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We hear the word ‘discipleship’ a lot in a church, but what does it mean and how do we practice it? According to the Bible, and Jesus’ own words, there are three main aspects of biblical discipleship.

Self-denial

Jesus talks about denying ourselves quite a bit in scripture:

So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

Luke 14:33

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

Luke 9:23

When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

Mark 8:34

What does it mean to deny ourselves? The fact of the matter is that we all have a sinful nature. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, everyone who is born has a deep-rooted compulsion to follow our own desires instead of God’s. And those desires are inevitably selfish and destructive. It can be seen in something as innocent as a child lying about sneaking a cookie — we naturally tend to choose ourselves over others.

To deny yourself means to acknowledge this sinful nature and actively resist it. Keep in mind, we’ll never be perfect. That’s why Jesus says “take up your cross daily.” This internal struggle with our own sinful nature is one we must fight day in and day out.

Fighting that battle all by yourself is impossible. Fortunately, though, you don’t have to. When you study the Bible, you are absorbing God’s wisdom and preparing yourself for moments of temptation. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Ephesians, where it says to “put on the full armor of God, so that you can stand against the devil’s schemes.”

Start every day with a quiet moment of Bible study and you will be equipping yourself to handle the challenges that you’ll inevitably face.

Obedience

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.

John 8:31

Throughout his ministry, Jesus gave us many lessons on how we can deny our sinful nature and instead embrace a Godly one. He taught parables like the Good Samaritan, which spoke on caring for everyone, regardless of who they were. He taught the dangers of greed when He said that no one can serve both God and money. He taught the importance of forgiveness and that if we do not forgive others, then we cannot be forgiven ourselves.

Just like parents make rules to keep their kids safe, Jesus gave us instructions for our lives because he loves us. They are lessons in humility, generosity, kindness, and grace. They are directions on how to best live our days on Earth and in Heaven — the guidance that could only come from our Creator.

To study the life of Jesus is to see obedience to God in action. After all, He’s the only person to ever live and not succumb to the temptation of sin. And when we follow His teachings we slowly replace our own sinful habits and attitude with godly ones.

Love one another

34“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

This new command of Jesus was as simple as it was profound. To love someone, especially as Jesus loves us, is a powerful thing. It means putting others before ourselves. It means caring for them on a physical, mental, and spiritual level. Loving others is the single greatest hallmark of a Christian to the outside world.

That’s because Jesus did not put qualifiers on his statement. He didn’t say “love people who think the way you do”, “love people who live near you”, or even “love people who love you”.  As bearers of God’s Image, everyone is worthy of God’s love and it is up to those who follow Christ to be an earthly reflection of that love. 

That is the significance of verse 35. Those around you should know you are a Christian simply by how you treat others.

Every interaction you have with someone, big or small, is an opportunity to reflect the love and grace that you have been given by God.

At the beginning of 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about how he may have the gift of tongues or prophecy, great faith, or even give all his belongings to the poor — but if he does not possess love, then he has nothing. That’s how important it is for us to love one another.

What Next?

Every Christian is called to discipleship. It is the race we run so that every day we may be more like Christ than the day before. It’s not easy, but it is rewarding. To learn more about how you can be a better disciple in every area of your life, visit the Deepening Faith section of our blog.


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