By Maggie Walsh
The Alabama Baptist
The word “Christian” appears three times in the New Testament. The word “disciple” appears 176 times in Matthew, John and Acts alone, Derek Gentle said.
So then, obedience to God’s Word should naturally place us on the trajectory of discipleship. But what does it mean to “be a disciple”?
“There seems to be a widespread understanding today that a person can become a Christian, but if they want to experience more and serve more, they can opt to upgrade to discipleship,” said Gentle, pastor of First Baptist Church, Tallassee, in his theme interpretation sermon Nov. 14. “So let us begin by saying discipleship is not a premium upgrade on regular Christianity for those willing to pay the price.”
Rather, it’s a “person who has accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and is seeking to learn from, obey and follow after Him as the Master of his life,” he said, quoting longtime Baptist pastor Paul Powell.
Marks of disciples
John 6 shows us that being a genuine disciple of Jesus is not easy. In verse 66 there are many who began following Him but turned away when Jesus’ teachings were too much for them.
“Jesus makes radical truth claims that are hard to accept … not hard to understand, but hard to accept,” Gentle pointed out. By claiming to be the sole source of personal fulfillment, claiming to have come from heaven and claiming a unique relationship with the Father, Jesus discovers His true disciples because a genuine disciple “sticks to Jesus.”
Wholehearted belief in Jesus is another mark of a true disciple, Gentle said.
“What you really, truly believe — not just what you think you are supposed to believe or say you believe, but what you really believe in your heart of hearts — that determines how you will perceive your life and the world around you, how you will act and react and (how you) will determine your priorities and choices.”
And the only way to completely believe in Jesus day by day is to be “in a relationship” with Him.
“Trying to be like Jesus doesn’t work,” Gentle said. “But when we focus on Jesus and spend time with Jesus, the Holy Spirit does His transforming work from within to make us like Jesus.”
He must be the well from which we draw every day, Gentle encouraged.
“We have to choose to draw His grace and power into our lives.”
This is where Christian disciplines — such as spending time alone with the Lord in prayer, memorizing Scripture, fellowshipping with other believers and relying on the Holy Spirit — come in.
“The disciplines themselves do not make us disciples,” Gentle pointed out. “By themselves the disciplines would just make us lost people with lots of homework.”
Instead the disciplines connect us to Jesus “relationally and plug us in to draw fulfillment, guidance and power from Jesus.”