What Is a True Disciple?

Nan's Corner - August Article

What exactly is a true disciple of Christ? The answer is: A true disciple has “a lifestyle alongside his belief.”

Continuing our study of the supernatural power of God, we said last month that in order for God’s power to become apparent, “all self-confidence and self-dependence must be exposed, repented of and put at the Cross.” If we are clean and open vessels, then God can pour His power through us in His plan of redemption. What, then, is the difference between a believer who lives for himself, follows his own will and depends upon his own strength and a Christian who has laid everything down at the Cross, lives only for Christ and depends only upon His power?

How can we tell them apart? What exactly is a true disciple of Christ? The answer is: A true disciple has “a lifestyle alongside his belief.”

A true disciple of Christ is one who not only has “partaken in Christ,” meaning he has received God’s Spirit, but one who has also “partaken of Christ,” meaning he is living Christ’s Life, His Love, and His power. In other words, he is not only following Christ around and listening to His sermons, he is also obeying and doing what he hears. Just because we are followers of Christ does not necessarily mean we are “true disciples.” Remember Judas? He was a follower of Christ, but not a true disciple (John 12:4). Being a true disciple indicates that a life action is accompanying our belief. A true disciple not only proclaims the message of Christ with his words, he also shows forth Christ’s Life in his actions (Galatians 5:25).

A true disciple is one who does the will of God. He is one who denies himself, picks up his cross, and follows Christ (Mark 8:34). He is one who has forsaken all in order to follow Him (Luke 14:33).

Everything that Paul taught in his epistles, he actually lived out daily. He daily walked by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). He preached the gospel and taught all the counsel of God, “not in the letter that kills” but in the power of the “Spirit who gives life” (Romans 1:16; 2 Corinthians 3:6). He suffered every sort of persecution there is for his Lord’s sake (2 Corinthians 11:23–27; Romans 8:17–18). Everything he did, he did so that he might share Christ’s glory. His life was, in every sense, a pattern for all to follow. Paul also told us that if we need to boast, we are to do so only in our infirmities. That way the Lord will be glorified, not us.

Paul saw weakness not as a liability, but rather as a way of being totally surrendered to the Lord. “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

A true disciple of Christ, therefore, is one who has done a complete reordering of his life. He constantly relinquishes his self-life to the Lord and in exchange, Christ gives him His. He is one who not only spends time in the Word, but he also lives what he preaches. Power seems to be the mark of a true disciple of Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9). Weakness (or yielding to Him) is the prerequisite for this kind of divine power.

A real disciple is always concerned with the personal application of truth first. Then he becomes willing to share what he has learned. “For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me [first], to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed” (Romans 15:18). God’s truth must first be personalized in a disciple’s life, before it can be shared.

It’s one thing to know God’s principles in your head, but it’s something totally different to walk out those principles in your everyday life.

Christ told us that our mission is to go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all that the Lord has told us in His Word (Matthew 28:18–20). Not just talking to them about the gospel, but actually showing them how to live it.

Characteristics of a True Disciple

Let’s contrast the characteristics of a true disciple or a faithful Christian with a nominal or unfaithful Christian. See if you can identify yourself as we describe these two types of believers.

A spiritual or a faithful Christian is, as we said, a person who not only has been born again, but who is also abiding in and walking by the power of the Holy Spirit, thereby producing fruit (Galatians 5:22; John 15:2, 5, 8). He has allowed God to rein in his own emotions and his own will, so that his works are done through God’s empowering, not the flesh (1 Peter 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:23). His motive for speaking, his strength for working, and his reason for living is simply the Love of God (1 Timothy 1:5). He is more concerned about what Christ thinks of him, than what others think. Christ’s presence in this believer brings about “a peace that passes all understanding” (John 16:33; 2 Corinthians 2:14).

Some of the main characteristics that this spiritual Christian should display are presented in Galatians 5:22. He should be filled with “the fruit of the Spirit” as evidenced by Love (Agape), joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. These characteristics all manifest themselves in humility (Luke 14:11).

Love suffereth long, and is kind; Love envieth not; it vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not [its] own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never fails.

– 1 Corinthians 13:4–8

And beside this … add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

– 2 Peter 1:5–7

Do any of these characteristics describe you? If they do, then 2 Peter 1:11 says, “…ye shall never fall. For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Characteristics of a Carnal (or Secular or Nominal) Christian

Conversely, a “carnal, unfaithful or nominal Christian” is one in whom the flesh is in control, not the Spirit of God (Hebrews 5:12–13). He is a saved believer, but he loves the world and himself more than he loves Christ. And, thus, he operates out of his own desires rather than God’s will. He simply does not let God rein in his own thoughts and emotions. He can’t, because the Spirit of God is quenched in Him. Thus there is no life transformation in his soul (Romans 12:1–2), no Agape Love, no resurrection power, and no fruit (Romans 7:22–24; Galatians 5:17).

This type of carnal Christian professes to be born-again, and yet has not allowed the Cross to slay his self-life (2 Timothy 3:5). He claims to know God, but in truth he actually denies Him by the way he lives. Galatians 5:19-21 tells us that those who live by the flesh will not inherit the coming kingdom.

Instead of overcoming the flesh, the world, and the enemy by the power of God, unfaithful Christians have been overtaken by them. The flesh rules over them, the world has a hold on them, and the enemy has acquired an entrance in them.

