The Three-Fold Disciple (Part One)

What does is it mean to follow Jesus? The term that Jesus most often used to describe his earliest followers was the word disciple. The word disciple simply means learner. It was a term commonly know in that day to refer to the students of a particular rabbi. The disciple would follow the teachings of their rabbi and learn from them. This image of a disciple is what jumps off the pages of the New Testament regarding those who follow Jesus. Yet being a disciple of Jesus  goes deeper than simply learning the teachings of Jesus. 

In their book The Convergent Church Mark Liederbach and Alvin Reid argue that “too often discipleship models are regulated to classroom teachings in Sunday school settings and seminary classrooms with knowledge based curricula instead of life-on-life, obedience based discipleship.” Liederbach and Reid are on to something in that statement, because following Jesus goes beyond the mere acquisition of information. The goal in following Jesus is life transformation.

Liederbach and Reid go on to say, “The emphasis on orthodoxy (right teaching) has led to the unfortunate neglect of orthopraxy (right living).” They are pointing to the lack of, or at least the misapplication of true discipleship within the American Church. They, nor I am the first to point this out. Many books, blogs, and sermons have been written about how to fix the discipleship problem. Yet one chord they hit on is the fact that for so long we have equated discipleship with classroom learning. We have taught that if a person can acquire more knowledge about God, that makes him a true disciple. This could not be further from the truth. For this is only starting point in the discipleship process.

In reality, process of discipleship is three-fold: head, heart, and hands. A disciple must learn the gospel (Head), believe the gospel (Heart), and experience/live the gospel (Hands). It is true that in order to be a disciple one must first know the facts of the gospel, this happens with our head. Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32, ESV emphasis mine). To follow Jesus we must know the truth of the gospel. What is the truth of the gospel? Let’s take a moment to make sure we understand what we mean by the gospel:

The gospel is what the Apostle Paul considered of first importance: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, NKJV). Elsewhere, Paul proclaimed, “But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NKJV). This simple, yet profound truth is the heart of the gospel message. And it truly is good news!

Yet we cannot allow facts to become the end of discipleship. If we only focus on knowing facts of the gospel we are missing the other two-thirds. Jesus said, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, ESV). The Apostle Paul proclaimed, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, ESV). 

In order to be a disciple a person must come to an intellectual knowledge of the gospel, but it must not stop there. If a person merely has intellectual knowledge of the gospel, he may know all the right facts about Jesus, but not truly know Jesus. Sadly, the truth is there are many people who go to church every week that think they are saved because they know all the right facts about the gospel, but have not been transformed by the power of the gospel (see Romans 1:16). 

Years ago I went to church with a gentleman who’s testimony was just as I described above. He went to church every Sunday and was even a leader in the church. He said of his conversion that he one knew about God, but “now I know God.” That made all the difference in the world. There are even people from other world religions who know the facts of the gospel but do not believe it, nor live it. The Apostle James says that, “even the demons believe and shudder” (James 2:19). This is why it is so dangerous to define discipleship as merely the acquisition of knowledge about Jesus. In our next two articles in this study series we will take a closer look at the heart and hands of discipleship. 

If you would like to know more about the good news of Jesus, please visit The Gospel page. 

For additional discipleship based resource recommendations, please visit our Discipleship page.

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