The Bible reminds us that the early followers of Jesus Christ were first called Christians as the testimony and witness of the faith came to the city of Antioch (Acts 11:25). Though it initially was likely a term of derision, the followers of Christ soon embraced the designation Christian because it openly and unashamedly identified them with Christ. But before the title of Christian was widely accepted, what were the early followers of Christ called? They were simply called “disciples.” Disciple was the preferred reference for believers. But what is a disciple?
In short, a disciple is a student. A disciple is one who disciplines himself in the teachings and practices of another. The word disciple, like discipline, comes from the Latin word discipulus, meaning “pupil” or “learner.” Consequently, to learn is to discipline oneself. For example, if one is to advance in the arts or the sciences or athletics, one has to discipline himself and to learn and follow the principles and fundamentals of the best teachers in that area of study. So it was and is with the disciples of Christ. A disciple follows Jesus.
When Jesus called His first disciples, He spoke the simple words, “Follow me” (Mark 1:17; 2:14; John 1:43). A disciple is a follower, one who trusts and believes in a teacher and follows that teacher’s words and example. Therefore, to be a disciple is to be in a relationship. It is having an intimate, instructive, and imitative relationship with the teacher. Consequently, being a disciple of Jesus Christ is being in relationship with Jesus—it is seeking to be like Jesus. In other words, we follow Christ to be like Christ (1 Cor. 11:1) because as His disciples, we belong to Christ. The disciple of Jesus has certain traits that are commensurate with a relationship with Jesus. What are the qualities of a disciple of Christ? What are the traits of those who follow and are called disciples of Christ?