The 7 Marks of Discipleship

By Lavern Brown

Can you give a clear, concise and biblically accurate description of a disciple of Jesus?

If so, you are a select member of an elite club.

I wonder if most ministers – let alone most Christians – really know what their ministry’s “finished product” is supposed to look like? I’m being reluctantly dragged to the conclusion most don’t by what the affiliated interim pastors of the Transition Ministries Group have found in our client churches.

Try this experiment to see if you come up with the same results.

Ask the next 20 pastors you meet their definition or description of a disciple. Hopefully you’ll find consensus but my guess is you’ll receive some blank stares, puzzled expressions, a few rambling discussions and maybe – just maybe – a biblical answer.

You know what’s really odd about this?

Jesus gave a clear, concise and simple description of what his disciples should be. He gave us the spec sheet, so to speak. There are a small handful of passages where the Lord says, in effect, “if you want to be my disciple you must do this” or “you can’t do that.”

Here are seven sermon texts you can preach to detail specs on Jesus’ disciples to your church.

1 “Love Jesus Above All” – Luke 14:25–26

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”

This is one of those hard sayings that gives way to clarity with careful exegesis. Work on the term μισεω to catch the nuance of “preference” or “choice.” You may also wish to plug Matthew 10:36–37 in here; it speaks of loving family members more than Jesus.

2 “Live in the Light of God’s Word” – John 8:30–32

As he was saying these things, many believed in him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

This text poses some interesting exegetical and theological questions, but one thing is clear: a hallmark distinction of disciples is that they abide in Jesus’ word. If you want to drill further into this text you’ll need to do some careful analysis of how John uses pronouns and how he uses the term πιστευω.

3 “Deny the Dark Side” – Luke 9:23

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

The synoptic gospels record Jesus repeating this statement many times and in different contexts. On some occasions he addressed his disciples (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23), at other times the crowds (Luke 14:27). Occasionally he left out one of the three elements (e.g., Luke 14:27).

I find an interior logic and progression in the three elements; each is distinct and yet they are inner dependent.

What is it about the “self” that needs to be denied? If you take this as Jesus’ comment on the sin nature you won’t go wrong. A sermon on the struggle with the sin nature is an important element in the disciple making process.

4 “Embrace the Father’s Will” – Luke 9:23

The phrase “take up your cross” has a rich history of interpretation. I prefer to connect this to the historical context of Israel under Roman tyranny. In those days the spectacle of a condemned prisoner carrying the instrument of execution to the place where it will be administered conveyed a powerful message: this is what happens to those who rebel against Rome.

This is a metaphor for the disciple’s interior disposition. Having said “No!” to the sin nature (see #3 above) the disciple says “Yes!” to the will of God without precondition.

Disciples embrace the will of the Father just as Jesus did.

5 “Obey Jesus” – Luke 9:23

The phrase ἀκολουθείτω μοι may be a general instruction to walk the path Jesus walks. But in the 1st century the term’s field of meaning included the notion of obedience to the one being followed (as a slave following a master or a student following a Rabbi).

Given the close connection this phrase has with “deny yourself” and “take up your cross” I read this as the third step in the sequence: obey Jesus, regardless of cost or inconvenience.

6 “Love the Believers As Jesus Loves Them” – John 13:34–36

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This one’s pretty straight forward. Love for fellow believers is a hallmark of Jesus’ disciples.

7 “Join in Jesus’ Mission” – John 15:8, 16

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples…. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

This is another text that is rich with possibilities! Taken by itself, verse 8 does not define the “fruit” which, when produced liberally in us, identifies us as Jesus’ disciples. The term is defined in verse 16; the use of ὑπάγητε reminds us of πορεύω in Matthew 28:19.

Clearly, one of the distinguishing marks of Jesus’ disciples is that they participate with him in his mission to redeem the world by making more disciples.

Concluding Remarks

How you angle into these sermons will depend on several theological preconditions. Two that come to mind are (1) how you see the connection between justification and sanctification; (2) and your understanding of a “nature” and whether we have one or two within.

Also, I need to say that merely preaching these texts so that your church members will have a clear understanding of what a disciple looks like – rare as that is! – preaching alone won’t do the job. As the pastor your job is to create the environments, provide the experiences and insure accurate information so that your people will have opportunity to become disciples themselves.

Image Credit: muha/123RF Stock Photo

Lavern Brown

Bud Brown is the president of Transition Ministries Group. He has served churches in a variety of settings, from small rural congregations to mid-sized urban churches to one of the fastest growing megachurches in the U.S. Bud is a graduate of Dallas Seminary (Th. M., 1986) and Western Seminary (D. Min., 1995). He and his wife, Lea, live in Tucson, Arizona where Bud spends most of his days lounging by the pool in their back yard.