The Meaning and Motives of Discipleship

Chris King

green plant on brown soil

For the next few months, I plan to release a series of practical articles aimed at helping people make disciples. This series will describe specific ways to incorporate discipleship into our lives. I hope these blog posts serve as a practical and encouraging guide for making disciples in the church.

Before suggesting practical methods of discipleship, I need to address some preliminary matters. This blog post will: 1. Provide a basic definition of discipleship based on the teaching of Scripture. 2. Present biblical motivations or reasons for making disciples. Before proposing methods, we need to understand the meaning and motives of discipleship.

The Meaning of Discipleship

Before Jesus preaches the sermon on the mount, his disciples come to him (Matt 5:1). The word “disciple” means one who learns from the instruction of another. It also refers to those who closely follow a specific teacher.1Both of these definitions are taken from: Bauer, Walter, Frederick William Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. … Continue reading A simple definition of a disciple is a learner. Therefore, Christian disciples are learners who follow the teachings of Jesus.

The Gospel writers often describe disciples as those who follow Jesus. Jesus commands Simon and Andrew, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19). Matthew describes their response as, “Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matt 4:20). By following Jesus, they closely associate their lives with him and his teaching.

In Matthew 28:19–20 the Apostle writes, “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.”

Consider these observations related to discipleship:

  • The command (imperative verb) is “make disciples.” This command is given to disciples.
  • The scope of the command is “all nations.” God intends his church to have a global mission to all the people groups in the world.
  • Jesus expects his disciples to be baptized. Throughout Scripture, this is a one-time act of obedience after a disciple has faith in Jesus Christ (disciples are the subjects of baptism).
  • We make disciples by teaching them. Therefore, teaching should be part of our understanding, definition, and practice of discipleship.
  • The purpose of this teaching is to observe (obey/keep) all the commands of Jesus. Disciples need to be keeping and living out the commands of Jesus Christ. We recognize the importance keeping all the commands of Jesus. The teaching that takes place in discipleship aims at continuing obedience to Jesus. Whereas baptism is a one-time act, the teaching, learning, and obeying continue throughout the life of a disciple. Jesus doesn’t only expect us to learn from him, but to obey Him.    

Another text that helps define discipleship is 2 Timothy 2:1–2. Paul writes, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”

Consider these observations related to discipleship:

  • We must be strengthened by grace to carry out the work of discipleship.
  • Timothy was to pass on what he had learned from Paul—the Gospel and sound doctrine (2 Tim 1:13).
  • Those taught by Timothy continue a cycle of entrusting the Gospel and sound doctrine to others—disciples make other disciples. 

Based on these verses, here’s a basic definition of discipleship:

Teaching other Christians for the purposes of their continued obedience to Jesus Christ and their making of other disciples.

A couple of great follow-up question would be, “What do you teach other Christians?” and, “How do you teach other Christians?” I’ll be answering those and providing specific examples in future articles.  

Motivations for Discipleship

Obedience to Jesus Christ motivates us to make disciples. Before issuing the great commission, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt 28:18). We make disciples because Jesus commands and mandates us to do so. Furthermore, we see discipleship clearly portrayed in the ministry of Jesus.2For a great resource on Jesus’ example of discipleship see: Bruce, A. B. The Training of the Twelve. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1988. Therefore, teaching other Christians how to follow Jesus is a matter of obedience.

The spiritual health and well-being of other Christians also motivates our work of making disciples. Many Christians know little about the faith they profess to believe. People who profess Christ but do not live out His commands fill communities and churches. A multitude of worldly churches have created a host of people who know little or nothing about the Biblical Jesus or his commands. We frequently lament the sad spiritual condition of Christians and churches (as in this paragraph). Rather than merely complaining about the spiritual state of the church, we should do something about it. Implementing regular discipleship can help remedy this spiritual pandemic.

As individual Christians receive discipleship in sound doctrine, it will have a trickle-down effect in our churches. As more and more believers understand and live out the teachings of Jesus, our churches will become stronger and more faithful to our Lord. As more believers learn and embrace sound doctrine, they will reject the peddlers of watered-down theology. As these disciples continue the cycle of discipleship, our churches will grow spiritually (and possibly numerically). So many of the problems we face in our churches stem from a failure to understand, obey, or rightly apply God’s Word. Discipleship addresses these deficiencies.     

Concern for the future of the church and the next generation of believers motives us to engage in discipleship. In Psalm 145:4 David says, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” Does your church presently teach and hold to sound doctrine? Is your church carrying out the commands of Jesus Christ? What can you do to ensure this continues? Establishing and practicing regular discipleship helps shape the next generation of believers to continue following Jesus. In his final letter, Paul expresses his great concern that Timothy must, “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed” (2 Tim 3:14). Discipleship helps secure the future thriving and faithfulness of the church. Jesus calls us to not to simply be disciples, but to make other people into disciples. Let’s commit to following Jesus’s command for the spiritual welfare of other Christians and for the future of the church.

In the coming months I’ll provide some practical examples of how you can implement discipleship into your Christian life. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


1 Both of these definitions are taken from: Bauer, Walter, Frederick William Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. Edited by Frederick William Danker. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, 609.
2 For a great resource on Jesus’ example of discipleship see: Bruce, A. B. The Training of the Twelve. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1988.
Author green plant on brown soil

Chris King

Senior Pastor Bayou View Baptist Church

Chris King serves as the Senior Pastor of Bayou View Baptist Church in Gulfport, Mississippi. He taught preaching for Boyce College Online from 2013-2020. Dr. King is a graduate of West Virginia University and earned his Ph. D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.