Follower, Disciple, or Student?
Discipleship has to do with following. With following Jesus. But what does that mean? Can you compare that with being a fan of someone, or following somebody on Twitter?
What does discipleship have to do with following Jesus? The word disciple is from the Latin word discipulus – and it literally means student.
The only problem with that is that when we think of the students of our time, we get a completely wrong impression. In our modern situation a student sees his teacher or professor only a few hours per week, when he gets pumped full of theoretical information on a certain topic. But with the Jewish setting we are dealing with, a student or follower would spend 24/7 with his teacher. He would not only get the theoretical information, but would also witness how this theory would be put into practice. Even more strongly put: the student would see how the theory of his teacher would be put into practice in such a way that the theory became a reality in the life of the teacher, in the way he lived.
This is how Jesus taught his disciples. This is usually the way things went in Israel in Jesus’ day; the students followed their teacher everywhere. Maybe the word “Follower” brings to mind a different meaning than the word “Student” in today’s world.
We don’t use the word “Follower” too often. We’d rather say “he goes to church”, or “she believes”.
We’d rather speak about “children of God”, or “Christians” or “living members”.
But if you analyze all those expressions, then you see that they are all watered-down versions of being a follower of Jesus.
With the saying “he goes to church”, we are commenting on an activity (however important that may be), or worse: being present in a building has come in the place of a relationship with the Person Jesus. The expression “she believes” sounds a lot less active than “she follows Jesus”. “Child of God” and “Christian” likewise. There are so many people that call themselves Christian without it actually meaning very much. Then the expression “living member” – it is wonderful if you are such a person, but it only speaks of being someone who follows the rules of a certain institution, or a church.
You can ask yourself: What does it say about us, when rather than using the expression “Follower of Jesus”, we use watered-down expressions? Have we maybe, along with those expressions, also watered-down the cause of our Lord Jesus?
What Do You Mean?
At the same time, you sometimes encounter people who do use this expression, but their life belies that of the simple listening to and obeying of Jesus’ teachings. Sometimes these people make choices which are clearly against what Jesus said, and if you question them they say, “Yes, but I really want to follow Jesus!” When asked to clarify, they say, “I involve Jesus in everything; I share everything with him.” That is of course wonderful – when you share everything with Jesus. But it seems to me that their “Following Jesus” is then changed to asking Jesus to follow them. And you wonder who is the follower, you or Jesus.
Following Jesus does not involve first of all speaking with Jesus – however wonderful that is – but it entails listening to him and doing what he asks.
Following in the Bible
“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you’” (Gen.12:1). That is, give up all the familiar things, and go … to where really? He didn’t even get an address!
And yet he goes. According to Hebrews 11:8, “and he went out, not knowing where he was going.” Just imagine that; more than a thousand kilometers. Google Maps and Street view were not around then, so you had no idea what it would look like where you were going. There were no cars, but even with a car it is quite a distance. It could have been treacherous, etc. And yet he goes.
That is “Following”! Today we would say, “That’s irresponsible”. To go without planning and proper preparation. We’d be inclined to say, “But shouldn’t you use your common sense and brains?” And, “Would God really have meant that literally?”
When they leave Egypt, they follow the cloud in which God is going on ahead of them. And there they stand in front of the sea. But the cloud goes on straight ahead. And the water parts ways. How it exactly happened we do not know. Did they walk through walls of water that is often portrayed in Children’s Bibles? That would have been very dangerous. Imagine that the walls would collapse…
Do they really have to go through there? We would again ask if God would really have meant that literally … but the Israelites do believe it literally. Now that is following! And then it becomes evident that God had meant it literally. And the result is good.
Jesus is the ultimate example of “following”. He followed unto ... death. And even worse … into hell! Of course Jesus is God, but he is really and truly also man. Why else would he have suffered so agonizingly in the Garden of Gethsemane?
We would ask ourselves whether God only meant the ‘cross’ figuratively. And maybe we’d say, “Yes, but God certainly wouldn’t want us to be unhappy?”
But Jesus did take up his cross. Literally. And he went through hell. Literally. Now that is “Following”!
This article was translated by Jennie VanDriel.