3 KEY CHARACTERISTICS OF DISCIPLES OF JESUS
How do you teach new Christians what it looks like to follow Jesus? You learn from Jesus’ first disciples.
Mike is a guy I met in a coffee shop.
He was a new believer and recently started attending my church. He had some rough circumstances. He was recently divorced, he lost custody of his children, and his business went bankrupt. We started meeting regularly to talk about Jesus and life.
One day he looked at me and said, “Pastor Ryan, I’m confused.”
“About what?” I asked.
He went on to share multiple observations he had gleaned from his short time as a believer, but three of them stuck out to me more than the rest:
- “If all Christians are following the same God, then why do they look so different? You know… some people think the Bible is totally true and we should obey it, and others like to find loopholes and argue with it.”
- “Some Christians act like they don’t sin anymore, and some are always confessing and acting like they are horrible people.”
- “It seems like some Christians think their faith is about being rich and successful… I see it on TV all the time… and then some churches, like ours, talk about Jesus and sin a lot.”
These three stuck out to me because I had just been reading the Gospel of Luke earlier that morning, and I had noticed these three concerns were concerns that Jesus didn’t have when he called his first three disciples.
As I was answering Mike’s questions, I perceived, for the first time, the significance of showing young disciples what Jesus’ disciples were like.
1. DISCIPLES KNOW THAT JESUS IS GOD AND THEY ARE NOT
In Luke 5:4–5 we read, “When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.’”
Peter, James, and John have just finished a hard night’s work of fishing—and they caught nothing.
They have already hauled their nearly thousand pounds of net to the shore and are in the process of washing them. They are tired and frustrated from their lack of success the night before.
Jesus’ request seems to be reckless and unreasonable. A fisherman of Peter’s experience might have thought, “Jesus, why don’t you let me worry about the fishing and you stick to the miracles.” Instead, Peter’s response is, “I’m tired, but you are God and I am not, so I’ll do it.”
I perceived, for the first time, the significance of showing young disciples what Jesus’ disciples were like.
It’s easy for us, if we’re not careful, to elevate ourselves to the place of God. How do you respond to God’s Word when you disagree with it? Typically, when someone disagrees with something in God’s Word, they either dismiss it, disobey it, or apologize for it. Often people will try to find another way to interpret the text to better fit within their theological grid. Can you image if Peter, James, and John had huddled around their nets and had a debate about what Jesus actually meant by “go fishing again”?
True disciples of Jesus know that Jesus is God and they are not. If Mike had been there, on that shore, with Peter, James, and John, he wouldn’t have seen them trying to find any loopholes. He would have seen three men hear and obey their Lord.
2. DISCIPLES ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR SIN
After obeying Jesus, the men get a big surprise: “And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. . . . But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luke 5:6, 8).
Nets start breaking and boats are sinking because they have caught so many fish. Simon Peter sees with his own two eyes the power of Jesus, even if just for a minute. Peter’s immediate response to the fact that Jesus is a perfect God and that he doubted him is acknowledgment of sin and repentance.
Peter’s response is, “I’m tired, but you are God and I am not, so I’ll do it.”
True disciples of Jesus acknowledge that they are sinners who don’t deserve the love of God. Disciples of Jesus are not better people, but they are people that know how bad they really are.
Disciples are not themselves perfect and righteous. They are made righteous by the only One who was and is perfect. If Mike had been there, on that shore, with Peter, James, and John, he wouldn’t have seen a righteous, arrogant fisherman. He would have seen Peter’s humble and holy reaction to the deity of Christ.
3. DISCIPLES UNDERSTAND THEIR PURPOSE
Now Jesus gives the men a new purpose: “And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ And when whey had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:10–11).
These men are experienced fishermen. This is their livelihood, their income, their profession, and their career. After encountering Jesus and seeing his divinity in action, they leave everything and follow him.
Jesus tells them, “You are no longer going to catch fish and kill them, you are now going to catch men so they can live forever.” At this, the men instantly understand that their purpose in life is different than what they once thought.
Disciples of Jesus are not better people, but they are people that know how bad they really are.
We can very easily lose sight of our purpose as followers of Jesus. Sometimes we fail to see that our career is not necessarily our calling and that our profession is not the same as our purpose. Jesus does not ask everyone to change their career, but he does call everyone to follow him, which changes the motive for their career.
True disciples of Jesus understand that their purpose in life is to make more disciples of Jesus, not simply more zeros on their paycheck, letters after their name, or followers on Twitter. If Mike had been there on that shore with Peter, James, and John, he wouldn’t have wondered whether Jesus was just a way to be rich and successful. He would have seen these three men leave everything and follow their Savior, and eventually be persecuted and ridiculed for it.
What are you teaching those you are discipling about discipleship? Let’s use every example of Jesus and his disciples we have in Scripture to help us make more disciples of Jesus.