Improving Our Discipleship

This insightful article emphasizes active discipleship in Christianity, contrasting 'fans' who merely admire Christ, with 'disciples' who practice His teachings. The author calls for transformation, encouraging readers to use their talents for service, ultimately moving from admiration to action and becoming true disciples of Christ.

Executive Summary

Definition of Discipleship. True discipleship is more than passive belief or admiration for Jesus Christ. A disciple of Christ should be active in practicing the teachings of Jesus in their daily life. This is contrasted with being a ‘fan’ of Christ – someone who admires and worships Jesus but does not necessarily apply His teachings in their life.

Faith and Faithfulness. True faith in Christ requires faithfulness. That is, it requires actively living out the principles taught by Jesus, and not merely professing belief in them.

Becoming a Disciple. To become a disciple, one must be a learner, willing to be transformed and live according to Christ’s teachings. It’s more than joining a church, but a lifelong commitment to learning and improving. It’s compared to an apprenticeship where you live, learn, and work under a master carpenter, aiming to one day work as they do.

Reactors and Actors. There are two types of people: reactors (extrinsically motivated) and actors (intrinsically motivated). To be a good disciple, one needs to be both a reactor and an actor, reacting to what Jesus asks us to do, and proactively applying His teachings.

Path of Discipleship. Discipleship is a journey, and it’s important to evaluate where one is on this path. Feelings of fear, anger, or hatred may indicate room for growth. The presence of more faith and love signifies progress.

Call to Action. Nathan encourages readers to use their individual talents to serve God and others, suggesting they start doing things that show an attempt to follow Jesus without being asked. The ultimate goal is to stop being mere fans and become true disciples by listening to Jesus and doing what he would do.

Are You a Fan or Disciple of Christ?

Scholars believe one of the oldest books in the New Testament — if not the oldest — is the epistle of James. It the Protestant world, it is widely believed to be written by James the Just (a.k.a. James the Less), the half-brother of Jesus, the oldest son of Mary and Joseph. In the Catholic world, James (as well as the other brothers and sisters of Jesus) were the children of Joseph from a previous marriage. Tradition holds that Joseph lost his first wife and was married to Mary when he was much older, and that Mary and Joseph remained celibate for their entire marriage. But we’re not sure whether or not that bit was made up to align with certain Catholic doctrines.

Our current scriptures don’t record much about the Savior’s family; someday it will be great to hear the rest of their story. During the ministry of Christ, his family kind of faded into the background. But after the Lord was resurrected, he appeared to his half-brother James, and James took a more prominent role in the new church. Later, James was ordained an Apostle and was asked by Peter to supervise the church in Jerusalem.

In the Epistle of James, James provided lots of practical advice on how to become disciples of Christ. He also knew how to turn a phrase. In chapter 1, verse 22, he tells us to “lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness.” That’s a pretty high-falutin’ phrase for us modern edjucated people.

But what I want to focus on is what he wrote in the next verse, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). As a matter of fact, this is the underlying message of his entire epistle: that the best way to express our faith in Christ is to faithfully live the gospel principles he taught. True faith, you see, always requires faithfulness.

If we believe in Christ, and love him, and worship him, and adore him — but don’t actually do the things he asked us to do — then we are merely fans of Christ.

If you were a big fan of some famous athletes, on the walls of at least one room in your house you’d probable find their pictures or perhaps some memorabilia proudly displayed. You’d watch their games and talk to your friends about them. You’d even scrimp and save to go to one of their games to see them live. But you’re probably not going to meet them one-on-one. And you’re probably not going to put in the time to become a great athlete like they are.

Can you see how we kind of do this in the church? For fans of Christ, religion is more of a hobby — something we do on Sundays or when we’re not working or playing.

Here is the question I pose now: are you a fan of Christ, or a disciple of Christ? I think showing up to church meetings on a cold winter’s morning is a good indicator that we’re heading in the right direction, but let’s look a little closer at what it means to be a disciple.

The word disciple comes from the Latin word discipulus, which means pupil or learner. But if you go back to the first Century AD, and look at the Hebrew word for disciple, it is talmid (tal-MEED.) A talmid is a committed, life-long student — someone who is constantly learning and improving. It is far more than joining a church — that is simply making a decision, not making a disciple.

