Just a Closer Walk With Thee
Part 6: The Discipline of Discipleship
Did you know people can be disciples of just about anything? Sports teams, fitness programs, and celebrities all have “disciples.” In ancient Judaism, discipleship was a method of teaching—a pursuit that matters for Christians today as we learn how to be disciples of Jesus.
Throughout this series we’ve discussed spiritual habits, or disciplines, that can help us enjoy the intimacy of seeking God and being in His presence as He reshapes our thoughts and affections. Spiritual disciplines help us deepen our walks with God, grow in our love for Him, and focus our lives on Him.
We conclude this series now with a final discipline: discipleship, which is a method of shaping a person into a committed, mature, growing apprentice of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Jesus’ day, most rabbis had disciples (Hebrew, Talmidim). The relationship was more akin to master and apprentice or mentor, rather than to teacher and student. A disciple did more than sit under a rabbi’s teaching; he traveled with him, ate with him, and learned his way of life—as Elisha did with the prophet Elijah.
The disciple had an intense commitment and passion to imitate everything about the rabbi, so he could carry on in the rabbi’s tradition—becoming an extension of him and his way of engaging God, the text, and the world.
When Rabbi Jesus asks us to become His disciples, He wants us to do more than simply believe in Him for salvation. He wants us to pursue passionately and determinedly the goal of becoming more and more like Him through the power of the Holy Spirit. That goal certainly takes discipline. Discipleship is a disciplined tenacity for growing spiritually to be more like Jesus.
God expects such spiritual growth from us: “By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 Jn. 2:5–6). Learning to live as Jesus lived by keeping His commandments and imitating Him is essential to what it means to be a Christian. Similarly, the apostle Paul saw himself as a disciple of Jesus and expected others to imitate Jesus by imitating him (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1). Notably, Jesus claimed that a student is not to be better than his teacher, but well-trained students must be like their teacher (Lk. 6:40).
Do we have that disciplined commitment to become like Jesus? Yes, our theology should line up with Jesus’ teaching. But have we become apprentices, imitators of Jesus in His school of how to live as He did?
Imitating Rabbi Jesus
Some might question if living like Jesus is even possible. It certainly isn’t if we’re talking about Jesus’ divine attributes. Jesus was God incarnate; we are mere mortals.
However, in many areas of life, Jesus expected His disciples to imitate Him. Interestingly, He advocated many of the spiritual disciplines we’ve examined in this six-part study: biblical meditation, prayer, fasting, rest, community, and worship. Being Jesus’ disciples means disciplining ourselves to imitate His way of life in other areas as well:
Pray Like Jesus. Jesus taught His disciples to pray as He did in Luke 11; and He modeled a prayer life for them that included concentrated, daily times of communing with the Father (Mk. 1:35; Lk 5:16). He prayed for Himself (Jn. 17:1), His loved ones (v. 9), and His spiritual children (Mt. 19:13). He prayed for His enemies (5:44; Lk. 23:34) and for the seemingly impossible (Mt. 26:39).
Repeatedly, He asked His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane to follow His lead and pray intensely (v. 41). It was their final exam of sorts in His school of prayer. But despite their best attempts to imitate His prayer life, they failed. And so will we. But He still expects us to try to imitate Him in prayer.
Memorize Scripture. Jesus’ teachings are filled with Scripture references, biblical allusions, and textual arguments. He repeatedly quoted Deuteronomy to fight off temptation (Mt. 4), Exodus to teach about our hearts in relation to the Law (chap. 5), Psalms in reference to His true identity (27:46; Mk. 12:36), and many others.
One can argue that every time Jesus taught, He exegeted a correlating Hebrew Scripture. It’s important to know the Bible—Old and New Testaments—in order to understand what Jesus was saying. For example, Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37) takes on a new poignance when we know the passages about ritual cleanliness for priests and Levites (Lev. 21). The Lord’s statement that He came to “seek and save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10) becomes a declaration of His divinity if we know these are roles God claims exclusively for Himself (Ezek. 34).
Jesus adroitly taught Scripture in a way that helped His disciples understand the benefits of memorizing as much Scripture as they possibly could. As disciples, we are called to imitate Jesus’ intimate relationship with the text, memorizing it and living it—to walk as He walked.
Love Like Jesus. In John 13:34, Jesus told His disciples, “As I have loved you . . . love one another.” This type of love marks us as His disciples and resonates with the discipline of discipleship: If you want to be known as a disciple of the Lord Jesus, you’ll seek to imitate His love.
Of course, the question is, “How do we love like Jesus loved us?” Surely, we can’t die for the sins of the world. Neither can we accept the unbiblical ways people interpret Jesus’ love today. So how are we to understand and obey Jesus’ command to love as He loves us?
The context of Jesus’ statement in John 13:34 involves His sacrifice and the submission of His will to that of the Father. Jesus calls us to love unconditionally and selflessly, submitting to God and others. He asks us to obey what He called “the first and great commandment” (Mt. 22:38).
Judaism refers to it as the Shema: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (v. 37; cf. Dt. 6:5). Then Jesus added, “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Mt. 22:39–40).
We are to love God passionately and completely and to set aside our own self-protective instincts and love selflessly, especially when it comes to other Christians. This is the love we seek to imitate, and Jesus’ disciples will make this calling their highest priority in life.
The Price of Discipleship
Discipleship is not for the faint of heart, but it is for the failures at heart. Jesus knew exactly whom He was calling to imitate Him: the weak and weary, the brokenhearted and spiritually sick.
It takes discipline to bathe in the grace the Savior offers us through endless second chances. It takes discipline to follow in His footsteps and consistently practice biblical meditation, prayer, fasting, rest, community, and worship. But there is no greater privilege than being able to walk closely with the Lord—and nothing brings greater joy.