Darrell Stetler II
Discipleship Is More Than Just Bible Study: How to Imitate Jesus
Updated: May 6
Discipleship is a term often used in Christian circles, but what does it really mean? It's more than just attending church or studying the Bible. Discipleship is about developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and growing in your faith through intentional practices and community.
If discipleship was just Bible study, then the people who knew the most about Jesus would automatically be the most mature disciples. But let's be honest -- that's not always true!
Discipleship is obviously more than just information, then. It's transformation. But in what ways?
Understanding the Meaning of Discipleship.
Discipleship is a term that comes from the Greek word mathetes, which means "learner" or "follower." In the context of Christianity, discipleship refers to the process of learning about Jesus in order to imitate him.
In other words, as Dallas Willard said, "Discipleship is becoming who Jesus would be, if he was you."
This is why Jesus said discipleship is like dying to yourself, as he says in Matthew 16:24:
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'" (ESV)
In turning to follow Jesus Christ as disciples, we die to our old way of thinking, and instead, we come alive to a new way of life in Christ, patterned after Him instead of patterned after Adam, the former head of the human race.
Discipleship is, broadly, a 3 part process:
Learn about Jesus by observing him. "Come and see" (John 1:39)
Demonstrate your belief in Jesus by obeying him. "observe all I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19)
Become like Jesus by imitating him. (Matthew 10:25)
This imitation of Christ is not simply "being nice to people" or traveling around homeless, but an imitation of the shape of his life as it relates to dying to self, sacrificial community, humble service, self-giving, and spiritual disciplines.
Embracing the Call to Discipleship.
Embracing the call to discipleship means committing to a lifelong journey of growth and transformation. It means recognizing that following Jesus is not just a one-time decision, but a daily choice to surrender our lives to him and allow him to shape us into his image. This involves more than just attending church or reading the Bible; it requires intentional practices like prayer, worship, serving others, and being part of a community of believers who can support and encourage us along the way. As we embrace the call to discipleship, we can experience the fullness of life that Jesus promised and become the people he created us to be.
Since "Christians" literally means "little Christs" (!!) then this is cannot be over emphasized:
Discipleship is REAL CHRISTIANITY.
No matter what people on TV news say... no matter how Christians are portrayed in movies... no matter how political pundits try to co-opt Jesus for their purposes... the only real Christianity is discipleship!
Christianity is not primarily about religious doctrine, important as it is. Christianity is in believing enough in Christ to obey and imitate Jesus himself!
To embrace a call to discipleship is nothing less than embracing Christ's will for your life instead of your own plans, designs, thoughts, and opinions.
Discipleship is best done in community.
Have you ever noticed something about people that Jesus called? He called them into a community. He called the 12 into... well, the Twelve. He called them into fellowship with one another.
Sure, Jesus calls disciples into relationship with Him. But when people say, "I don't really believe in organized religion, because it's not about religion, it's about relationship..." There's a problem.
Because Jesus doesn't call disciples into relationship WITH HIM ONLY. He calls them into relationship with HIS PEOPLE.
Being in discipleship community involves more than just attending church services or Bible studies; it means intentionally investing in the lives of others and allowing them to invest in ours. This can take many forms, such as
joining a small group
serving on a ministry team
meeting regularly with a few close friends to pray and encourage one another.
By building these relationships, we can experience the love and support of a community of believers and grow in our faith together.
Discipleship is not like a person in a spacesuit,
but a person in a family.
Discipleship is Serving Others and Sharing the Gospel.
Another important aspect of discipleship is serving others and sharing the gospel. As we grow in our faith, we are called to love and serve those around us, just as Jesus did. This can take many forms:
volunteering at a local charity
helping a neighbor in need
sharing the gospel with someone who doesn't know Jesus
yelling at people on Facebook.
No, just kidding about that last one! Please don't.
Discipleship is Practicing Spiritual Disciplines.
In addition to serving others and sharing the gospel, practicing spiritual disciplines is another important aspect of discipleship.
I don't mean public worship and church attendance. Obviously, there are public sacraments that each Christian is called to observe, such as baptism, the Lord's Supper, etc. But I'm talking about the private aspect of your spiritual development.
These private disciplines may include
reading and studying Scripture
Discipleship is about BEING like Christ, in our emotions, thoughts, actions, words... and some of these things are private. Private disciplines for discipleship mean that we have a standard way for transforming those private parts of our lives so that we think more like Jesus, and develop a likeness to him even in our thoughts and emotions.
It's important to remember that these disciplines are not meant to be legalistic or performed out of obligation, but rather as a way to draw closer to God and align our hearts with His.
Discipleship Is Possible: Thinking Differently
The church world today operates too closely in concert with the mindset of the world in this way: We're obsessed with failure, to the point that we expect it, and then expect everyone else to be OK with it.
Finish this sentence: "Well, nobody's ___________."
I'll bet you said perfect, right?
How did I know that's what you would say?
Because "nobody's perfect" is a deeply embedded cultural narrative that operates under the surface of your mind.
But I want to call you to something different: Leaning into perfection.
The Greek word "teleios" means "perfect, complete, fullness, all is as it should be." Jesus calls us to be that kind of disciple, remember? "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48) Then, in an incredible reality, he offers us nothing less than his power inside us to enable that kind of being.
Discipleship is possible. Becoming a copy of Jesus is possible.
Aren't you just tired of the emptiness of most Christians?
Don't you just cringe at the people who claim to be Christians, and then are angry, bitter, mean, unforgiving, or lazy?
Let's not allow any kind of letting down of our standard of truth, holiness, and Christlikeness. Let's not allow "nobody's perfect" to be our mantra, our operating system.
Instead, let's say, "Jesus has called me to be a copy of him, and has empowered me to be as he was in the world by giving me the Holy Spirit."
That's what discipleship is!
Discipleship is moving forward when it's time...
If you're ready to move forward in discipleship (not just be a fan of Jesus!), then here's a great next step: Get a New Christian Bible Reading plan emailed directly to you.