For thousands of years, if you wanted to become a carpenter, then you were apprenticed to a master carpenter — the best one you could find. It wasn’t just show and tell, where from 9 to 5 he would show you what he does and then tell you how to do it. It was much more than that.

You would leave your family at a young age and move into his home. He would give you shelter and food. In return, you agreed to let him be your master and do what he tells you to do. During your apprenticeship, which often takes years, he’s teaching you, helping you, transforming you, and at times, even discipiling or disciplining you. Why? Because he hopes that someday you will be able to do the job as he has done it. Because he cares about his clients and wants them to be happy.

Now what greater challenge and greater opportunity is there in life, then to be apprenticed to the master carpenter of the universe? The person who created the heavens and the earth and everything in it? Whose sole objective is to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). It is an amazing opportunity!

But we must be willing to be transformed. We must be willing to sacrifice everything we have, including our own lives, if necessary. We must be willing to be his disciple.

But if we truly love Christ, and believe what he has said, then why would we not want to follow him? Why would we not want to sacrifice pride in exchange for humility? Why would we not want to forfeit power for meekness? Why would we not give up earthly increase in exchange for eternal increase? Why?

I don’t know about you, but for me I think the reason I don’t live up to my divine potential is that I get so caught up in the things of this world that I forget that I am a celestial being having a telestial experience. I forget that as a son of God, and holder of his holy priesthood, I can accomplish anything that he wants done. And what does he want? He wants us to return to live with him.

Now my background lies in the world of personality psychology. So I am qualified to say that there are only two types of people in the world — those who like Star Wars, and those who don’t. Actually, there are two additional types of people — those who act and those who react.

Reactors are those who are extrinsically motivated — which means they wait for some external stimulus and then do something. They need to be told to do something before they actually do it — sort of like my children.

Actors, on the other hand, are intrinsically motivated — they create their own stimulus to go out and do something without waiting for someone to tell them to do it. They motivate themselves and take responsibility for their own actions.

Of course, each of us tend to be both throughout our lives — but being an actor or a reactor is almost always a choice we make on our end. Should we act, or should we react? Should we play offense, or should we play defense?

To be a good disciple we need to do both. We need to react to what our Master asks us to do. We find those directions from studying scriptures, watching conference, attending church meetings, praying, and listening to the still, small voice.

After we have established a habit of obedience, then the master will give us more freedom and more opportunities to apply his teachings.

It is at this point that we become actors, taking the skills we have learned and applying them in positive ways — ways that are always built on the foundations we have acquired and always follow the blueprints the Master Builder provided.

To the Nephites, Jesus said, “ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do” (3 Nephi 27:21).

Later, he said this to the Prophet Joseph Smith:

“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.”

So as disciples what should we do? Where should we start? Each of us have been blessed with talents, gifts, skills, and abilities that will help us be of service in building up the kingdom of God. We can read about some of these by studying our patriarchal and father’s blessings. Or by listening to our mothers and spouses. But let’s take those abilities and do something that shows we’re trying to follow the Savior — without waiting to be told to do it.

For example, if you love to teach, but are not presently a teacher, start working on future lessons for future classes. If you love to lead, but are not presently a leader, then lead out in your family by adopting more Christ-like attitudes and behaviors. If you love to read, read aloud to others. If you love to watch movies, be a friend to someone without friends who also likes to watch movies. Start with your talents and skills — it is much easier. But make sure you use them to do something that creates rather than destroys or wastes, and you will find peace and true joy.

Now if you want to know where you are on the path of discipleship or apprenticeship, then let me ask you these questions. Are you feeling fear? Are you feeling anger? Are you feeling hatred? If so, then you still have room for improvement. On the other hand, we know we are doing better if our hearts are being filled with more and more faith and more and more love. In fact, Jesus himself said:

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

My prayer for us all is that we allow the Savior to tutor us more as we exercise our faith in him by being more faithful. And that means we need to stop being mere fans of Christ. Instead, we should become true disciples by listening for his voice and doing what he would do if he were here. As the Savior himself said to his disciples:

“If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed”

I testify that the Lord is the greatest master we could ever have. He is the most loving, the most caring, the most giving, the most compassionate, the most wonderful leader ever. How could we not choose to become his disciples? 

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