A disciple is simply put a learner (Latin: disciplus). Jesus Christ thought discipleship as so important that the word disciple appears 23 times in the four gospels and the Book of Acts. In Matthew 11:28-29 he says “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
By nature discipleship is a transformational process from one view and way of life to another, in this case from some worldly view and way of life into that of Jesus Christ and so of God himself. When writing to some Christians in Rome, Paul emphasized that since they were now disciples they had to change their very way of thinking and no longer copy the lifestyles around them. This process lasts a lifetime, therefore a disciple is not simply an accumulator of information or one who merely changes some aspects of her behaviour but one who seeks a fundamental shift toward the ethics of Jesus Christ in every way, including complete devotion to God and service to mankind.
Disciples and Disciple makers
If your question is: Am I a disciple? Jesus’ answer is: by their fruits you may know them. The marks or the characteristics of a disciple are the components of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness humility and self control. But remember that before any of this is possible we must be born again having given our lives to Christ. Then as spiritual babies we are admonished by Peter, to crave pure spiritual milk so that we will grow into a full experience of salvation. Discipleship is a process thus all these components will not suddenly appear, however the important thing is to keep on trusting God to work in us as we practice what the bible teaches us, subjecting ourselves to learn of Christ and to be taught by Him.
Joshua entered the school of discipleship under Moses and Elijah did not fail to bring Elisha to a position twice better than his. Likewise in accordance with Jesus’ command to go to the world and make disciples, God expects us to also make for Him disciples.
Any such program whether church based or a personal discipleship program should be person-centered but strongly focused on Christ. A young Christian can come under the tutelage of a known and respected older Christian or conversely. One can join a weekly discipleship program where several growth-oriented activities can be carried out especially small group focused bible studies and discussion where the grace of God given to each individual can manifest to the benefit of all.
Another option would be to organize and open up your home to neighbors either of the same church or not, or even unbelievers for evangelistic bible studies or follow up programs towards discipleship. One can make weekly or bimonthly visits to institutions such as boarding schools, prisons and the like to carry out discipleship classes. Vibrant discipleship is one of the indicators of a healthy church. Jesus set up the church on the rock, the sure and unshakable foundation with the unwavering assurance that the gates of hell would not be able to prevail against it! But this can only be possible if the people who make up the church are transformed into true disciples. Jesus gave different gifts to the church and no one person has it all. Some people are gifted teachers; they have the ability to present difficult concepts in an easy to understand manner. Others are naturally able to organize and lead effectively. Sadly such gifts can remain untapped unless a conscious effort is made to discover and use them.
The process of discipleship enables the church to make maximum use of all these gifts because it involves consistent teaching and practice. The young Christian is exposed to how God works in the life of a wide variety of people and open the believer up to benefit from what age, youth, knowledge and experience have to offer. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete stature of Christ.
Are you a disciple of Christ or just a church member?
Scriptures you should read for further insight and spiritual benefit:
1. Romans 12 1-2, Colossians 3:1
2. James 1: 27
3. Galatians 5:22-24
4. John 1: 12-13
5. 1 Peter 2:2
6. 1 Corinthians 12
By Edem Adzaku
The parable of the builders (Matthew 7:21-27; Luke 6:46-49) is probably one of the best-known stories in the bible and one of its core lessons to us, is the importance of bible study. In it the Lord Jesus equated the wise builder with any person who:
CAME to Him
HEARD His words, and
DID what He commanded.
For us who live thousands of years after Christ walked this earth it is clearly not possible for us to approach Him physically as the original hearers of this parable may have understood it; instead we come to Him by faith. Likewise, we have to rely on the bible to hear what Jesus has to say to us. Thus for us to be wise builders whose lives and works shall stand the test of time we need in addition to a living faith in Jesus Christ, knowledge of the Word of God in order to know – among other things – what God would have us do and how He would have us live. Only as we walk in line with the revealed will of God for our lives can we then be sure that our lives are founded on a solid rock.