Some of the characteristics that a carnal and unfaithful Christian might display are a bad temper, anger, fretting, murmuring, pride, selfishness, malice, worldliness, evil speaking, bitterness, jealousy, envy, quarrelling and hatred. They also portray self-confidence, self-centeredness, self-exultation, self-reliance, self-importance, self-love, self-ambition and pride. On the other end of the spectrum, they can also be totally consumed with themselves through self-pity, self-condemnation, and self-doubt. Either way, they are pridefully consumed with themselves and not God (Romans 7:18; 1 John 2:16).

A carnal Christian often makes himself the center of attention and values his own will above God’s. He is a “soulish” Christian, which means his self-life rules. He can do righteous deeds and do them well. But, Scripture tells us that any good deed that the flesh does is an abomination in the sight of God.

Carnal Christians say one thing, but often do another. They are also often talkative and flippant, making themselves the center of attention. They tend to use many words and have the attitude that they are more advanced than others. As a result they are often fault finders and judgmental. Working for the Lord is of the utmost importance to them; however, they feel that everything must be done in a hurry and all must be done to attain the glory for themselves. They do not wait on the Lord for His direction and His answers. Thus, they walk by sight not by faith. They are often uncommonly gifted, have great talent and magnetic personalities, but at the same time are worldly, ambitious, and self-pleasing (1 Corinthians 3:1–3). In the Old Testament, Saul, Solomon, Lot, and Uzziah have similar profiles (Ezekiel 18:24).

Many carnal believers try to satisfy their curiosity by studying. They believe that knowing something mentally is the same thing as possessing it experientially. Thus, they are often double-minded, living two lives. They have an abundance of acquired knowledge, but very little Spirit-revealed knowledge. They don’t realize that increased spiritual head knowledge can often become a trap. Head knowledge can strengthen our carnality and deceive us into thinking we are spiritual. The danger is that because God’s Spirit is suppressed, the soulish and bodily realm will rule. God designed the sanctification process to remove all hindrances such as these, so that the Holy Spirit can control and direct us.

So much of what a carnal Christian does, he does for show and to gain something for himself, even if it’s just the praise of men (Isaiah 29:13). He does these things for the love of self, not for the glory of God. Remember, a lack of Love for others shows a denial of Christ’s character (1 Corinthians 13:1–4).

Some works of the flesh of a carnal Christian are “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and the like.” (Galatians 5:19–21) Obviously they do not display the fruit of the Spirit (Hebrews 5:12–13). They “deny” Christ through their actions (Matthew 10:33). There’s no Agape Love coming from their lives, no supernatural power being displayed, and no godly wisdom being shared. “Whoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before my Father” (Matthew 10:33).

Dangers of Being Carnal or Lukewarm

It is impossible for us to really know who is carnal and who is spiritual. Only God knows the truth. Only He knows our hearts. We are not to judge! That’s God’s business at the Bema Seat. But, we are told to be “fruit pickers.” Our lives will either show forth the fruit of the Spirit manifested by God’s Love or we will display rotten fruit showing forth our carnality. (Luke 8:14)

The danger of being carnal is that we can be born-again by God’s Spirit (justified) and yet spend 90 percent of our time in the soulish or fleshly realm. If this is the case, our ministry, our teaching, and our preaching will not produce any real godly fruit. “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing.” (John 6:63)

Carnal Christians not only quench the power of God from coming forth through them, thereby hindering their own sanctification, they also hinder salvation in others. They give a false impression of what a true Christian is really like. They can actually become stumbling blocks to passing along the true gospel because nonbelievers look at them and say, “Hey! If that’s a Christian, I want no part of it.”

Unfortunately we were stumbling blocks for our children years ago when we were going through our own marital trials. We were all smiles when we were out in public, but behind closed doors we argued, screamed, and yelled at each other. Sadly, our children experienced this and said to us, “Why would we want what you have? You’re no different from the people down the street who don’t even know God.”

This broke our hearts, but we knew it was true. If we want the gospel to be passed on, especially to our families, our friends, and our associates, we must become spiritual Christians. There’s no longer such a thing as a “fence-sitter Christian.” As we get closer to Christ’s coming, we’ll be pushed one way or the other.

If a carnal Christian persists in doing things his own way, he will never grow to full maturity. This results in spiritual dullness, with no possibility of sparking a revival in himself, much less in anyone else. By living this way he discredits Christ in all his actions. The sobering part of this is that Scripture says: “If we deny Christ [in our actions], He will deny us before the Father.” “Denying Christ” in this Scripture not only refers to our words about Christ, it also refers to our not reflecting Him with our lives. If there is no “fruit of the Spirit” in our lives, it doesn’t matter how many verses of Scripture we know, we still will be denying Christ. The Lord told us that if we deny Him here, He will be forced to deny us there before the Father. (God’s will is that we deny ourselves—totally surrender and relinquish our own thoughts, emotions and desires—pick up our crosses, and follow Him. (Matthew 16:24))

What is also scary is that carnal and unfaithful Christians are no longer moved by a sense of urgency or watchfulness for Christ’s soon coming. They have been lulled to sleep by a sense of complacency and they are not concerned about being prepared or ready or qualified to inherit the kingdom. This is a grave mistake! Listen to what Hebrews 4:1 says: “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of [us] should seem to come short of it.”

To be continued next month: “Faithful and Wise Servants.” This article has been excerpted, in part, from Chuck and Nan’s book The Kingdom, Power and Glory.