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Marks of a Disciple

Introduction The mandate to make disciples, as commanded in Matthew 28:19-20, stands at the core of the Christian church's mission. This divine injunction not only calls for the propagation of faith but also underscores the necessity of understanding the essence of discipleship. This paper aims to delineate and analyze the fundamental characteristics that should symbolize a disciple of Jesus Christ. This exploration is not merely an academic pursuit but a critical endeavor to inform and refine ministry strategies and personal spiritual growth.

In this analysis, we will conduct a rigorous scriptural study to unearth the qualities that define a disciple, as portrayed in the Bible. This will involve a close examination of the commands of Christ and the attributes of those who followed Him faithfully. The intent is to identify desirable and fundamentally essential characteristics for anyone professing discipleship. Furthermore, the paper will extend beyond scriptural analysis to include insights from various scholarly works. This involves examining biblical commentaries, theological texts, and academic journals, thus enriching the study with diverse perspectives. The synthesis of scriptural evidence and scholarly discourse aims to present a well-rounded understanding of the marks of a disciple.

Ultimately, this study endeavors to present a clear, concise, and biblically grounded exposition of the essential characteristics of a disciple. These characteristics will be articulated in a manner that is not only theologically sound but also practically applicable to contemporary Christian discipleship and ministry.

Scriptural Analysis

The foundational scripture for this exploration is Matthew 28:19-20, commonly called the Great Commission. In this passage, Jesus Christ commands His followers to “make disciples of all nations.” This directive emphasizes evangelism and the nurturing of believers into mature disciples. A deeper examination of scriptural narratives and teachings is essential to understand what this discipleship entails. Below, I will examine four marks of a disciple.

Mark 1: Commitment to Christ’s Teachings One of the primary marks of a disciple, as evidenced in the Gospels, is a steadfast commitment to the teachings of Jesus. In John 8:31, Jesus states, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” This adherence is not merely an intellectual assent but involves a transformative embrace of Christ's teachings, impacting one’s values, decisions, and actions.[1] Jesus offers a similar truth in John 15, when he said, “I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who remains in me - and I in him – bears much fruit, because apart from me, you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5, NET). Not only can believers experience a holistic transformation, but their lives can display evidence for others, which offers a guide for continued growth. When God seems removed from us, we must analyze whether we have removed ourselves from his word.[2]

Mark 2: Love and Service Jesus highlighted love as a distinctive mark of His followers. John 13:35 declares, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This love extends beyond mere affection to encompass acts of service and sacrifice, as exemplified in the life of Jesus and His teachings on servanthood (Mk. 10:45). Historically, Rabbinical leaders would garner disciples who would follow them around and learn. This was a significant reason for the moniker. However, Jesus reveals to his disciples that people will no longer view them as his disciples by mere proximity. Instead, they would be his disciples through a display of love and commitment to each other and the message of the Gospel.[3] Additionally, Jesus’ actions as a servant demonstrate a new way to lead where individuals are not hindered by misuse of power, which established a model for success within communities of poor, oppressed, and established leaders.[4] Ultimately, Jesus provided the example for a disciple while demonstrating what a disciplined life personified. Therefore, regardless of cultural perception and influence, he is and will always be an example for everyone.

Mark 3: Fruitfulness in Life and Ministry

In John 15:8, Jesus articulates, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” Fruitfulness here encompasses both personal spiritual growth and effective ministry, implying that a disciple should exhibit a life that is continually transformed by the Holy Spirit and is impactful in the kingdom of God.[5] Conversely, this type of consistency highlights the words of the apostle Paul when he admonished the Corinthians by saying, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). As believers fix their eyes on Jesus, they follow his example and in doing so set an example for others to follow (Heb. 12:1-2). Likewise, this ideal encompasses the great commission and offers insight into the benefits of faith networks, where intergenerational relationships promote spiritual formation.[6]

Mark 4: Cross-bearing and Self-denial

Luke 14:27, where Jesus asserts, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple,” underscores the cost of discipleship. This concept involves a willingness to endure hardship, persecution, and self-denial following Christ’s sacrifice. This was a truth well-oriented into the life of a first-century Christian, as exemplified in Paul’s words when he said, “From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body” (Gal. 6:17). However, the idea of losing one’s life for Christ was initially rejected by the disciples when Jesus identified the necessity of his death.[7] Specifically, Peter chastised Jesus for saying he had to die, which prompted Jesus to reciprocate with an even sterner rebuke when he said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s” (Matt. 16:23). Following this rebuke, Jesus laid out the reality of this final mark as the ultimate expression of a disciple (Matt. 16:24-28). Among the depth of discipleship truths, a fact germane within every dedicated individual is a willingness to give up everything for the sake of Jesus.[8] Conclusion The exploration of discipleship within the scriptural context provides a robust framework for understanding the transformative journey of a follower of Christ. The four marks identified—commitment to Christ's teachings, love and service, fruitfulness in life and ministry, and cross-bearing and self-denial—form the quintessential pillars upon which the life of a disciple is constructed.