The above therefore suggests that bible study, especially personal bible study, is a spiritual exercise we cannot afford to take lightly. It is true that many times the thought of carrying out a bible study of any sort, never mind a personal study, may seem rather daunting but I believe that once we begin to understand the importance and benefits of bible study to our spiritual growth and maturity, we shall give it a higher priority in our lives, in addition to enjoying our study of the bible. The rest of this article will therefore consider some of the reasons all Christians need to study the bible.
It could be said that the over-riding reason we need to make bible study a priority is because God requires it of us. This is not so much to earn His favour, but rather that we may know Him, His perfect will for our lives and how to live for Him. The history of the nation of Israel is full of so many instances where God’s people were unfaithful to Him and this was in all cases dependent on the type of leaders they had. When they had God-fearing leaders like David, Hezekiah and Josiah, the nation walked right with God, and when the leaders were not godly, the nation served other gods.
Deuteronomy 17:18-19, gave the instruction that each king of Israel was to, “…write for himself in a book a copy of this law, from that which is in the charge of the Levitical priests…”, and to “…read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them”, it is clear that with a few exceptions like David, most of Israel’s leaders failed to comply with this instruction with disastrous results for the nation.
In addition, Deuteronomy chapters 6-8 also taught the entire body of God’s people that they were not only to study and meditate on the Law but also to teach it to their children constantly. I believe this teaches us that the first step in propagating the gospel and making disciples of all nations as Christ commanded, is knowing the scriptures so well that the Word of God permeates our daily activities so much that those around us, from family members to friends and colleagues are exposed to the life-changing power of the gospel at work in our lives (Romans 1:16). It would also enable us be always prepared not only to make a defence to any one who calls us to account for the hope that we have, but also do it with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15).
The book of Daniel tells (in verses 2 – 3 of chapter) nine of how Daniel understood from his prior study of the scriptures that the length of Israel’s Babylonian captivity was to be 70 years and that time for their release was fast approaching. Armed with this knowledge he was able to intercede effectively for his nation. There is also the well-known instance of how the scribes and rabbis were able to point out Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah from the scriptures when the wise men came looking for Jesus.
These two examples teach us that by studying the scriptures we gain an understanding of the will and purposes of God for our lives and that knowledge keeps us from falling prey to the deceit of the enemy. It is always sad to hear of people (including Christians) who have been deceived by false leaders, sometimes to the extent of losing their lives, but therein lies a lesson to all of us to take heed least we be likewise deceived.
Another key reason to study scripture is that it keeps us from sin. The greatest example we can point to is the temptation of our Lord Jesus at the beginning of His earthly ministry. The biblical record makes it clear that the devil actually quoted scripture during the temptations and that should teach us that at times the devil may distort scripture in order to tempt us. Only a sound knowledge of the bible will help us recognise and overcome such spiritual attacks.
One desire of many Christians is to grow in their faith. Apart from the gift of faith which is specially given by the Holy Spirit, Romans 10:17 teaches that “…faith then [is] by a report, but the report by God’s word” (Darby Version). This teaches that, the more we are exposed to God’s word, the more our faith increases until we eventually reach maturity, the fullness of the stature of Christ, as Ephesians 4:13 teaches. It is interesting to note that in all the great works performed by Christ and the early disciples, there is no record of anyone receiving (or increasing) their faith through the laying on of hands or any other intervention by a third party.
Passages like Psalm 1 and Joshua 1:8 teach us the secret of true success – meditating on the word of God daily. This requirement goes beyond occasional casual reading of the Word to an intensive, regular and consistent study of the bible, hence the use of the words, “meditate”, “day” and “night”. Additionally, the aim of carrying out this daily meditation on the word should not so much be on attaining success as on us being careful to live in line with the Word of God. Our success is as much a fruit of that dedicated study as a farmer’s bountiful harvest is a result of dedicated hard work in the months before harvest time. It is not surprising therefore that David, the man who loved God’s word so much, is still regarded today as Israel’s greatest historical leader despite his well-known shortcomings.
Anyone who reads the bible cannot fail to notice the numerous promises God has in His word for those who believe in Him. There are promises of divine favour, protection, answered prayer, good health, guidance, enjoyable family life and provision for our needs, among others. Many of these promises also come with conditions which need to be fulfilled prior to receiving these benefits. These conditions typically entail walking in obedience to the will of God (e.g. as found in Deuteronomy 28: 1 – 14), which obviously requires first hearing God’s word. In short, studying the bible gives Christians knowledge of their privileges, rights and responsibilities as children of God.
