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Christian, tell me why are Jesus' followers usually called "Christian" but sometimes called "disciple"? What does "disciple" mean?

Because…Once someone becomes a Christian, growing as a disciple is the logical next step.

Some people are famous (or infamous) for being born into wealth, fame or privilege but then doing nothing to grow beyond that heritage. Meanwhile, others born into the same circumstances work hard to accomplish something worthwhile of their own. Similarly, a person “becomes a Christian” or “is born again” and “adopted” into God’s family when they choose to trust Jesus 1, but it would be a shame to just stop there without any further growth.

The Apostle Paul was a mentor to young pastor Timothy in the city of Ephesus. He wrote advising Timothy to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15). In contrast, Paul rebuked the church at Corinth for not growing as they should, still needing “milk”-level teaching instead of being ready for “meat” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). Being a disciple of Christ means growing to become more like Him, and more like the complete person that God created me to be.

Anyone who has worked to excel at a skill or hobby will understand the things needed of a disciple, which simply means a dedicated student. (“Disciple” doesn’t just mean “Christian”; it is possible to be a disciple of anything or anyone that you choose to study and emulate.) Those things include watching and learning from instructors and others ahead of me on the path, practicing the things I’ve learned, “doing the work” consistently, and then putting my new knowledge and skills into practice.

Watching and Learning

Jesus didn’t just invite his disciples to look at Him, or listen to Him. He invited them to follow Him. In that culture, students followed their Rabbi (teacher) everywhere he went, literally following in the same footsteps, observing and copying everything he did. Eventually, they grew to see the world the same way he did, to react to situations in the same manner as their Rabbi 2.

Today, we can read the Gospels and “follow” Jesus as He dealt with life. We can read the Old Testament for its rich background of God working out His plans; we can read the New Testament book of Acts and the letters of Paul and others as they worked out how Jesus focussed those plans; and we can read the book of Revelation for a glimpse into the ultimate future. We can meet with others to discuss what we’ve read, and to share what we’ve learned from our own experience. We can learn from those who have matured beyond us in faith, and can mentor those coming up after us.


When I was studying martial arts, I was in class 3-5 times per week. My husband is a musician, still practicing his primary instrument (at which he has a lifetime of skill) at least three times a week while practicing his newest instrument almost every day. When ballroom dancing was our thing, each week would see us in one formal class plus at least one informal class followed by a couple of hours of dancing. My business partner is the best software developer I know; he also is on the computer constantly. The same is true with every endeavor: To get better requires regular practice.

The “regular practice” of the Christian disciple includes Bible study, thanking God for blessings, seeking His guidance in decisions (and obeying that guidance!), meeting with other Christians, giving time and resources to His work, etc. These are the “disciplines” that will strengthen my spiritual muscles.

Doing the Work

In martial arts, the instructor would encourage me to keep attending classes, doing the drills over and over. It was tedious at times, seeming like I was never getting any better. The instructor kept reminding me to just be consistent, accepting that a 1% improvement at a time would compound into noticeable progress 3.

Likewise, in my Christian discipleship, I can just keep at it, doing my best each day. When I have a question, I can go to God for help. That holds true whether it’s a problem such as illness or other sorrow, or a question about the Bible 4, or a choice to be made. I know that I’ll fail sometimes, or have setbacks. But I also know that He will forgive (yet again), pick me up, and give me a fresh start.

Putting Into Practice

As I watch, learn, practice, and consistently “do the work”, the result will be growth. No one ever outgrows the need to be a disciple; just like in all other activities, there will always be room for improvement and new, higher goals to work toward. But the “fruits of the Spirit” will become more and more evident in my life. I will progress from “milk” to “meat”, and eventually become an “approved workman”.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Galations 5:22-23

Jesus deserves at least the level of effort that I would be willing to put into martial arts, music, ballroom dance, software development, or anything else. Why would I expect an occasional hour sitting in a church service (if that much) to be sufficient? I pray that He will help me to be a diligent disciple. He’s worth it!

Footnotes and Scripture References

  1. To be “born”, all that is needed is to:
    1) Acknowledge that I need God but are separated from Him due to my own sin; then
    2) Accept Jesus’ sacrifice on my behalf as the way to bridge that gap and be reconciled to God.
  2. See the book Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg for more about this topic.
  3. That was several years ago. Unfortunately, I decided that I was not willing to put in the required time and effort, and quit training. I am no longer a “disciple” of the martial arts, but the point about incremental improvement is still valid.
  4. Several of the articles on this site began with my own question, and the research I did to find answers.

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