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Difference Between a Follower and a Disciple

Posted July 24, 2011

Some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples are often referred to as the Great Commission. Jesus tells his disciples this:

“As you are going, make disciples among all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,teaching them to obey and practice all that I have commanded you, and remember, I will be right there with you every step of the way.”

(author’s translation of Matthew 28:19-20)

There is one command (imperative) in these verses: “make disciples.” The other three main words are “going, baptizing and teaching” (action steps necessary for disciples to be made). These key words together speak of “initiative and intentionality.”

All of this then begs the question: “What is a disciple?” Is it just a follower of Jesus? As we look at the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus, he had many “followers” but only a few of them were called “disciples.” In the day in which Jesus called his disciples to “make disciples,” a “disciple” was a follower of a rabbi or teacher (in this case Jesus) who had the intent of following so that they would become like their rabbi. So, yes, a disciple is a follower…but not just a follower. A disciple is a follower of Jesus who follows with the intent of becoming more like Him. With that in mind, am I a disciple? Are you are disciple? Or, are we just followers?