In conclusion, there is a story of a man in England who decided to move to America to start a new life. He saved up all his money to buy a ticket on a ship sailing from England to America and after he bought his ticket he didn’t have much money left so he made himself some sandwiches for the journey. For the first week of his journey he stayed in his cabin and ate his sandwiches and drank only water. Soon he had run out of food and was starving so one day he went to the ship’s captain, explained his situation and offered to work on the ship in exchange for food. The captain gently explained to him that there was no need for that because the price of his ticket covered meals on board ship. Unlike that poor man, let us not allow ignorance to keep us from enjoying the many benefits that God has prepared for us. God bless you!!!
What is it?
Biblically, fasting is abstaining from food, drink, sleep, sex, etc to focus on a period of spiritual growth. Specifically, we humbly deny something of the flesh to glorify God, enhance our spirit, and go deeper in our prayer life.
Focus Deeper on God
Fasting isn’t some kind of a “work” that’s commanded by Christ or required by Scripture. However, that doesn’t mean that fasting isn’t recommended as a part of our spiritual growth. The Book of Acts records believers fasting before they made important decisions (Acts 13:4; 14:23). Fasting and prayer are often linked together (Luke 2:37; 5:33). Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. However, the purpose of fasting is to take our eyes off the things of this world and instead focus on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God and to ourselves that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Although fasting in Scripture is almost always a fasting from food, there are other ways to fast. Anything you can temporarily give up in order to better focus on God can be considered a fast (1 Corinthians 7:1-5). Fasting should be limited to a set time, especially when the fasting is from food. Extended periods of time without eating are harmful to the body. Fasting is not intended to punish our flesh, but to focus on God.
Fasting should not be considered a “dieting method” either. We shouldn’t fast to lose weight, but rather to gain deeper fellowship with God. Yes, anyone can fast. Some may not be able to fast from food (diabetics, for example), but everyone can temporarily give up something in order to focus on God. Even unplugging the television for a period of time can be an effective fast.
Yes, it’s a good idea for believers to fast from time to time. Fasting is not required in Scripture, but it’s highly recommended. The main biblical reason to fast, is to develop a closer walk with God. By taking our eyes off the things of this world, we can focus better on Christ. “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth; they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).
A Lifestyle of Servant Living
Fasting is more than denying ourselves food or something else of the flesh – it’s a sacrificial lifestyle before God. In Isaiah 58, we learn what a “true fast” is. It’s not just a one-time act of humility and denial before God, it’s a lifestyle of servant ministry to others. As Isaiah tells us, fasting encourages humility, loosens the chains of injustice, unties the chords of the yoke, frees the oppressed, feeds the hungry, provides for the poor, and clothes the naked. This concept of fasting isn’t a one day thing – it’s a lifestyle of servant living for God and others.
“Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am’ (Isaiah 58:8-9)
Are there different types of fasting?
The Bible describes four major types of fasting:
- A Regular Fast – Traditionally, a regular fast means refraining from eating all food. Most people still drink water or juice during a regular fast. When Jesus fasted in the desert, the Bible says, “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” This verse does not mention Jesus being thirsty.
- A Partial Fast – This type of fast generally refers to omitting a specific meal from your diet or refraining from certain types of foods. Daniel 10:2-3 says, “At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.” In Daniel 1:12, they restricted their diet to vegetables and water: “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.”
- A Full Fast – These fasts are complete – no food and no drink. Acts 9:9 describes when Paul went on a full fast for three days following his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus: “For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” Esther also called for this type of fast in Esther 4:15-16: “Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.'” It is recommended that this type of fast be done with extreme caution and not for extended periods of time.
- A Sexual Fast – 1 Corinthians 7:3-6 says, “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
Although not mentioned in the Bible, Christians today commit to fasting from other activities as well. Some give up entertainment such as TV or movies to concentrate on prayer. Others fast from sleep or another activity for a specified period of time.