10 Principles of Discipleship

FTM Michael J. Wilkins
1.     Discipleship is about a Relationship

Michael Wilkins has defined a disciple of Jesus as one who “has come to Jesus for eternal life, has claimed Jesus as Savior and God, and has embarked upon the life of following Jesus.”[1] His very presence in my life and his promise to never leave nor forsake me, encourages me to daily follow Him.  At the heart of following Him is this undeserved relationship I have with Him.

2.     Discipleship is enabled and empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit who transforms us into the image of Christ.

The Holy Spirit indwells and fills believers (Eph. 5:18), guides us into all truth (John 16:13), brings forth fruit in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23) and empowers us for ministry in the church and in the world.[2]  The Spirit is God’s presence in us (Rom. 8:11) to confirm that we are indeed children of God (Rom. 8:16) and to convict us of sin for the continuing process of conforming us into the image of Christ.  Understanding the role of the Holy Spirit encourages the response of submission to His sanctifying work.

3.     Discipleship is grounded and guided by the Word of God

The Bible is our authority in all areas of life.  “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Consistent nourishment is a vital component of one’s spiritual growth (Psalm 1, John 15).

4.     Discipleship is nurtured in community

Community with other believers is a vital part of our growth as disciples.  We were made to be in fellowship with one another.  Thus the imagery of the body of Christ portrays how vitally linked we are to one another.  In such community we are able to fulfill the command of loving one another and with this community then to love the world.

5.     Discipleship is a continuing process of being transformed from the inside-out

“The ultimate goal of the believer’s life is to be conformed to the image of Christ (Ro 8:29).”[3]  Jesus described a radical way of life in the sermon on the mount.  In a world in which righteousness was very much regarded by one’s outward actions, Jesus emphasized the transformation of the heart.

6.     Discipleship produces spiritual fruit

As the Holy Spirit works to transform the individual and change is made from the inside-out, the characteristics of God become evident in the believer’s life:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).

7.     Disciples of Christ who are in the process of inward transformation, yield to the Spirit’s leading in service and mission.

Spiritual formation is both about the inward change of heart and the outward manifestation of that changed heart.  Christ modeled the life of service for His disciples and commands us to serve in humility and love while proclaiming His truth in a lost world.

8.     Disciples are called to share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings

As we live in a sin-cursed world, we bear the effects of sin on a daily basis.  With the presence of Christ and the promise of future hope with Him, we are able to endure the pain and even be transformed in the process. Paul writes of this truth in 2 Cor. 4:17: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”  God invites us to suffer for His sake, for living to honor Christ in a world that is hostile toward Him.  In this, we share in his sufferings and bring glory to Him.

9.     Disciples Must Count the Cost 

Following Christ as His disciple means letting go of one’s own will and seeking the will of God in all things (Luke 9:23).  Nothing must take the place of Jesus as the “focus of allegiance,” as Wilkins explains.[4]

10.   Discipleship is a Life-long Journey

In my own life, describing my faith and discipleship in terms of the journey metaphor has been vitally important on many different levels.  As I come to different forks in the road, or experience difficult trials, knowing that Jesus is my trustworthy Master and Leader, is my sole comfort and motivation to continue in this journey of faith.  We must continue to realize and endeavor to endure the trials of faith that come with renewed commitment to following Christ on a daily basis.

[1] Michael J. Wilkins, Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 40.

[2] Michael Glerup, “The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Formation,” in The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation, ed. Alan Andrews (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2010), 251.

[3] Michael J. Wilkins, Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 133.

[4] Michael J. Wilkins, An Outline Study Guide to “Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship,” 69. 

*Article above adapted from http://www.thetwocities.com/practical-theology/discipleship-2/discipleship-principles/ Posted by Jeannette Hagen – February 25, 2013

About the Author:

Jeanette Hagan is currently a PhD candidate in New Testament at the University of Durham.  Studying under John M.G. Barclay, she is writing her thesis on the relationship between Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith and the continuing participation a believer experiences in the death, resurrection and life of Christ.  Previously, she studied English literature for her B.A. at Biola University while being in the first graduating class of the Torrey Honors Institute. In 2011 she completed her M.A. in New Testament at Talbot School of Theology. Her passion is training and equipping disciples to follow the Lord wholeheartedly.   She has served in a variety of ministry capacities.  Highlights include: organizing summer camps and humanitarian efforts for orphans in Ukraine and Russia, traveling 5 continents sharing the Gospel, helping to facilitate for theological and practical ministry training for believers around the world, and serving in a church plant in Whittier, CA.  In her free time she enjoys reading, being outdoors in a variety of recreational capacities, playing piano, and mostly just spending quality time with family and friends.

