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The DNA of a Disciple

by Dallas Theological Seminary on July 7, 2006 in Articles

Dr. Mark L. Bailey, president of Dallas Theological Seminary, describes the essential spiritual components in our makeup as disciples: (1) loving Christ deeply, (2) abiding in God’s Word, (3) denying ourselves, (4) taking up our cross daily, (5) following Christ, (6) giving up everything, and (7) loving others.

I understand you have been interested in the subject of discipleship for a long time.
Yes, I am indebted to the late author Stanley Ellisen, who almost thirty years ago first launched my study into the way Jesus developed His disciples. I also need to give credit to another author, William MacDonald, who reinforced my study in focusing on the specific characteristics that mark a disciple. Of special interest is the fact that Jesus chose His twelve for two reasons: “that they might be with him and that he might send them out” (Mark 3:14). Before they could minister effectively they needed to spend time with Him. 

Is this dual emphasis seen anywhere else in the Gospels?
In Matthew 11:29 Jesus urged us to put His yoke on us and to “learn from me.” Then in Matthew 28:19 He told us to “make disciples.” Since the Greek word for “disciple” means a learner, He was saying that we must be learners (disciples) of Him before we can help others become His learners (disciples).

How then would you define a biblical disciple?
A disciple, according to the Bible, is one who learns from the Lord and who lives what he or she learns.

How can we know if we are the kind of disciples Jesus wants us to be?
Jesus spoke of seven core elements that explain what it means to be a disciple. The first of these is a deep love for Christ. He said, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37), and in Luke 14:26 He said our love for Him is to be so strong that all other people would seem to be hated. He didn’t mean that we should not love our parents or other family members. Instead He was saying that our love for Him should surpass any other love. Our love for Christ should be so strong that all others by comparison seem insignificant.
Three verses before that Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (v. 34). What did He mean by that?
He was affirming that some family members will believe in Him and others may not.  In other words, unfortunately truth sometimes divides families.

What is a second requirement for being Jesus’ disciple?
A disciple is also one who abides in God’s Word. Jesus said, “If you hold to [literally, ‘abide in’] my teaching, you are really my disciples” (John 8:31). As an agricultural term “abide” means “to sink one’s roots into the soil.” As a root “abides” in the soil, the plant grows. And as we study God’s Word and reorient our lives according to its truths, we are set free from circumstances that pull us away from Him. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (v. 36).

What did Jesus mean when He said in Luke 9:23 that as His disciples we should deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him?
To “deny” ourselves means to say no to our self-focused interests, to no longer make ourselves the authority and focus of our lives. It means that we seek to do His will, not ours. It means we develop humility before Him, realizing we cannot live the godly life in our own strength. Denying ourselves means that we acknowledge, as He said, that “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Only in this way can we escape the powerful pull of our sinful nature and enjoy the fruit of the Spirit. If we don’t deny ourselves, we can’t be true disciples.

What about the fourth element in discipleship, “Take up your cross daily”? How can we do that?
In Roman-occupied Palestine a condemned man was forced to show his submission to Rome by carrying his cross to the place of execution. This showed that he was now submitting (though involuntarily) to the authority against which he had rebelled. So in the Christian life we are to submit voluntarily to Christ’s authority by centralizing the cross in every fabric of our lives. As Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Taking up our cross means identifying with Jesus in death—death to sin and a life dedicated to God.

What about the command to “follow Me”?
“Follow” is a military term, suggesting that we “fall in line” behind Christ, that we leave our personal interests behind us, and that we say “Yes, Sir” to Him and His will. This means obeying Him in spite of our circumstances and without compromising ourselves in any way.

What is the sixth requisite for being a disciple
of the Lord?

Luke 14:33 presents this sixth point. “Any of you who does not give up everything ... cannot be my disciple.”

Isn’t that a rather harsh requirement? Did He mean we should sell all our possessions and
own nothing?

He was saying that we must recognize that He is the one who owns our possessions. We acknowledge that we are stewards of what He has given us “on loan.” Corrie Ten Boom said it well: “Hold everything with an open hand, because if God prys it open, it hurts.”

And what is the seventh element?
A disciple of Jesus loves other believers. “A new commandment I give you: Love one another.... All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:34–35).

How is this a new commandment? Wasn’t loving others commanded in the Old Testament?
Yes, but here the commandment is new because Jesus set the standard. And so He calls on us to follow His example of love. The New Testament includes thirty-two commands using the words “one another”: “build up one another,” “forgive one another,” “bear one another’s burdens,” and so forth. This love is sacrificial, obeys God’s commands, communicates the truth, and bears fruit (John 15:12–17).

Are the first and seventh aspects of discipleship related in some way?
Yes, these two balance each other. The first—to love Christ supremely—is joined by the seventh—to love others. Vertical love for the Lord expresses itself in horizontal love. And these relate to the two greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.... Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37, 39).

How would you summarize these seven elements of discipleship?
Our communion with Christ (“learn from Me”) is to be followed by our communication of Christ (“make learners”). This is Jesus’ challenge for every believer.

Dr. Roy B. Zuck is senior professor emeritus of Bible Exposition and editor of Bibliotheca Sacra at Dallas Seminary.

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