access to this same power through a personal relationship with Jesus.
How can a true disciple of Jesus have access to this divine authority, this divine power? A true disciple must remember that access to God’s divine power is dependent upon abiding or remaining in Jesus. Read these words of Jesus in John 15:4-5:
“Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce
fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless
you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who
remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do
nothing without Me.”
The authority of power needed by a true disciple comes through being connected to the vine—Jesus. As a disciple abides in Him, he has the power to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God. Bearing fruit is through making disciples who make disciples.
Fourth, a true disciple of Jesus carries out the priority of Jesus. This priority is to make disciples. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus gives the disciples His priority for the future advancement of the Gospel. This verse reads: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” The disciples were given this commission from Jesus. He was sending them out into the world to carry out His mission. That mission was to make disciples.
A true disciple of Jesus exemplifies the priority of Jesus in his life. He seeks opportunities to make disciples. Often, these opportunities come as the disciple of Jesus realized that God is at work in a location or in someone’s life and then seeks to join God as He is working in this person’s life. This realization can lead into a disciple making process.
A true disciple enters into a disciple making process where relationships are built, God’s Word is shared, where the Gospel is presented, and the seeds of faith in Jesus are planted. Paul shared in 1 Corinthians 3:9: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” A disciple should be all about teaching, sharing, and sowing thus realizing God Himself makes disciples. True disciples are the people He will use to make disciples who make disciples.
Fifth, a true disciple of Jesus relies on the assurance of God. Jesus reminds His disciples in Mathew 28:20: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” True disciples are assured that God’s presence, through the Holy Spirit, will always be with them. The Holy Spirit will guide them, teach them, empower them, and enable them to make disciples who make disciples. As the disciple making process takes place and new disciples are made, a tremendous impact can be made for the Kingdom of God. As true disciples serve Jesus, they will encounter frustrations, heartache, or even doubt in their disciple making process. Nevertheless, the true disciple must remember the words of Jesus: “I am with you always.” This assurance gives true disciples the peace, the hope, and the encouragement to remain faithful to making disciples who make disciples.