Modern Day Discipleship


What if Jesus were teaching in Capernaum in the next few days?  We can rest assured that most Christians would try to be present to hear him.  We would undoubtedly go to hear him even if we had a broken leg and a back out of place.  We would go especially if we had these ailments in order that he might heal us.

                                                                            Jesus washing the disciple’s feet

The Apostle Paul was a man who apparently had met the Messiah.  No doubt he had seen him in Jerusalem, because Paul was there as a young aspiring Pharisee in Jesus’ day.  He seems to speak of a possible fleshly meeting in 2 Corinthians 5:16.  It is interesting what Paul says in this respect: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.”  Paul was no longer yearning for just a flesh encounter with Jesus.

Today, of course, we know that Jesus will not be at Capernaum teaching.  He is not walking around the lake making disciples.  How then can we be disciples at the beginning of the 21st century?  It seems that there are two primary means of discipleship today.


First of all, we need to make sure we have had that drastic change in our lives called the “new birth.” It is a change that must come from above – from God.  Once Jesus spoke with the Jewish leader, Nicodemus, and said to him bluntly: “…I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (Jn.  3:3).  Our soul needs a spiritual awakening.  Like a newborn child, we need to be translated into that other realm and immediately gasp for that first breath of air.  We need to start breathing and living in the spiritual world.

We read in John 4:24, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”  Because God is spirit and because he lives in the spiritual realm we must meet him there if we are to meet him at all.  All true worship takes place in the spiritual realm where God lives.  In this respect, believers make up a spiritual temple for the true worship of God (1 Pet. 2:5).

Not only does our worship take place in the spiritual realm, but our guidance and instruction come from there.  In John 16:13 we read: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth….”  The Holy Spirit has been sent from the Lord to indwell the believer.  That same Holy Spirit becomes the guide and teacher of each newborn soul. This is true to such an extent that it is said in 1 John 2:27, “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit….”  We therefore have no need that anyone teach us, unless of course we think we have no need that anyone teach us.  It is precisely at that point that we have the greatest need to be taught by others, because our pride has overcome us.

Many today seem to take the matter of spiritual life rather nonchalantly but the scripture gives us some specific commands about our relationship with the Spirit. In Ephesians 5:18-19 we read, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord….”  We have a command to be filled with the Spirit.  Our lives need to be opened to the Holy Spirit’s influence on a daily basis. Actually our filling needs repeating from time to time because, like an old rusty bucket, we leak.  We see also in this verse that we need to be speaking to each other in Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  At this point we might ask ourselves, “When was the last time we spoke to someone in a spiritual song?”  God wants to set our heart singing, to give us new songs that will lift up the Body of Christ.

In Galatians 5:16 Paul says: “…live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”  All of us have days when we are “high as a kite” in the spiritual realm.  On those days we have those wonderful, divine appointments.  On those days the spiritual answers are on the tip of our tongues.  Then there are other days when we are lower than a snail’s belly.  Usually God is not able to use us much on such occasions.  At those times we are the ones who need ministry rather than the ones giving it out.

The Lord expects us to think, meditate and speak spiritually.  Paul says, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” (1 Cor. 2:13).  The olive tree heritage into which we are grafted (Rom.11:17) pictures for us our spiritual heritage.  The olive oil is the oil of light, revelation and anointing, which all speak of the Holy Spirit.

We need to pray for one another in the Spirit.  Often when we pray, we say things like this: “Lord bless brother Joe Doaks and sister Suzy Doaks.  God bless John and Mary Smith,” and so we quickly go down our prayer list.  We need to pray like Paul prayed.  We read one of his many prayers in Ephesians 1:17-19.  He said in this passage: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe….” 

When Paul prayed, spiritual things happened to people.  Saints were born and churches grew to the measure, stature and fullness of Christ.    


The second great realm of discipleship is in the word of God.  Jesus came to earth as the Living Word (Jn. 1:1).  Those men who followed him were, spiritually speaking, eating his flesh and drinking his blood (Jn. 6:53).  They were having a daily feast on the Word of God.  As modern-day disciples, we must love the word.  The Psalmist said, “See how I love your precepts….” (Psa 119:159).  When it gets close to meal time we usually begin thinking about food.  Yet Job remarks “…I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread” (Job 23:12).

A disciple must stay close to the word.  The Psalmist said, “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (Psa. 63:8).  To be a disciple today, one must almost  become a fanatic concerning God’s word.  Such a disciple in the past century was Smith Wigglesworth.  He was a man of great spiritual power to heal the sick and even to raise the dead.  He was also a fanatic over the word of God. It was his firm conviction that one should not go more than 15 minutes without reading the word. When Wigglesworth was invited out to dinner, he would pause to read from the word of God after each course in the meal.  On one occasion someone was transporting this great saint to a meeting when he cried out for the car to stop.  When the driver stopped, Wigglesworth informed him that they had neglected to read from the word of God.  He then bowed to ask God’s forgiveness.*

When we look in the Bible, we realize that John was probably the closest of all the disciples to his Master.  He was the one who leaned upon Jesus’ breast.  He thus heard things others did not hear.  He heard about the new birth and the coming of the Holy Spirit to comfort the Lord’s people.  He knew Jesus as the Word; the Good Shepherd; the Living Water; the True Vine; and the Bread of Life.

It should not surprise us that when the risen Christ desired to give the Revelation of things to come, he called to John.  John was accustomed to receiving spiritual revelation from the word.  What a blessing his book has been to God’s saints through the ages.

Thus we see that the Christian life is a delicate balance between the Spirit and the Word.  There is a little jingle going around in Christian circles that accurately expresses this balance.  Someone has said that with the “word only” we dry up.  With the “Spirit only” we blow up.  But with the “Spirit and the word” we grow up.  We also see in 1 Peter 1:2, and in John 17:17, that the Spirit and the Word work closely together for our full and complete sanctification.

Jesus is not teaching at Capernaum at10 AM in the morning, but he is teaching at 10 AM.  He is also teaching at 9 AM and any other hour that we will attune our ears to his Holy Spirit and to his word.  Jesus is not walking around the lake making disciples at Magdala and other places, but he is making disciples.  We must simply get ourselves into the modes of discipleship for the age in which we live.

                                                                                                                  -Jim Gerrish


Smith Wigglesworth, The Secret of His Power, by Albert Hibbert, Harrison House, Tulsa, OK 1982  p30-31.

This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem.  Original Publication date, 2000,
updated 2004.

Photo credit: Billy Hathorn, picture of sculpture at LeTourneau University, Longview, TX, Wikimedia
Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.