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).

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bueller
    Nov 16, 2014 @ 10:33:08

    Awesome definition and so easily understood! Discipleship is definitely not the easy way to go, and most who call themselves “disciples of Christ” truly are not. I would believe that being a disciple of Christ is something to strive for as it’s not always something that can be obtained like the early disciples. It was easier for them to leave all behind and follow Christ as they did not have all the earthly goodies folks have nowadays. And, who would ever want to give up the lap of luxury some folks have. Striving to be like Christ is something every Christian should work toward. Discipleship will come!


  2. Joyce
    Nov 16, 2014 @ 13:13:20

    🙂 Thanks for leaving a post Bueller. Our purpose and calling is to make disciples for The Kingdom of God. He is not necessarily asking us to live lives of poverty. It is much more intense. We are to live lives that abandons the way of this world and live in total obedience to him. That is a life long journey. Because we are human our flesh gets in the way. So we pray, “Lord I believe, forgive my unbelief! Lord I have sinned against you in thought word and sometimes in deed, deliver me from this body of sin.” The apostle Paul wrote,”
    10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

    13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

    14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

    21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

    So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[d] a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:1-25 NIV)! If the apostle Paul struggle thus with sin so will we.


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