What is a Disciple?

In Articles by Bradley Palm Comments


I’m very grateful for my family and my early years growing up in rural Maryland. I was brought up in a Christian home and raised with Christian values, and I believe this gave me a great start in life. After graduating high school, I pursued and obtained my degree in electrical engineering. Life was going well, but still something wasn’t quite right. While I completed college, I was an engineering intern at a local firm just outside of Washington DC. I quickly realized that working as an electrical engineer was not something I could do long term, so after graduating college I decided to join the Army and become a pilot. I went through basic training, flight training and was assigned to my first duty-station in Japan.

After finishing my three year assignment in Japan the Army transferred me to Fort Lewis, WA. It was in the early days of my time there that I met a group of believers who changed my understanding of what being a follower of Christ was all about. Up until then I thought a “disciple” was someone who believes in Jesus and attends a worship service on Sunday. When I met these disciples of Jesus at my new duty station I was immediately struck by their devotion to know and follow Jesus in everyday life. Although none of them were perfect, each found their identity in their relationship with Jesus and that is what framed how they spent their time, their money, their relationships, their conversations, and even where they lived! This was not like seeing a pastor on Sunday deliver a well thought out message. It was ordinary people like me who modeled their lives after the Word of God and the teachings of Jesus. I was impressed with their ability to teach truths of the scripture in a way that seemed so basic and simple. I started spending all my free time around these disciples. Up until this point in my life, my faith had been motivated out of respect to follow the patterns established by my parents. But now it was transforming into a personal faith and relationship with Jesus Christ.

These new friends challenged me to read the Bible for myself and that is one of the first things that changed for me. Prior to that, the only Scripture I was getting was fed to me by a pastor and my spiritual milk was only consumed on Sunday. As I began to read and research God’s Word more closely, I discovered that the term “disciple” in the Greek literally means to become a pupil or a learner. Since I had previously had such a skewed understanding of the true definition, I began to ask myself if the term disciple was thrown around too loosely today. Had it totally lost its original meaning? I saw that just believing and attending Sunday service were not the defining characteristics of a disciple of Jesus. In fact, I soon learned there was much more to being a “pupil and learner” of Jesus.

When I opened the Bible and started to read it for myself, I discovered some other characteristics of a disciple that were severely lacking from my life and relationship with God. As Jesus taught when he was walking the earth, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9.23 ) This verse illustrated a few key points:

  1. He must deny himself. I was not denying myself. I was sinning and not taking active steps to resist the devil and pursue righteousness. The Holy Spirit convicted me and I began to actively resist the sin that was present in my life and confess to the Lord and my fellow believers who were able to pray for me and hold me accountable in my day-to-day struggles with sin. (James 5.16)
  2. Take up his cross DAILY. As I said before, the only spiritual activity in my life at the time was attending church service on Sunday. One of the biggest questions I was struggling with was how to follow Jesus daily when I didn’t know what that looked like practically. But as I observed these new friends of mine, I saw that if I wanted to follow Jesus’ example in my everyday life, that meant getting into the Bible each day so that I would continue to grow in my relationship with the Lord. Reading the Bible daily was not just a mindless thing to do, but a way of allowing the inspired Word of God to teach, rebuke, correct, and train me. (2 Timothy 3.16).Jesus also demonstrated a healthy prayer life throughout the gospels. (Matthew 14.23, Mark 6.46, Luke 6.12, just to name a few!) He would often slip away so that He could pray to God. We are privileged that we can also communicate directly with the Father through prayer since Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on the cross. This privilege should be executed frequently. One of my favorite reminders of this comes from 1 Thessalonians 5.17: “Pray without ceasing.”Another example Jesus gives us for our daily life is how we should continue to love others. In John 13.34-35 it says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” It is through our daily pursuit of God and loving others that we will be identified as His disciples.All of these verses highlighted that being a disciple of Jesus is less about what we say we believe, and more about how we allow our beliefs to motivate us to action by following Jesus’ example of love for God and His people.
  3. Follow me. I was making daily decisions in the best interest of myself alone and not putting the Lord’s interests first by following the example of Jesus. Jesus modeled the perfect life of seeking only to do the will of the Father who sent him (John 4.34). The example He set was one of selfless sacrifice to continue to do the will of the Father. We must put the Lord first, if we want to emulate the life of Jesus (1 John 2.6).

As Jesus pointed out these characteristics through my time in the Word of God and I was able to see other disciples who were growing spiritually embodying these exact characteristics… let’s just say I had some repenting to do which led to some drastic changes in my life!

Looking back on this transformation which occurred 9 years ago, I can see how God is continuing to build my faith through these same simple daily disciplines today.

If you’re interested in being a disciple of Jesus I would challenge you today:

  • Consider practical ways that you can defeat the sin that is present in your life and replace that with something that glorifies God. I like to emulate Jesus’ approach in Matthew 4 where He uses memorized Bible verses to fend off the devil.
  • Set your alarm 30 minutes earlier and use that time to read the living Word of God and spend time with the creator of the universe.
  • Consider the ways that you feel loved and look for opportunities where you can love those people God has placed in your life (like Jesus modeled).
  • Make decisions fueled through your obedience to Jesus and adherence to the principles taught and model through his lifetime.

If you are already a disciple of Jesus and rooted in these basic disciplines, who can you share these truths with to help them grow in their relationship with the Lord? In either case, my prayer is that you will continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3.18).

Pilot | U.S. Army

Brad is an active duty member of the U.S. Army and is passionate about sharing his faith with his neighbors and fellow soldiers. He is currently stationed with his wife at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA.