What is a disciple?

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people” (Matthew 4:19 NIV).

According to Jim Putnam, Bobby Harrington, and Robert Emerson Coleman, a disciple is “simply” someone who follows Christ, is “charged by him” to carry out the great commission.[1] “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20 NIV). The authors advise churches that when they attempt to define the word “disciple” they must ensure that the construct is biblical. Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey proffer a definition of a disciple as being an individual who “abandons the things of the world, follows Christ, and is “disciplined in spiritual habits and purpose”.[2]

However, Earley and Dempsey continued the discourse with ten specific characteristics of a disciple; they are defined as individuals who have:

  •  counted the cost
  • committed [themselves] to Christ
  • [determined that they will] carry his or her. . . burden to sacrifice for Christ and the cross
  • [ascertained that they ] will [give] up all earthly possessions
  • [mastered the discipline of bible study] and experiences freedom in Christ
  • [a] genuine love for other believers
  • [a personal relationship with Christ] prays, bears fruit, and glorifies God
  • [the indwelling] of the Holy Spirit
  • obediently follow[ed] the desires of the master, and have become
  • intimately involved in the mission of Jesus to make disciples[4]

The writer’s definition of a disciple is:

  1. any individual who follows Christ,
  2. is willing to follow him at all cost, and is
  3. dedicated to completing the great commission.

The gospels are replete with scriptural references that identify the qualities of a disciple. The following are just a sample of those references.  Mark records the Lord as stating, “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people” (Mark 1:17 NIV). [5] Mark identifies two qualities of a disciple in this one statement.  In order for a disciple to be proficient in reaching people for Christ he or she must first follow his example.  Then they are equipped to carry out the great commission.  Mark records the great commission as, “. . . . Go[ing] into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).  The last identifier of a disciple is pronounced by Luke as he presents the words of the Lord, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).

An individual’s willingness to take up the cross and follow Jesus is an individual who is willing to die for him and he did for them, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matt 16:25).  This scripture references the reward of the saint who follows Christ. In concluding, the writer states that a disciple is any individual who,

  1. follows Christ;
  2. is willing to follow him at all cost, and is
  3. dedicated to completing the great commission.

The research of Putman, Harrington, and Emerson as well as Early and Dempsey confer with this definition.

Works Cited

Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is…: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013.

Putman, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman. DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan, 2013.


[1] Jim Putman, Bobby Harrington, and Robert Emerson Coleman, DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 46-51, Kindle.

[2] Putman, Harrington, and Emerson, DiscipleShift: Five Step, 45, Kindle.

[3] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is. . . How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), 22.

[4] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is, 22-26.

[5] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).

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