Biblical Discipleship

by Dr. David Sampson on October 14, 2022

          Church gatherings have been packed with people who claim to have faith in Jesus Christ ever since the days of Pentecost. But many churchgoers do not show the characteristics of a true follower of Jesus Christ as described in the Bible. This kind of Christian has a saving relationship with Christ, but they do not live their faith out in the form of biblical discipleship. James R. Edwards is absolutely accurate when he states: “A wrong view of Messiahship leads to a wrong view of discipleship.”[1] If you are a Christian, you don't only have a Savior; you have a Sovereign Lord in Christ. In His divine role as Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ challenges His followers to conform their lives to the teachings of the Bible. The value of discipleship is emphasized by Warren Wiersbe, who says, “Salvation is God’s gift to us because Jesus died for us on the cross. Discipleship is our gift to Him as we take up our cross, die to self, and follow the Lord in everything.”[2] For this article, my working definition of a disciple is— A committed lifelong follower of Christ who strives to obey God's Word and engages the world with the gospel message of Christ. Considering the definition, I will discuss several characteristics that are indicative of a biblical follower of Christ.

Mark 1: Learning about Christ and His Word

          Learning from the Word is essential to being a follower and devoted lover of Jesus Christ. Donald Whitney explains, “What God wants most from you is your love. And one of the ways He wants you to show love and obedience to Him is by godly learning.”[3] Loving and learning go hand in hand as a disciple of Christ. Jesus expressed His desire for humanity to know Him by saying: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me…”[4] (Matthew 11:29). Learning of Christ entails identifying with Him in service, sacrifice, and surrender. One writer said, “Identifying with Christ means having a personal relationship with him and walking “in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21).”[5] Until Christ is fully known in the heart of the believer, both as their Savior and Sovereign Lord, one cannot be Christ’s disciple (Lk 14:26, 27, 33). Many want Christ as Savior—that is, they want the forgiveness of sin, the comfort of the Spirit, and the hope of Heaven. On the other hand, they do not identify with the Sovereign Lordship of Christ. They ignore the fact that God places demands on the believer’s life and requires obedience to His divine will. Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood the implications of fully knowing Christ as Savior and Sovereign. Bonhoeffer said, “To know Christ means to recognize him in his word as Lord and savior of my life. But that includes an understanding of his clear word spoken to me.”[6] Therefore, a genuine disciple is one who intentionally strives to learn of Christ’s Will, Way, and Word.

Mark 2: Loyal to the Mission of Christ

          Jesus was not a humanitarian dying for a worthy cause. Neither was Jesus a religious figure competing for an audience. His miracles were not magic tricks to amaze the crowds. The Scripture reveals Jesus as God manifested in human flesh (Isa 9:6, John 1:1-4, Heb 1:1-3, Gal 4:4-5). Christ came to us with a divine, heavenly mission. Jesus defined His mission by saying, “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost” (Matt 18:11). Later, He stated, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28). Finally, leaving no doubt as to what He meant, Jesus ardently declared, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38). Thus, we find that the mission of Christ is a central motif of Scripture.

          Disciples are called to join the glorious mission of Jesus Christ. We enter the mission through the invitation given to us by Christ—“…Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19). This verse has an invitational and transformational element. Note, the invitation in the passage is, “Follow me.” Therefore, the simplest definition of a disciple is—a follower of Jesus. Furthermore, the second element in Matt 4:19 is transformational—“I will make you fishers of men.” Christ transforms His followers into passionate soul-winners. The context reveals that our loyalty to Christ leads to labor for Christ. One writer explains, “[T]his life in the kingdom, under the direct rule of God through Jesus, can only be realized if we become disciples, students, or apprentices, whereby we learn from Jesus how to live our lives in character and action, as He would live our lives if He were us.”[7] A biblical disciple’s loyalty to Christ’s mission calls for active, visible involvement. One writer contends, “The church appears in its most basic form as the local assembly of Christian believers. It is in this visible community of faith that the church shows itself either faithful or unfaithful to the gospel.”[8] God expects us to “fish for men”—meaning we are to win people to Christ through the proclamation of the gospel.

