7 Discipleship Principles from Jesus

7 Discipleship Principles from Jesus

A major part of discipling others is displaying for them the worth and value of Jesus. Since the Gospel is at the heart of the Christian faith, you always return to it. You show how it is Jesus and Jesus alone who gives rest for people’s souls. And this rest was only made possible by His sacrifice.

Once Jesus was resurrected, He commanded His disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations.” But what does that discipleship look like? How does one go about obeying this command practically? How would the original apostles have gone about doing this? I think the answer is clear: Jesus had spent the past several years discipling the apostles, setting an example for how discipleship is to be done. In short, the apostles would have learned their discipleship principles from Jesus. And so should you.

In this post, I want to extract practical discipleship principles from Jesus by looking at how He behaved towards His disciples. This post will look at the Gospel of Matthew in particular. There are many different ideas and methods put forward today for how to disciple someone. But the most important and foundational principles are laid down by Jesus in the Gospels. You must internalize and meditate on how Jesus interacted with His disciples in order to be effective at discipling others in obedience to the Great Commission.

1. You must initiate the discipling relationship

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he (Jesus) 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.

Matthew 4:18-20 ESV, emphasis added

It goes without saying, but the 12 apostles didn’t choose themselves to become Jesus disciples. Jesus initiated the relationship. Jesus called the 12 from their different areas of life and commanded them to follow Him. Furthermore, in Matthew 4 Jesus states His goal with discipling Peter and Andrew: He will make these brothers fishers of men.

“Fishers of men” is an apt metaphor for discipleship. No one goes fishing by sitting at home and waiting for the fish to swim up on land and come to them. Fishing means going out and catching the fish yourself. If you want to disciple other people, you are going to have to initiate the relationship. If you sit around waiting to be swarmed by individuals dying to glean wisdom from you, you will be waiting a long time.

Now, unlike Jesus who has all authority, not everyone you approach with immediately follow you as Peter and Andrew did Jesus. But this discipleship principle from Jesus still holds: if you want to have a discipling relationship with someone, you are going to have to take the first steps.

2. Discipleship involves both direct teaching and setting an example with your lifestyle

The 12 apostles were around Jesus for the length of His earthly ministry. During that time, Jesus both taught the disciples directly, and set an example by His conduct. The Gospel of Matthew contains several sections recording the teaching of Jesus, including the famous section “The Sermon on the Mount.” Beyond this formal teaching, the 12 apostles received teaching not given broadly, such as Jesus interpreting parables for them.

But it would be foolish to limit Jesus’ discipleship of the apostles to His teaching ministry. The apostles also:

  • Witnessed Jesus’ miracles
  • Watched Him respond to the Pharisees
  • Listened as He answered questions from the crowd with wisdom

And more. Because the apostles were around Jesus constantly, they had the unique position to both hear what Jesus said and observe how Jesus acted. And this “hearing and seeing” is crucial to any discipling relationship. Certainly a good amount of time discipling others will involve teaching. But just as important is how you yourself behave and conduct yourself.

Just like Jesus, you need to model in practice what you teach in precept. You oftentimes have more opportunities to display godly character in action than you do communicating godly characteristics in word.

3. Discipleship is honest about the joy of following Christ and the cost of following Christ

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV, emphasis added

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 16:24-25 ESV, emphasis added

Jesus did not sugarcoat the cost of following Him. Neither did He undersell the peace and joy He provides. Discipling involves teaching this tension. Following Jesus will lead to suffering and difficulty in this world, but Jesus is worth it. If you lose either part of this tension, you will end up obscuring the Bible’s teaching.

A major part of discipling others is displaying for them the worth and value of Jesus. Since the Gospel is at the heart of the Christian faith, you always return to it. You show how it is Jesus and Jesus alone who gives rest for people’s souls. And this rest was only made possible by His sacrifice.

But at the same time, you don’t ever want to make Jesus sound like a “ticket to heaven” or a means to material gain or someone who demands nothing of His followers. Just as Jesus called His disciples to self denial and dying to themselves, so to you will make it clear to all you are discipling that following Jesus requires leaving behind much of what people hold onto in their flesh.

4. You cannot disciple everyone at the same level

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

Matthew 5:1, 10:1, 17:1 ESV, emphasis added

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