What is a Disciple?
Have you ever thought about what a disciple is? Like actually define what a disciple of Jesus Christ is? You probably hope you are one. I know I do. But what exactly is a disciple?
Let’s look at what old Webster says a disciple is. The standard definition of “disciple” (noun) is someone who adheres to the teachings of another. It is a follower or a learner. It refers to someone who takes up the ways of someone else. A disciple is completely devoted to a teacher. But the relationship goes way beyond just a student or an apprentice. They don’t simply master a trade or a subject, they literally learn to imitate their teacher’s life.
So applied to Jesus Christ, a disciple is someone who learns from Him to live like Him — to take on Jesus’ words and Jesus’ ways.
Here’s some interesting facts for you:
- The four Gospels, where Jesus’ words are recorded, show Jesus saying “Follow Me” 87 times which is the very definition of disciple.
- The four Gospels show Jesus saying “Believe in me” just twice. And that was probably because belief is holding to an opinion or conviction, like “Yes, I know there is a God.” But anyone can believe there is a God and still not follow Him. Because to follow God, you have to have faith which is the commitment to respond to that conviction. Faith is literally taking action…following.
- The term Christian is used 3 times in the New Testament,
- Whereas the word disciple (in other words, one who follows and one who takes action), appears more than 250 times.
I would say that means discipleship is a pretty big deal. So look, over the next several months, maybe even up to 6 months, we are going to explore the different aspects of what a disciple is and what a disciple does. Things like daily devotion, prayer, sacrificial generosity, worship, serving, and sharing your story. It’s called a Disciple’s Path, and my hope and prayer is that it will take each of us to the next step in our walk with Jesus.
But before we start down the Disciple’s Path, we got to do something first. We’ve got to back to our foundation, kind of back to the basics. So we’re going to look closer at the word “believe” that Jesus only mentioned twice, but still mentioned so that makes it important, so we’re going to go back to our foundation with a series called “What Christians Believe”. In this series, we’ll talk about just that, what do Christians actually believe. We’ll explore not only what Christians believe, but why they believe it, and why it matters.
We’re going to explore this before a Disciple’s Path, because I feel like if you are going to be a disciple, you should really know what they believe and who it is you’re following. And just maybe this will help you in the part of being a disciple where you share what you believe and why.
So let’s take a closer look at this word believe.
Believe can be used in many different ways, right. We use it from the most profound ways to the silliest of ways.
- For example, you may believe your favorite football team will make it to the Superbowl. In this way, belief expresses your hopes, which may be at least partially based on how the team has done so far this year.
- We also use the word believe to express our preference or opinions. Such as, I believe Dawn dish soap is the best dish soap ever. It does what it says, makes my hands soft, cleans my wedding ring, BUT I would not die for my convictions of a dish soap, as I might easily change my mind if the right new product came along.
Neither of these beliefs really matter.
However, there are deeper and more important ways we use the word believe.
- You might believe that prayer and God should be back in the public schools.
- You may believe that every citizen should have the right to carry guns.
- You may believe in a free country and decide to join our military to fight for that belief.
Many deeply held beliefs have the power to motivate us into action, sacrifice, and service. Think about the convictions held by the Founding Fathers of the United States. What those guys set up for us was based on what they believed was right. And let me just say, it was no walk in the park for them.
Now for many of us, our parents have played a really big role in shaping our fundamental beliefs. Many of our beliefs have also been shaped by our personal experiences, particularly the most painful ones, and also the most gratifying ones. These deeply held beliefs can shape us for good or for bad.
For instance, the beliefs of the Ku Klux Klan have done a great amount of harm. Whereas, the beliefs of the Salvation Army have done an overwhelming amount of good.
What we believe matters!
Now, belief is a decision of our own free will. I choose to believe certain things. You chose to believe certain things. In fact, my decision to follow Christ has had a huge impact on my life every day since, and especially on things like the person I chose to marry, the career I chose, the way I see right and wrong, how I parent my children, what I do with my time and money, and how I face adversity. Those beliefs have led me to say no to many things I may have said yes to otherwise, and to say yes to things I might otherwise have said no to.
So what do you believe?
