What does it mean to be a disciple?
Many have read and been taught that Matthew 28:19 means to go witness to people. To go and share the gospel but this simply isn’t what Jesus commissioned His disciples to do in this verse.
“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,”
Let’s look at two aspects of this verse, the making of disciples and baptism. Let’s look at baptism first.
We know that baptism is an outward profession of an inward change. An act that makes the statement that you’ve been changed and are choosing, publicly, to follow Christ. Today this act is usually done in the presence of family and friends in a somewhat private setting. Such as a church baptismal or in a pond or pool at a retreat center. This wasn’t the case in the early days of the church. Baptisms were done in public places. Why? Out of necessity. Water is not very prevalent in desert locations but this also brought with it implications.
When someone was baptized often times there were others around. Your profession of faith was for all to see. And when baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” left no question as to who you were committing to follow. Your family, neighbors, friends and enemies would know about your commitment.
Not long after Jesus spoke these words in Matthew 28 many of His followers would be lit on fire and used to light the streets of Rome at night. This is only one example of the possible persecution that Christ followers could experience. The bottom-line… in those days, to make such a commitment meant that you needed to be bold. This was not for the half-hearted.
Now, what about the “making disciples” part? The Greek word for “disciple” found in Matthew 28:19 is the word mathēteuō which has two parts to its definition. The first part means to become a pupil, to enroll as a scholar. Someone who studies. This is not someone who wants to know of someone or something. This is studying to become like the one, Jesus, you are studying.
The second part to the meaning of mathēteuō is very simple and straight forward: to teach, instruct. My father taught me to fly. He also taught me how to teach flying. His guiding principle was that for every 15 minutes of instruction that he’d give he would spend 45 minutes in study of that particular topic. To sit quietly, sip coffee and read Oswald Chambers, read some verses from the Bible and then pray doesn’t make you a disciple. That’s part of it but it’s not the whole of it. To gain knowledge and to never share it (instruct others) is only going half way. Besides, Titus 3:8 reminds us that others benefit from what we do.
With this in mind, can I call myself a disciple? Can you call yourself a disciple? For many this question may highlight shame. Remember, there are no “ifs”, “ands” or “buts” about it, the truth is that there is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1). Period.
With this in mind, set out to study and to teach – be a disciple.