Mark 3: Loathing Sin

          The disciple of Christ must have a hatred for sin, not the sinner. One writer argues, “In word and deed, the church must exhibit an intense hatred for sin and a genuine desire for holiness. Such holiness demands ardent love for Jesus Christ and total obedience to His commands.”[9] The disciple’s disdain for sin is made available through the abiding power of the Holy Spirit. Man’s inner inclination is to yield to the power of sin. However, through the blessing of the crucified life (Gal 2:20), the Holy Spirit grants the believer power to yield to righteousness. The disciple is dead to sin and alive to God by faith in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit (Eph 2:1-5). Being dead to sin is the Apostle Paul’s argument in Rom 6, where he uses three keywords: “know” (v. 3, 6, 9, 16), “reckon” (v. 11), and “yield” (v. 13, 16, 19). Believers are to know their position in Christ, reckon/count their salvation to be true, and yield themselves to God. In Dr. Warren Wiersbe’s view, “The old nature can no longer reign as king over the Christian who knows the truth, reckons on it, and yields to the Lord.”[10] The disciple is free from the old, wicked monarch that held him down in sin. The authority of sin has been shattered by the shed blood of Christ on the cross of Calvary. The disciple is free to walk with God in faith, worship God in freedom, and witness for God without fear. Thus, a mark of a biblical disciple is a loathing of sin.

Mark 4: Loving Others

          The badge of the believer’s discipleship is love. Jesus said to His disciples, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). The phrase “love one another” is found thirteen times in twelve verses in the New Testament (John 13:34; 15:12, 17, Rom 13:8, 1Thess 4:9, 1Pet 1:22, 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 4:11, 4:12, and 2 John 5). The repetition of the phrase is a clear indication that God intends for His disciples to display godly love within the body of Christ.

          In the book of Acts, the early church demonstrated their love for one another by way of caring and sharing (Acts 2:44-46). The passage says they had all things in common, sold their possessions to help one another, and they continued in that mode with joyful fellowship and singleness of heart, all the while praising God. One writer maintains, “The reason the early church could share their possessions was that they were actually living out the second great command to love their neighbor as themselves. We see that their unity and love were so powerful that ‘all the people’ thought well of them.”[11] Seeing the love of God in the life of the disciple is what the world needs today. Satan is fanning the flames of hatred through secular society by promoting liberal social justice, racism, white privilege, white guilt, and racial identity through theories like Critical Race Theory. Our world is teaching a generation to hate one another. How refreshing it is to walk among the community of faith and see people loving, caring, and sharing with one another regardless of their race or status in life.

Mark 5: Lamenting in Prayer

          The disciples of Christ learned many things from their Master during His earthly ministry. However, there was one thing, in particular, they desired to learn. Of all the things they could have asked the Lord to teach them, they asked, “Lord teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1). The prayers of Jesus were meaningful, powerful, and beautiful. The intimacy in Christ’s prayers with the Father was something many had never heard. Most had only listened to the prayers of religious leaders who prayed with vain, mundane repetition (Matt 6:5,7). However, the prayers of Jesus were refreshing, rejuvenating, and full of rejoicing! Jesus prayed with an intense, fervent passion that was often accompanied by tears (John 11:35, Heb 5:7, Lk 19:41; 22:44). Unfortunately, you don't see many Christians crying out in prayer. For some, praying is nothing more than bringing a shopping list to God and expecting Him to provide everything on the list. Jesus, however, wept as He worshipped in communion with the Father. His prayer life was powerful, persistent, and passionate—it was like nothing His followers had ever experienced. According to J. Vernon McGee, “They did not ask Him how to pray—they weren’t looking for lessons on technique or an outline for ritualistic prayer. They had obviously heard our Lord pray, and they wanted to learn how to pray on the same high level as He did.”[12] Someone who models their prayer life after Christ’s is unquestionably a biblical disciple. David Jeremiah argues, “Jesus not only invites everyone to pray, He says that ‘Everyone who asks receives’ and ‘Everyone who seeks finds’ and ‘to him who knocks, it will be opened.’ This is an ironclad promise.”[13] Therefore, prayer is time well invested. Jesus is our example who often rose early in the morning to pray (Mk 1:35). Christ’s prayer life filled not only His day but also His nights (Lk 6:12). If our Lord understood the priority of prayer in ministry, how much more should believers make time to commune with God in prayer. The disciple’s prayer life transforms problems into possibilities, sorrows into solutions, and weeping into the worship of God.