Dr. Aubrey Malphurs on The Meaning of Going and Making Disciples


Perhaps the most important questions that a church and its leadership can ask are: What does God want us to do? What is our mandate or mission? What are our marching orders? The answer to all three questions isn’t hard to find. More than two thousand years ago, the Savior predetermined the church’s mission-it’s the Great Commission, as found in such texts as Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21; and Matthew 28:19-20, where he says, “Make disciples.” This commission raises several important questions, such as what is a disciple and what does it mean to make disciples?

If you asked ten different people in the church (including the pastoral staff) what a disciple is, you might get ten different answers. The same is true at a seminary. If the church is not clear on what Jesus meant, then it will be difficult for it to comply with his expressed will. For the church to understand what the Savior meant in Matthew 28:19-20, we must examine the main verb and its object “make disciples” and then the two participles that follow- “baptizing” and “teaching.” What does all this mean?

 “Make Disciples”

First, let’s examine the main verb and its object: “make disciples.” A common view is that a disciple is a committed believer. Thus a disciple is a believer, but a believer isn’t necessarily a disciple. However, that’s not how the New Testament uses this term. I contend that the normative use of the term disciple is of one who is a convert to or a believer in Jesus Christ (though there are some obvious exceptions – Some exceptions are the disciples of Moses [John 9:28], the disciples of the Pharisees [Matt. 22:16; Mark 2:18], the disciples of John [Mark 2:18; John 1:35], and the disciples of Jesus who left him [John 6:60-66]). Thus the Bible teaches that a disciple isn’t necessarily a Christian who has made a deeper commitment to the Savior but simply a Christian. Committed Christians are committed disciples. Uncommitted Christians are uncommitted disciples. This is clearly how Luke uses the term disciple in the book of Acts and his Gospel. It is evident in passages such as the following: Acts 6:1-2, 7; 9:1, 26; 11:26; 14:21-22; 15:10; 18:23; 19:9. For example, Acts 6:7 tells us that God’s Word kept spreading and the number of disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem. Luke isn’t telling us that the number of deeply committed believers was significantly increasing. He’s telling his readers that the church was making numerous converts to the faith. In Acts 9:1 Luke writes that Saul (Paul) was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” It’s most doubtful that Saul was threatening only the mature believers. He was persecuting as many believers as he could locate. A great example is Acts 14:21 where Luke says they “won a large number of disciples” in connection with evangelism. Here they preached the gospel and won or made a large number of disciples or converts, not mature or even growing Christians. (Note that the words “won a large number of disciples” is the one Greek word mathateusantes, the same word as in Matthew 28:19!) Disciples, then, were synonymous with believers. Virtually all scholars acknowledge this to be the case in Acts.

So is the command “make disciples” in Matthew 28:19 to be equated with evangelism? Before we can answer this question, we must also examine a second context. The first had to do with the use of the term disciple in the New Testament; the second has to do with the other Great Commission passages: Mark 16:15 and Luke 24:46-49 (with Acts 1:8). In Mark 16:15 Jesus commands the disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” Here “preach” like “make disciples” is the main verb (an aorist imperative) preceded by another circumstantial participle of attendant circumstance translated “go.” This is clearly a proactive command to do evangelism.

In Luke 24:46-48 we have much the same message with the gospel defined: “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Jesus presents the gospel message and the necessity that his witnesses preach that gospel to all nations. In these two Great Commission passages, the emphasis is clearly on evangelism and missions.

Finally, John gives us the least information in his statement of the commission. In John 20:21-22 Jesus tells the disciples that he’s sending them and provides them with the Holy Spirit in anticipation of Pentecost.

We must not stop here. There’s a third context. Much of Jesus’s teaching of the Twelve (who are believers, except for Judas) concerns discipleship or the need for the disciple to grow in Christ (Matt. 16:24-26; 20:26-28; Luke 9:23-25). For example, Matthew 16:24 says, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, `If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”‘

So how does this relate to the passages in Acts and the other commission passages in the Gospels? The answer is that the Great Commission has both an evangelism and an edification or spiritual growth component. To make a disciple, first one has to win a person (a nondisciple) to Christ. At that point he or she becomes a disciple. It doesn’t stop there. Now this new disciple needs to grow or mature as a disciple, hence the edification component.