Through a commitment to the teachings of Christ, a disciple is called to a life of continuous learning and transformation, ensuring that every decision and action reflects the wisdom and guidance of the Savior. This commitment is manifested in a life of love and service, where disciples are recognized not just by their proximity to the teachings but by their active and sacrificial love for others, mirroring the servanthood of Jesus Himself.

Fruitfulness in life and ministry extends the influence of a disciple, showcasing a life rich in spiritual maturity and outreach, thereby glorifying God and fulfilling the Great Commission. It is through this visible and tangible impact that a disciple's life is measured, serving as a testament to the work of the Holy Spirit within.

Lastly, the call to bear one's cross and embrace self-denial represents the pinnacle of discipleship. It is a solemn reminder of the cost associated with following Christ—a cost that demands everything, even unto the point of death. It is this profound level of commitment that distinguishes the true disciple, one who sets aside personal gain and comfort for the sake of the gospel.

As this study concludes, it becomes evident that the journey of discipleship is one of depth and sacrifice, marked by a steadfast pursuit of Christ-likeness in every aspect of life. It is a journey that demands diligence, courage, and unwavering faith. For the church today, these marks of discipleship are not historical footnotes but active, guiding principles for cultivating a vibrant and enduring faith community deeply rooted in the truth of the gospel and the example of Christ our Lord.


Bibliography


Boersma, Hans. "Fear of the Word." First Things 295 (2019): 25-30, http://www.firstthings.com/ (Publisher's URL:) https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a6h&AN=ATLAiG0V190731001314&site=ehost-live&scope=site&custid=liberty&authtype=ip,shib.


Bury, Benjamin. "Servant Leadership – Jesus and Paul – Efrain Agosto." Reviews in Religion & Theology 14, no. 1 (2007): 6-8, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9418.2007.00322_1.x.


Carter, Matt, and Josh Wredberg. Exalting Jesus in John: Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary. Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2017.


Garzon, Fernando L., Cassandra D. Page, Leroy Gilbert, Gayla Olvera, Hannah Daniel, Jessica S. Guilfoyle, Katrina Maxwell, Carletta N. Artis, and Francisco Villate. "A Christ-Centered Acceptance and Commitment Program for Racial Harmony in Christian Populations." Journal of Psychology and Christianity 42, no. 2 (Summer, 2023): 144-67, https://go.openathens.net/redirector/liberty.edu?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/christ-centered-acceptance-commitment-program/docview/2825238282/se-2.



Milne, Douglas R. "Networks for Faith Formation: Relational Bonds and the Spiritual Growth of Youth, Steven Emery-Wright and Ed Mackenzie, Wipf & Stock, 2017 (978-1-4982-3602-7), Vii + 146 Pp., Pb $22." Reviews in Religion & Theology 28, no. 3 (2021): 275-7, https://doi.org/10.1111/rirt.14020.



Wueste, Ted. "Book Review: Mansions of the Heart: Exploring the Seven Stages of Spiritual Growth." Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care 7, no. 1 (2014): 154-6, https://doi.org/10.1177/193979091400700113.



[1] Fernando L. Garzon, Cassandra D. Page, Leroy Gilbert, Gayla Olvera, Hannah Daniel, Jessica S. Guilfoyle, Katrina Maxwell, Carletta N. Artis, and Francisco Villate, "A Christ-Centered Acceptance and Commitment Program for Racial Harmony in Christian Populations," Journal of Psychology and Christianity 42, no. 2 (Summer, 2023): 144-67. [2] Hans Boersma, "Fear of the Word," First Things 295 (2019): 25-30, http://www.firstthings.com/. [3] Matt Carter and Josh Wredberg, Exalting Jesus in John: Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2017), 296. [4] Benjamin Bury, "Servant Leadership – Jesus and Paul – Efrain Agosto," Reviews in Religion & Theology 14, no. 1 (2007): 6-8, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9418.2007.00322_1.x. [5] Ted Wueste, "Book Review: Mansions of the Heart: Exploring the Seven Stages of Spiritual Growth," Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care 7, no. 1 (2014): 154-6, https://doi.org/10.1177/193979091400700113. [6] Douglas R. Milne, "Networks for Faith Formation: Relational Bonds and the Spiritual Growth of Youth, Steven Emery-Wright and Ed Mackenzie, Wipf & Stock, 2017 (978-1-4982-3602-7), Vii + 146 Pp., Pb $22," Reviews in Religion & Theology 28, no. 3 (2021): 275-7, https://doi.org/10.1111/rirt.14020. [7] Paul Tanner, "The Cost of Discipleship: Losing One's Life for Jesus' Sake," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 56, no. 1 (2013), https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/cost-discipleship-losing-ones-life-jesus-sake/docview/1353301300/se-2?accountid=12085. [8] Daniel J. Harrington, "The Cost of Discipleship," America (2007), https://www.proquest.com/magazines/cost-discipleship/docview/209697002/se-2?accountid=12085.

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