You’re calling yourself a Christian…if you’re here that’s very likely what you call yourself. But what do Christians believe, why do we believe it, and why does it matter?
To help us break it all down, we’re going to take a closer look at the Apostle’s Creed that we recited in the being of our worship today. We’ll recite it each week as we go through the series to help reiterate what we’re learning.
Where did this creed come from? From the earliest of times, Christians made attempts to summarize their essential beliefs by writing Creeds. This gave them something to use to tell new believes what they believe, but also as new religions came along, Christians wanted to make sure they defined exactly what they believed so they would not be mixed up with any other religion. It also gave them something to use to hold themselves accountable or to keep them from straying from what they believe. Our hymnal has several of them. But the most enduring of them all still used today, is the Apostle’s Creed that took it’s currant formed in the early 400’s.
The first line of that creed is what I want to focus on today…I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
According to this…
Christians believe that God is the creative source, the power from which everything exist.
We see it in the name that God reveals to Moses in Exodus 3:13-14. God speaks to Moses through a burning bush and says that He wants Moses to set his people, Israel, free from slavery in Egypt. Moses, knowing the Egyptians believe in many gods, says who do I say sent me?
And God answers, “I Am who I Am. So say “I Am has sent me.”
What kind of name is I Am? Yet through this name, God is revealing himself to Moses, and through Moses to Israel as being the source of all that is, all that has been and all that continues to be.
But Christian’s don’t just see God as the source of all. They also see God as a being. A being with all the characteristics of a person: intelligence, emotion, reason, logic and will. God knows, feels, loves, thinks, acts and creates. The Creed, drawing from Jesus’ primary way of addressing God, speaks of God as Father, a very personal, intimate, and relational term.
Yes, God is the source and power behind everything, BUT God is also a being who defines the very meaning of us. Whatever makes up people, is a reflection of who God is. That’s why the scripture writers describe it as we are created in the image of God.
So when we look at each other and the universe as it is, we see a reflection of the creativity, joy, beauty, and majesty of the One who has created it.
So Christians believe in God. But how do we prove that God exists?
Here’s where theology and science meet. When I hear scientists talk about things they cannot see, which cannot be fully explained, but which fill the universe, which make possible all that exists…that to me is God. The complexity of what we can observe is enough to say in my mind there is a God.
And I look at the sky, especially in places like Cherry Springs State Park that is one of the best places to see the night sky in the world, I can’t help but think of how wonderfully large our universe is, and how small my part in it is.
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?
I see God in all creation. And I see the fingerprints of God in science. God made science, therefore science is God whether we understand it or not, doesn’t matter. No doubt, I appreciate science because it gives us a way to see how complex God is, how detailed and beautiful He is. So to me, the mysterious, invisible force that holds the universe together seems to be the handiwork of God.
The Big Bang Theory that you very likely learned about in public school – I’m not buying it. Someone still had to set off the bang. It’s like a painted canvas…someone had to pick up the paint brush and paint it.
Take cocoa, eggs, flower, sugar and oil – just because you set them beside each other, they are not going to spontaneously assemble themselves into a three-layer chocolate cake. No matter how many billions of years we might wait, there will be no cake unless someone who knows what a chocolate cake should look and taste like mixes, bakes and icings it.
Here’s my point: when someone who doesn’t believe in God, considers the universe, our planet, life on the planet, there will always be an explanation that does not require God – some x-factor that helps to explain the unexplainable. But every solution proposed by the scientific community points to the need for another x-factor and another x-factor and another x-factor because they can’t explain it.
To Christians, the truth lies one layer beyond these explanations. The x-factor, this unseen force behind the existence and development of the universe, is God.
As a Christian, I see God’s glory and creativity throughout creation. The atheist, looking at the same things, sees the glory and creativity of nature. At some point we choose either to believe or to reject the idea that there is One whose power and mind have brought forth the universe.
Paul was one who believed that the universe itself points to the existence of God. He writes in Romans 1:20
“Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – God’s eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made”
Likewise the psalmist writes: Psalm 19:1-4
The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.
Beyond the simple and wonderful fact of existence, there are other things that lead me to believe there is One who exist, One who is greater than the universe, and at the same time closer than the very air we breathe.
