What Does It Mean to Make Disciples?
In the Great Commission, Jesus commands us to go and disciple others.
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18–20, English Standard Version).
But what is discipleship and what is Jesus asking us to do?
What’s a disciple?
The Greek word that’s translated “make disciples” is mathēteuō, which comes from the root mathētēs, meaning “learner” or “pupil.” In ancient Greece, this word typically denoted someone who was an apprentice to a trade like masonry or shipbuilding. In philosophy, it spoke of someone who had developed a master/student relationship with a teacher.
For Christians, discipleship communicates the same sort of idea. The disciple is a believer who’s learning to obediently follow and serve Jesus as their master. Discipleship emphasizes more than simply accepting Jesus. It’s an enduring, long-term commitment to uncovering and discovering what it means to be devoted to Jesus. We do this through constant exposure to Scripture, commitment to communities of faith, and the direct involvement of mature believers in our lives.
In John 8:31–32, Jesus says it to His Jewish followers this way, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Abiding in Jesus word is a poetic way of saying remaining faithful to his teaching—to becoming a perpetual student.
We don’t become disciples by attending a couple of classes or conferences. Disciples abide in a constant spiritual classroom.
Disciples make disciples
But to assume that discipleship is simply an intellectual pursuit would be completely misguided. We learn about following Jesus so that we may do the actual work associated with following Him. Ase says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46, ESV).
One of the most important elements of discipleship is reproduction. A disciple creates more disciples and should never be able to say, “I’ve never shared the gospel with someone.” Discipleship includes the work of sharing the gospel and baptizing those who respond in faith—but leading others to Christ is only discipleship’s point of entry.
After someone has committed him or herself to following Jesus and been baptized, we’re to help that person also become a student of Jesus. Like us, the life of a new believer is transformed and sanctified through the spiritual empowerment of the Holy Spirit and deep training in the ways of Jesus.
But for people to train others in the ways of Jesus, they, too, must be trained in the ways of Jesus. All believers need to be discipled in order to disciple—or as Kevin DeYoung says it, “The one indispensable requirement for producing godly, mature Christians is godly, mature Christians.”
Discipleship is a lifelong process
Discipleship is dedication to a lifelong process of being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). This commitment leads to us doing the very things that we see Jesus and the Disciples doing, namely, sharing the good news of the kingdom and creating more disciples.