Before His ascension, Jesus sent forth the apostles into the world with the gospel (Matt. 28.19-20). The call is to “make disciples” and part of the process is to “teach” the principles of Jesus. This is not the only time the Lord emphasized that the Christian faith is a religion where teaching and learning are to be major elements.
Jesus is called “teacher” (Gr. didaskalos) some 49 times in the Gospel Accounts; in fact, those who were in audience when Jesus taught knew that he was “a teacher come from God” (John 3.2). He affirms that it is through hearing and learning at his feet that we can come to have access to both Jesus and the father (John 6.44-45, 14.6).
If Jesus is a teacher, then it follows that he must have teaching (Acts 4.2, 5.42, 13.12, 28.31), and this also leads us to the truth that there must be those who learn and practice his teaching. The New Testament authors use the word “disciple” (Gr. mathetes) for those who were students – learners – of the Lord. Jesus had a school of disciples.
Discipleship means to not only learn a teaching, but to transform one’s own thinking and lifestyle to reflect the teaching. Being a disciple is not like a “cram session” in preparation for a test, where the student typically forgets “everything” the moment the test is over. Instead, there is a lifelong devotion to understanding the message of Jesus.
Jesus once said, “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6.40). Again, to bring the point sharper Jesus affirmed, “why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not what I tell you?” (Luke 6.46).
The importance of discipleship is that it stands at the very heart of biblical Christianity. If we miss this aspect of the faith, then we have missed the very thing that defines us – we are Christians and we imitate Jesus (1 Pet. 2.21). We cannot imitate Jesus without abiding in his teaching (Tit. 2.11-14).
The New Testament church demonstrated devotion to the apostolic teaching (Acts 2.42), so much so that they were known as disciples of Jesus (Acts 9.1).
Eventually, these disciples would be given a new name – Christian (Acts 11.26; Isa. 62.2). Hence, part of being a Christian is to be devoted to learning the teaching of Jesus which is deposited in the documents of the New Testament (1 Cor. 2.11-16, 14.37; Eph. 3.4). If we do not know what the Bible teaches, we will not know how we ought to live our new life in Christ (Col. 3.1-10).
In the final analysis, only we can choose whether we will be a disciple of Jesus. If you are willing, he has invited you into the wonderful life of Christian discipleship:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt. 11.28-30)