Author: Ron Graham
A Disciple’s Discipline
—Facts About Christian Discipleship
In this lesson we consider what set of rules and controls, or what discipline a disciple of Jesus Christ should follow and submit to.
1 There is a Discipline
There is certainly a discipline involved in discipleship. Even putting the two words "disciple" and "discipline" side by side, and seeing that they have the same root, makes one expect a probable connection between them.
The discipline of a disciple of Christ, however, is not one imposed by other people. Rather it is self discipline under Christ. Paul said to Timothy, "Discipline yourself for the purpose of Godliness" (1Timothy 4:7-8).
Here Paul was contrasting the value of spiritual discipline with the more popular bodily discipline. However, the word "yourself" is not without force. Paul was encouraging Timothy not only to spiritual discipline but to self discipline.
When Paul gave his defence before Felix, he admitted his disciplieship to the Way of Jesus, and expressed it in the same terms: "I discipline myself to always maintain a blameless conscience before both God and men" (Acts 24:16).
Whilst it is necessary for the church to preach the gospel with reproof, rebuke, and exhortation (2Timothy 4:2) the onus is upon each disciple to apply discipline to himself or herself under the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are three aspects of self discipline:
- Self assessment "Examine yourselves to test that you are in the faith" (2Corinthians 13:5).
- Self application "Give diligence to present yourself approved before God" (2Tim 2:15).
- Self accountability "So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Romans 14:7).
If every Christian would practise self discipline in this way, there would be no need for any other form of discipline to be imposed. This is our next point.
2 It is Sufficient for a Disciple to Imitate His Teacher
Jesus shows that a disciple aims "to become as his teacher" (Matthew 10:24-25).
The "teacher" here is clearly not a fellow disciple, but rather the master teacher, the one whom the disciple is following. Disciples triy to become like the one whose disciple they are.
Now notice that Jesus says "it is enough" to do this. Christ wants his disciples to be as he is, and to follow his discipline. To add or submit to more discipline than his Master lays down, would be to rise above his Master, in other words to be arrogant or presumptious.
The Master’s Rules Sufficient
Since "it is enough for a disciple to be as his teacher", it is enough to conform to Christ's rules, and too much to follow additional rules. Avoid subjecting yourself to man-made rules. Take no other yoke or burden than Jesus has laid upon you (Matthew 11:29).
Note —A yoke is a bow-shaped crosspiece as part of the harness of beasts of burden. It joins two or more animals together such that they share the burden they are pulling.
It is, of course, a very good thing to follow the fine example of other Christians and let their example encourage us. Paul said to the Philippians, "join in following my example" (Philippians 3:16-17, 4:9).
However, this was only because he himself was imitating the example of Christ. "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ" (1Corinthians 4:15-16, 11:1).
Notice that what we follow is the good example we see in others, not rules and regulations which they impose upon us. We now look at the rules that a disciple of Christ should follow.
3 There are Rules for the Disciple to Follow
The great commission laid down exactly the boundaries of what was to be imposed upon disciples of Christ. After saying, "...make disciples of all nations... Jesus concluded by defining what was to be taught to these disciples: "all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19,20).
That is a no-more-no-less statement. It puts a sharp edge to what the disciples of Christ are to follow, and what their teachers are to impose.
- As we said before, Christ’s yoke is sufficient (Matt 11:28-30).
- Part of the disciple’s learning is to "learn not to go beyond what is written" (1Cor 4:6).
- The disciple should "learn Christ... hear him... be taught in him" (Ephesians 4:17,20-24)
- A disciple is to "continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel" (Colossians 1:23). The opposite of this is to "submit to rules" not imposed by Christ (Colossians 2:18-23).
- The rules we are to follow are the scriptural rules which make us "adequate, equipped for every good work" and we need no addition (2Tim 3:14-17).
- The love of God and Christ, the mark of a true disciple, is to "keep his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome" (1John 5:3).