Jesus’ teaching led to a variety of responses from his followers. Sometimes they complained, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” (John 6:60 NLT). At other times, they resisted or were anxious about what he was teaching. “They didn’t understand what he was saying, however, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant” (Mark 9:32 NLT). Sometimes they had no idea what Jesus was even talking about, and they would just throw up their hands. “Those who heard this said, ‘Then who in the world can be saved?’” (Luke 18:26 NLT). Clearly they often lacked faith or insight to grasp the full meaning, causing Jesus to respond, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you?” (Matt. 17:17 NLT).
The first disciples didn’t always measure up. But far from discouraging us, this is actually good news, because it shows that being a disciple isn’t a state of perfection. Disciples are people in process who are still learning, still growing. They make mistakes. The first disciples help explain our own experience, and their stories provide comfort and encouragement because we know in the end, almost all of them produced great fruit. A developing faith is not a flawless faith. Discipleship is realistic, not idealistic.
The Process of Discipleship
Alan Stanley explains the nuance of understanding discipleship as a process: “We must be careful to distinguish between the call to be a disciple and the reality of being a disciple. Since many define discipleship only as the conditions laid down by Jesus in the Gospels, it is not surprising that ‘disciple’ has become virtually synonymous with ‘committed Christian.’ Yet as we have seen this was patently not the case with the Twelve and neither is it the case for the rest of the NT (227).
This leads another statement we can make about discipleship: it is the ongoing reality of anyone who desires to follow Christ. Discipleship is not a one-size-fits-all process, and he doesn’t churn out disciples every hour like a widget factory. He calls all of his disciples, and he lays out the same demands and requirements. But he makes allowances for our individual ways of learning and uses our entire lifetime to develop our faith.
We become disciples at conversion, when we answer the call of Christ to follow him. Then we spend the rest of our lives becoming in reality what he called us to be.
Note: The first paragraph has been gleaned from Stanley, Did Jesus Teach Salvation by Works?: The Role of Works in Salvation in the Synoptic Gospels, 226.
This excerpt has been adapted from Conversion and Discipleship.
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