I believe in God because of thousands of moments in prayer, Scripture reading, and times when I’ve felt something – Someone – offering comfort, assurance, guidance, and grace. Something within me needs to trust, to give thanks, to praise, to worship the One who is greater than myself. I believe there is One for whom I was made, whose intent in creating humanity was that we might be in relationship with Him.
- I feel connected with God when I take a long walk and pause to just look at Him, to feel Him, and give thanks.
- I feel a deep peace when I turn to God in prayer when I’m in the middle chaos or pain.
- I feel most alive when I am doing the things Jesus described as God’s will.
- When singing and praying and listening in worship, I inevitably hear God speaking to me, and feel my heart connecting with His.
- I have had moments in deep despair, when I sat still I could feel from my head to my toes God moving in me, like He was hugging me.
I’m aware that the atheist has explanations for all of these feelings: chemicals in my brain being activated, or even simply wishful thinking. But for me, that’s just not enough. Once you’ve experienced what I am talking about, chemicals and wishful thinking just don’t cut it.
I have experienced situations that seem to involve more than chance or coincidences – intuitions to do something, to call someone, to go somewhere. Many times, I’ve done the thing I’ve felt nudged to do, and I find myself in a place where I was needed or where I needed to be.
These “coincidences” seem more often, to me to be “God-incidences.” Over the years, I’ve come to trust that there is One who nudges us, guides us, and leads us if we pay attention. We’ll talk more about that in 2 weeks when we talk about the Holy Spirit.
But when we care for the weak, when we are faithful to our spouses, when we show compassion to the struggling, when we choose to love our enemies, we are being consistent with an inner law written on our hearts that naturally knows this the right and good path. I believe that this inner law, which reflects humans at their best, points to the One in whose image we are created.
WHY BELIEF IN GOD MATTERS:
Today’s point is not to just describe what Christians believe and why, but to consider why these beliefs even matter. Some will say, sure I believe there is a God, yet they live their daily lives as though there is no God.
But the belief the Creed is talking about is not merely to say yes, God exist, but instead to have a set of beliefs that guides our actions. For those who shaped the Apostles’ Creed, belief in God is meant to essentially change our perspective on the world, on our place in it, and on our own lives.
Here’s some reasons why belief in God matters:
- If there is a God, then we are creatures who are not nearly as important in the scheme of things as we might think.
Lord, through all the generations you have been our home! Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, you are God. You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals!” For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours. You sweep people away like dreams that disappear. They are like grass that springs up in the morning.
We are quite small in the scheme of things. But a belief in God as both creator and Father adds something to our smallness. We are small and seemingly insignificant, yet we matter to God. Scripture not only speaks of God as Father, but of us human beings as His children.
Even though the psalmist teaches that we will return to dust, the Bible also teaches that we have value and worth as human beings. We are not to kill one another. We are to treat one another as we wish to be treated. We are to love one another. Why? Because we all matter to God.
- Another reason why belief in God matters is how we take care of this place. If God created all things, and the earth belongs to God, then we are stewards of it. Many think of discipleship as reading the Bible and praying and going to church, and these are important, but if this earth really belongs to God, then caring for it is an act of discipleship and a responsibility of every human being.
- Here’s another reason why belief in God matters: if God exists, and God is as the Scriptures describe Him, then we are never alone. As the psalmist so beautifully notes, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, for God is with us. Scripture tells us to not fear 365 times. Over 100 of them follow with, for your God is with you. That means there is always hope.
- But belief in God goes even further than that. If God exists, then my aim is to understand God’s will for how I should live. We find God’s will in studying the Scriptures, particularly the teachings of Jesus. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor, forgive rather than seeking vengeance, to overcome evil with good. To be authentically human is to know God’s will and do it. It’s there, we’ll find a deep satisfaction in life.
These reasons just scratch the surface of how belief in God matters. Each week in this series, we will talk about other ways in which the Christian faith is meant to deeply and positively affect those who believe and the world we live in.
I am led by my experiences, by the nudges in my soul, by the fact of existence, and by the witness of Jesus Christ to repeat the famous words: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”