“Baptizing and Teaching”

Having studied the main verb and its object, “make disciples,” we need to examine the two participles in Matthew 28:20- “baptizing” and “teaching.” The interpretation of these will address whether “make disciples” involves both evangelism and edification. While there are two feasible interpretive options, the better one is that they are circumstantial (adverbial) participles of means (The second option is to treat them as circumstantial [adverbial] participles of attendant circumstance. If this is correct, then the participles baptizing and teaching express an idea not subordinate to as above but coordinate to or on a par with the main verb [make disciples]. You would translate the main verb and the participles as a series of coordinate verbs, the mood of which is dictated by the main verb that in this case is imperative [aorist imperative]. The verse would read: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” A former Dallas Seminary Greek professor, Philip Williams, takes this view in “Grammar Notes on the Noun and the Verb and Certain Other Items” [unpublished class notes, which were used by Dr. Buist Fanning in his course Advanced Greek Grammar, 1977], 53-54. The conclusion here is that the passage addresses a series of separate, coordinate chronological acts or steps. The first is to go, which implies proactivity. The second is to make disciples. The third is to baptize those disciples, and the fourth is to teach them. However, I believe that Dan Wallace makes the better argument for these being circumstantial participles of means. While I don’t believe that baptizontes and didaskontes are circumstantial participles of attendant circumstance, I do believe that the first participle in verse 19 [poreuthentes] is. It draws its mood from or is coordinate to the main verb [mathateusate], which is imperative. Jesus is commanding them to make disciples and to be proactive about it).

The NIV has taken this interpretation: “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.” Dan Wallace, a Greek scholar and professor of New Testament at Dallas Seminary, writes: “Finally, the other two participles (haptizontes, didaskontes) should not be taken as attendant circumstance. First, they do not fit the normal pattern for

attendant circumstance participles (they are present tense and follow the main verb). And second, they obviously make good sense as participles of means; i.e., the means by which the disciples were to make disciples was to baptize and then to teach” (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, 645). If this is the case, then the two participles provide us with the means or the how for growing the new disciples. The way the church makes disciples is by baptizing and teaching its people.

But what is the significance of baptism in the life of a new disciple (believer)? Baptism is mentioned eleven times in Acts (Acts 2:38; 8:12, 16, 36, 38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:15, 33; 19:5; 22:16). In every passage except one (19:5) it’s used in close association with evangelism and immediately follows someone’s conversion to Christ. Baptism was the public means or activity that identified the new disciple with Jesus (See Wilkins, Following the Master, 189). Baptism was serious business, as it could mean rejection by one’s parents and family, even resulting in the loss of one’s life. As we have seen, it both implies or is closely associated with evangelism and was a public confession that one had become a disciple of Jesus. Thus Matthew includes evangelism in the context of disciple making.

And finally, what is the significance of teaching? Luke also addresses teaching in Acts (Acts 2:42; 5:25, 28; 15:35; 18:11; 28:31). Michael Wilkins summarizes this best when he says that “`teaching’ introduces the activities by which the new disciple grows in discipleship” (Ibid., 189-90).The object of our teaching is obedience to Jesus’s teaching. The emphasis on teaching isn’t simply for the sake of knowledge. Effective teaching results in a transformed life or a maturing disciple/believer.

The Conclusion

The conclusion from the evidence above is that the two participles are best treated and translated as circumstantial participles of means. The term make disciples (mathateusante) is a clear reference to both evangelism (baptizing) and maturation (teaching). (Note again the use of mathateusantes in Acts 14:21 in the context of evangelism.) Mark and Luke emphasize the evangelism aspect of the Great Commission (and John the sending out of the disciples). Matthew emphasizes both evangelism and the need to grow disciples in their newfound faith, as he adds the need not only to baptize but to teach these new believers as well to other passages in the New Testament, the latter would lead the new converts to spiritual maturity (1 Cor. 3:1-4; Heb. 5:11-6:3). Therefore, the goal is for them to become mature disciples in time. This would result from a combination of being taught and obeying Jesus’s commandments.

Jesus was clear about his intentions for his church. It wasn’t just to teach or preach the Word, as important as those activities are. Nor was it evangelism alone, although the latter is emphasized as much as teaching. He expects his entire church (not simply a few passionate disciple makers) to move people from prebirth (unbelief) to the new birth (belief) and then to maturity. In fact, this is so important that we can measure a church’s spiritual health and its ultimate success by its obedience to the Great Commission. It is fair to ask of every church’s ministry how many people have become disciples (believers) and how many of these disciples are growing toward maturity. In short, it’s imperative that every church make and mature disciples at home and abroad!

Note: I highly recommend Dr. Michael J. Wilkins’s Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship (Zondervan, 1992). Wilkins is professor of New Testament language and literature and dean of the faculty at the Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. (Pictured on below)

About the Author: Aubrey Malphurs (Ph.D., Dallas Theological Seminary) is professor of pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary and president of The Malphurs Group. He engages in church consulting and training and is the author of numerous books, including Developing a Vision of Ministry in the Twenty-first Century.

The Article above was adapted from Appendix B: “Make Disciples” by Aubrey Malphurs. Strategic Disciple Making: A Practical Tool for Successful Ministry. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008 (pp. 159-160). Kindle Edition.

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