What is Discipleship?
Discipleship is the process of following Jesus. The word disciple comes from the Greek word mathetes meaning “a learner or student who follow's a teacher's instruction.” Jesus is different in that he chose his own Twelve disciples when usually it is the student who seeks out the relationship with the teacher. Discipleship is important in the Gospel of Mark because the the second thing Jesus says in the gospel is “Follow me” (Mark 1:17). This involves “repentance” and “belief”, which Jesus had been preaching about (Mark 1:15).
People Who Encounter Jesus
There are two ways we can learn about discipleship in the Gospel of Mark. One of these are the people who decide to follow Jesus. This is especially true of the Twelve Disciples who notably left their nets and went out when Jesus sent them (Mark 1:18; 6:12–13). They were initially successful because they trusted in Jesus and believed in the work he was doing. Later on the disciples would struggle to understand. They became arrogant, selfish, and worldly. They were afraid and uncertain (6:52). They even rejected the necessity of Jesus's death and were chastised for it (8:31ff).
Interestingly, it is actually the minor characters in Mark who are found to be better disciples of Jesus. Many of these were not important in the world (fishermen, tax collectors, undesirables, sinners, blind men) yet they were faithful followers and understood things that even the Twelve did not. Formerly blind Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the road (Mark 10:32), the women were around while the men had fled (15:40–41), and many others.
With the exception of Joseph of Arimathea, most of the Jewish leaders (Pharisees, scribes, priests, Sadducees) rejected Jesus. They were the “clergy” of that time and should have been the first to accept Jesus Christ, the Son of God. They were instead hostile to him and wanted to maintain their control over the people instead of submit to the authority of God.
How to Follow Jesus (in Mark)
Jesus himself taught how to follow him in a number of places. First and foremost is his “cost of discipleship” statement:
If anyone desires to follow after me, they should deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. For whoever might wish to save their life will destroy it, but whoever loses their life for the sake of me and the good news will save it. For what benefit is it if a person gains the whole world and suffers the loss of their life? For what might a person give in exchange for their life? (Mark 8:34-37)
In following Jesus there are demands and expectations. We must:
- Seek the Lost (Mark 1:17) — what would a lack of evangelism, on our part, suggest?
- Deny Yourself (8:34–37) — not just about giving up possessions but also about sacrificing dreams and goals (Stein, 32).
- Give Up Wealth (10:23) — it is nearly impossible to enter the kingdom of God tied down with wealth and possessions. Spending must be redirected from self towards Christ.
- Face Persecutions (10:30) — we will face oppression or harassment as followers of Christ. Some will try to compromise to avoid persecution and please men. Our goal is to please God.
Jesus also encourages his disciples to understand the parables (Mark 4:13). We, likewise, should see to understand the parables because of their implications for following Christ and understanding him.
Fear must be rejected and belief should instead replace it (5:36). We are to set our mind on God (8:33) and not on the things of this world. Humility is necessary: to place ourselves last and be servants of others (9:35; 10:31).
While Jesus does not entirely explain the whole salvation process in Mark's account of the gospel, many of the above demonstrate the nature and character of our basic faith. Following Jesus is not simply about “do good not bad,” it involves transformation of our mind, heart, worldviews, and lifestyles. If our life does not say “Jesus is Lord” then perhaps we need to adjust who we are.