What is a disciple? When I was younger I used to watch martial arts movies. In these movies there would be a master and he would always have one or more disciples. These disciples chose to learn kung fu from this master and they would follow his every move and hang on every word that he said. They ate, drank, and lived near their master and wherever he would go they would go. They became totally identified not only with his teaching but also with him as a person. They identified with him as a person so much that if you dishonored the teacher then you dishonored the disciple. If the teacher was about to go into battle with someone then the students would fight with him.
In the same way the Christian use of the word disciple means someone who is a learner and imitator of Jesus. It is a word that is used in the New Testament for a student of Jesus. Some of Jesus followers stayed on the perimeter. They were the ones who showed up at different incidents of Jesus’ teaching and to receive healing from him. But there were others, most notably the twelve who for the space of three years traveled with Jesus learning everything they could from him. This is the type of disciple similar to the ones that I observed in watching martial arts movies on Saturday mornings.
How can we be the type of disciple that eats, sleeps, and goes wherever Jesus goes? How can we imitate Jesus if he is not here in physical form? A follower of Jesus in the 21st century can still be the type of disciple that fully imitates Jesus because he has two things: Jesus’ words and Jesus’ invisible presence, the Holy Spirit. The early church left a collection of Jesus’ sayings and stories about him in the four gospels of the Bible. These stories and sayings are the primary way we can learn about Jesus. The way he lived and wanted his disciples to live is spelled out in his teachings. So we can definitely get an idea of what he wanted us to do. His invisible presence is also here to help us do what he wanted us to do and to guide us when our choices are confusing or uncertain. We can learn to be disciples when we study his words; become in tune with his presence through prayer and meditation; and translate what we’ve learned into action.