In the New Testament, followers of Jesus Christ are called “disciples”. The Greek word for disciple is mathetes and means a learner, a student, or a follower. Every believer in Jesus is a disciple. But not every believer is at the same place in their discipleship. The writer of the Hebrews addresses the fact that some believers are infants while others have grown to maturity (Hebrews 5:11-14). This revelation does not legitimize a two-tiered system of discipleship or declare any believer a second-class citizen of the Kingdom of God. Instead, it acknowledges a reality that is affirmed in many other places in the Scriptures, while all believers are disciples, not all believers are growing biblically in their discipleship (Romans 7, Hebrews 5:11-14, 2 Peter 1:9-10). Discipleship is the ongoing dynamic of following Jesus and believers who are fully engaged in following will demonstrate the fruit of their discipleship (John 15:1-8).
The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20, gives us the imperative to make disciples of all the nations. This imperative is accomplished by going, baptizing, and teaching new followers of Jesus to obey all that Jesus commanded. Discipleship is an ongoing process because as long as we are alive we will be learning how to obey the commands of Jesus. It is this ongoing, obedience-based learning process that characterizes a growing disciple. Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, it is “being transformed” into the image of the Lord’s glory. As we are growing in our obedience to Jesus’ commands, we are also being transformed to be more like Him. Another passage that helps us understand where Jesus wants us to be going in discipleship is Colossians 1:28. Paul says that the goal of his preaching and teaching was that he could present as many people as possible as mature in Christ. The word mature is teleios in Greek. This word means perfect, complete, or full-grown.
Becoming mature is the goal or purpose for which God created and saved us. Romans 8:28-29 affirms, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” God’s purpose for our lives is that we become conformed to the image of His Son. Following Jesus is moving towards a purpose. As growing disciples, we are becoming more and more like Jesus. This growth is tangible, observable, and personal. Jesus said in Matthew 7:16 that we will know them by their fruits. Believers who are following Jesus in discipleship, bear the fruit and demonstrate the marks that they are becoming mature and being conformed into His image.