Beyond belief: The profound journey of discipleship in the Bible

The call to follow Jesus, the call of discipleship, is a transformative journey. The cost of discipleship is great—it costs the Christian their life. Following Jesus is a remarkable way to live because it requires one to defy all cultural calls of self-fulfillment and individualism in favor of loving others and adopting a family whose bond runs even deeper than blood. 

Christian discipleship is complex. Discipleship in the Bible is not always a linear process and it can be quite difficult for Christians to know where they are along the path of following Jesus and becoming more like him. 

Let’s explore seven stages that depict the general trajectory of Christian discipleship that contain lessons about how to disciple others. 

Stage 1: Sharing the vision of the kingdom of God

An important part of any discipleship relationship is sharing the same vision of what it means to grow as a disciple. Jesus spoke dozens of times about the kingdom of God in scripture, making it clear that this was a central component of his ministry. Those who follow Jesus need to, at least at a base level, have a shared understanding of what it means to follow Jesus, glorify God, and bring the kingdom of God to bear on earth. 

In Matthew 5–7, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly communicated about the kingdom of heaven. True discipleship is built on a firm understanding and proclamation of the kingdom of God. Just as Jesus made the kingdom of heaven a central part of his discipleship of others, so must we make it a central part of our spiritual journeys and how we disciple others.

Stage 2: Selecting future disciples

Some of the disciples were already following Jesus before he made them disciples. In John 1, we find that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist when he declared “Look, the Lamb of God!” Andrew then ran to tell his brother Simon (Jesus later changed his name to Peter), “We have found the Messiah.” They then began to follow Jesus. 

On the other hand, Jesus also called men like Nathaniel, who did not know him and were more skeptical. They followed Jesus after seeing him move in supernatural ways. 

Jesus called all kinds of people to join him as his disciples. Some knew him well, and others followed after seeing his signs and wonders. As disciples of Jesus ourselves, we should invite those who are already following Jesus to go deeper by becoming disciples. We should proclaim the gospel to those who don’t know him, show them how God has miraculously worked in and through our lives, and invite them to follow Jesus as well. 

Stage 3: Calling people to follow him as disciples

People don’t just spontaneously become disciples—we have to call them to follow Jesus and they have to accept that calling. Matthew shows Jesus’ example for us in Matthew 4:18–22:

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Also, in Matthew 9:9 we see Jesus calling Matthew to follow him: “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.” 

To be called by Jesus to follow him is no small thing—it is life-changing. Notice how quickly all of these disciples dropped all that they were doing, leaving family members and businesses behind, to give their lives to the kingdom of God. 

How might we consider our calling to be disciples of Jesus and its effects on our everyday lives?

Discipleship tools

Stage 4: Modeling servant leadership

If there has ever been a leader in history who could have demanded that his followers serve him like a king, it is Jesus Christ. And yet it is in the life and leadership of Jesus that we see the picture of perfect servant leadership. 

While Jesus is washing his disciples’ feet in John 13:15–16 he declares, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”

We are his disciples and he is our example as we disciple others. Because we are in the position of “discipler” or “spiritual leader,” we are to be the most servant-hearted of anyone. The disciples were shocked by Jesus’ humility, and understandably so! It ran counter-culturally to all of the examples of the religious leaders of that day. Today, we should follow his example and humble ourselves as we serve those who follow us.

Stage 5: Teaching sacrifice & commitment

The cost of discipleship is great. True discipleship, biblical discipleship, requires everything from us. We cannot just yield part of our lives to the Great Commission and the kingdom of God. No, we must sacrifice it all. Jesus says to his disciples in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

The call to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and to make more disciples of Jesus Christ is no small calling. It will require us to make Christ the center of our lives, not simply one of the features of our lives.

Stage 6: Equipping disciples for ministry

Jesus appointed his disciples to a high calling—a life of sacrificial love that would cost them everything—but he didn’t expect his disciples to figure everything out on their own. Jesus equipped his disciples for the work of ministry, and if we want to be faithful leaders and disciple-makers, we should do the same.

Equipping disciples for ministry can take many forms. For example, you could share some discipleship resources that would be beneficial to the people you’re leading. Maybe you could offer a variety of discipleship classes that help people follow Jesus in everyday life. Or you could even have your senior pastor preach a sermon series on biblical principles of church discipleship

It is fair to say that there are a slew of resources available for you even if you are unsure of how to equip the people in your church to live as disciples of Jesus.

Stage 7: Sending disciples out to fulfill the Great Commission

Disciples are not called to stay silent and just enjoy their salvation by themselves. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew we see Jesus direct his disciples with the Great Commission. Matthew 28:18–20 says:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Of course, Jesus gave his fishermen and tax collectors-turned-apostles the Great Commission, but it wasn’t just for them. All of us who claim the name of Jesus and consider ourselves his disciples are called to go out into the world, making disciples of the nations, baptizing those disciples, and teaching them the scriptures. These men who had once been fishing for food were now sent out as fishers of men. 

A high call & great cost

It’s tempting to believe that just because these disciples had Jesus in their midst they were any better equipped for Great Commission ministry than you and I. Those of us who are Christians have the same Holy Spirit working in us as those men had working in them. We can do what God calls us to do in the Great Commission.

Yes, the call of discipleship is high and the cost of discipleship is great. Almost all of Jesus’ disciples died horrible deaths and lived lives far shorter than the average person today. Following Jesus takes all of who we are—we cannot block off certain parts of our lives we want to keep free of Jesus’ calling on our lives. 

The goal of true discipleship is finding intimacy with God and leading others to the same. When Christian discipleship becomes a part of our everyday lives, it impacts the lives of the people around us with the power of Jesus and helps build the kingdom of God. 

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Jeff Harvey, Content Strategist

Jeff lives in Austin, TX and is a husband, father, and bonsai enthusiast. He’s served churches for over 20 years as a pastor, teacher, and missionary. He also holds a MBA from George Fox University and is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish.

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