          In sum, as noted in the introduction, this is not an exhaustive list of all the marks of a disciple. The characteristics of a disciple in this article, on the other hand, are consistent with Scripture’s depiction of a biblical disciple. While disciples are responsible for a range of tasks, their ultimate goal is to be devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Their attitudes and deeds demonstrate their spiritual dedication to Christ. Obedience to the Great Commission is the everyday task of the disciple of Christ (Matt 28:18-20). Disciples are called to “go” in ministry and to “grow” in maturity (Matt 28:19 and 2 Pet 3:18). The power in sharing in Jesus’ mission comes through obedience to God’s Word. The disciple must recognize that God is not after our ability but our availability. While God will utilize our abilities to exalt His name, it is our availability and readiness to surrender to His Will that He seeks.

Missional Until He Comes,
Dr. David L. Sampson
Titus 1:3


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Discipleship. Edited by Martin Kuske, Ilse Tödt, Geffrey B. Kelly, and John D. Godsey. Translated by Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss. Vol. 4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.

Brunk, George R., III. Galatians. Edited by Loren L. Johns, Willard M. Swartley, and Douglas B. Miller. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Harrisonburg, VA; Kitchener, ON: Herald Press, 2015.

Edwards, James R. 2002. The Gospel according to Mark. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

Jeremiah, David. Prayer: The Great Adventure. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1997.

Kistemaker, Simon J. “‘Deliver This Man to Satan’ (1 Cor 5:5): A Case Study In Church Discipline.” Master’s Seminary Journal 3, no. 1 (1992): 32–46.

Laurie, Greg, and David Kopp. The Upside Down Church. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1999.

Matthews, Keith J. “Chapter Three: The Transformational Process.” In The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation, edited by Alan Andrews. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2010.

McGee, J. Vernon. J. Vernon McGee on Prayer: Praying and Living in the Father’s Will. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002.

Synder, Howard A. “Why the Local Church Is Becoming More & Less.” Christianity Today. Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1981.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009.

Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for Christian Life (Revised and Updated). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014.

Wiersbe, Warren W. Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1992.


[1] James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002), 256.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1992), 170.

[3] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for Christian Life (Revised and Updated) (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014), 275.

[4] The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Mt 11:29. Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quoted in this paper is derived from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).

[5] George R. Brunk III, Galatians, ed. Loren L. Johns, Willard M. Swartley, and Douglas B. Miller, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Harrisonburg, VA; Kitchener, ON: Herald Press, 2015), 131.

[6] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, ed. Martin Kuske et al., trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss, vol. 4, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 203.

[7] Keith J. Matthews, “Chapter Three: The Transformational Process,” in The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation, ed. Alan Andrews (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2010), 96.

[8] Howard A. Synder, “Why the Local Church Is Becoming More & Less,” Christianity Today (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1981), 963.

[9] Simon J. Kistemaker, “‘Deliver This Man to Satan’ (1 Cor 5:5): A Case Study In Church Discipline,” Master’s Seminary Journal 3, no. 1 (1992): 45–46.

[10] Warren W. Wiersbe, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1992), 382.

[11] Greg Laurie and David Kopp, The Upside Down Church (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1999), 53.

[12] J. Vernon McGee, J. Vernon McGee on Prayer: Praying and Living in the Father’s Will (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002), vii–viii.

[13] David Jeremiah, Prayer: The Great Adventure (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1997), 25.

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