10 Key Bible Verses on Discipleship
This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.
All commentary sections adapted from the ESV Study Bible.
1. John 8:31–38
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” Read More
Their “belief” is shown to be false in the course of the story (see John 8:33–47). To abide in Jesus’ word means to continue believing what Jesus has said and walking in obedience to him (1 John 2:6, 28; 3:6). This verse shows that continuing to trust Jesus and obey him is one test of who are truly my disciples.
This verse is frequently quoted out of context, but the connection with John 8:31 shows that Jesus is only talking about one way to know the truth, and that is by continuing to believe and obey his word. set you free. From the guilt and enslaving power of sinful patterns of conduct. A slave to sin means unable to escape from sinful patterns of conduct without the help of Jesus to set a person free (see John 8:36).
2. Matthew 28:16–20
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Read More
In his risen state, Jesus exercises absolute authority throughout heaven and earth, which shows his deity. His authority has been given by the Father, which indicates that he remains subject to the Father.
The imperative (“make disciples”, that is, call individuals to commit to Jesus as Master and Lord) explains the central focus of the Great Commission, while the Greek participles (translated “go,” “baptizing,” and “teaching” [Matt. 28:20]) describe aspects of the process. all nations. Jesus’ ministry in Israel was to be the beginning point of what would later be a proclamation of the gospel to all the peoples of the earth, including not only Jews but also Gentiles. The name (singular, not plural) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an early indication of the Trinitarian Godhead and an overt proclamation of Jesus’ deity.
Teaching is a means by which disciples of Jesus are continually transformed in order to become more like Christ (cf. Matt. 10:24–25; Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). observe. Obey. I am with you always. Jesus concludes the commission, and Matthew his Gospel, with the crucial element of discipleship: the presence of the Master, who is “God with us” (cf. Matt. 1:23).
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3. 2 Timothy 2:1–2
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Read More
As in 2 Timothy 1:6–14, Timothy’s call to “share in suffering” (2 Tim. 2:3) is paralleled by Paul’s own suffering (2 Tim. 2:9), and the endurance to which Timothy is called (2 Tim 2:1) is mirrored by Paul’s endurance (2 Tim. 2:10). Furthermore, both sections open with a call to stay strong in Christ (2 Tim. 1:6–7; 2:1–2), and the exhortations are each time rooted in the saving work of Christ (2 Tim. 1:9–10; 2:8–10).
Throughout this letter, Paul emphasizes the message Timothy has received from him (see 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:8). As Paul faces death, he encourages Timothy to pass the gospel on to faithful men who will in turn teach others, so that the gospel is preserved for coming generations.
4. Luke 9:23–24
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. Read More
“Come after me” means to become a disciple (Luke 14:27) and requires that a disciple: (1) deny himself (not simply denying certain things but denying personal control of one’s life); (2) take up his cross (Luke 14:27; notes on Matt. 10:38 and Mark 8:34; make a commitment that will lead to rejection and possibly even death); and (3) follow me (following the example and teachings of Jesus). In Jesus’ day, “follow me” also meant joining the company of his disciples who traveled in ministry with Jesus around Palestine.
5. John 13:34–35
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Read More
Love must be the distinguishing mark of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus’ “new command” takes its point of departure from the Mosaic commands to love the Lord with all one’s powers and to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Lev. 19:18; cf. Deut. 6:5; Mark 12:28–33), but Jesus’ own love and teaching deepen and transform these commands. Jesus even taught love for one’s enemies (Matt. 5:43–48). The command to love one’s neighbor was not new; the newness was found in loving one another as Jesus had loved his disciples (cf. John 13:1; 15:13). In light of Jesus’ subsequent death, just as implies a love that is even willing to lay down one’s life for another (John 15:13).
6. Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Read More
Jesus corrected the disciples’ questions (Acts 1:6) with a commission: “this time” (Acts 1:6) would be for them a time of witnessing for the gospel, and the scope of their witness was not to be just Israel but the world. Verse 8 is the thematic statement for all of Acts. It begins with the Spirit’s power that stands behind and drives the witness to Jesus. Then it provides a rough outline of the book: Jerusalem (Acts 1–7), Judea and Samaria (Acts 8–12), and the end of the earth (Acts 13–28). Interpreters differ over whether the Holy Spirit was at work in the lives of ordinary believers prior to Pentecost in a lesser way or not at all, except for empowering for special tasks. On either view, something new that needed to be waited for was here. This powerful new work of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost brought several beneficial results: more effectiveness in witness and ministry (Acts 1:8), effective proclamation of the gospel (cf. Matt. 28:19), power for victory over sin (Acts 2:42–46; Rom. 6:11–14; 8:13–14; Gal. 2:20; Phil. 3:10), power for victory over Satan and demonic forces (Acts 2:42–46; 16:16–18; 2 Cor. 10:3–4; Eph. 6:10–18; 1 John 4:4), and a wide distribution of gifts for ministry (Acts 2:16–18; 1 Cor. 12:7, 11; 1 Pet. 4:10; cf. Num. 11:17, 24–29). The disciples likely understood “power” in this context to include both the power to preach the gospel effectively and also the power (through the Holy Spirit) to work miracles confirming the message. The same word (Gk. dynamis) is used at least seven other times in Acts to refer to power to work miracles in connection with gospel proclamation (see Acts 2:22; 3:12; 4:7; 6:8; 8:10; 10:38; 19:11).
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7. Romans 10:14–17
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Read More
With a series of rhetorical questions, Paul considers the chain of events necessary for a person to be saved. Romans 10:14 is linked to Romans 10:13 with the word call. The logic of these verses is clear: (1) People will call on Jesus to save them only if they believe he can do so; (2) belief in Christ cannot exist without knowledge about him; (3) one hears about Christ only when someone proclaims the saving message; and (4) the message about Christ will not be proclaimed unless someone is sent by God to do so. That is why Paul was so urgent about spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth, for he believed that the only way to be saved was to hear and believe in the gospel (see note on Romans 1:19–20). (Paul is not talking here about Old Testament believers who looked forward to Christ, such as Abraham and David in Romans 4, nor is he talking about infants who die in infancy; see note on 2 Sam. 12:23). Since salvation comes only from hearing the gospel, the feet of those who bring the message about Christ are beautiful (Isa. 52:7), probably because the feet carry the messengers to their destinations.
Hearing the gospel is necessary for salvation, but hearing is not enough: people must also respond with personal trust. Isaiah (Isa. 53:1) prophesies that not all will believe. In the context of Romans 9–11, Paul is thinking especially of the Jews who did not believe.
In Romans 10:17, Paul now sums up the argument thus far. One can come to faith only through hearing the gospel, and the specific message that must be heard is the word of Christ, that is, the good news about Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Savior.
8. John 15:16–17
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. Read More
You did not choose me does not negate the disciples’ willing decision to follow Jesus when he called them. Jesus is emphasizing that the ultimate factor in determining who would follow him was Jesus’ own choice. The Greek eklegomai has the sense of “to choose or pick out from a group,” and it clearly has that sense also in John 15:19. That you should go and bear fruit implies that the purpose of Christ’s choosing people is not merely that their sins be forgiven and they have eternal life but also that their lives be fruitful and productive in fulfilling God’s purposes. For key passages on the doctrine of election, see Romans 9 and Ephesians 1.
9. Colossians 1:28–29
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. Read More
It was not enough for Paul to see people make a profession of faith in Christ, as important as this is. Teleios could be translated as “perfect,” but full perfection will be attained only when Christ returns and believers are fully transformed. Until that time, the maturity Christians are to seek stands in contrast with the immaturity of infancy (cf. Eph. 4:14). Paul ministers so that every person will be complete in Christ.
10. Hebrews 3:12–14
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. Read More
Drawing on several key words in Psalm 95, Hebrews warns against allowing the unbelief of a hardened, sinful heart to cause one to fall away (Gk. apostēnai, “turn away from, forsake, apostatize from”; cf. Luke 8:13; 1 Tim. 4:1). His counter to this danger is both to encourage personal commitment (take care) and to call on the church to walk together in mutual encouragement (exhort one another). as long as it is called “today.” From the perspective of God’s saving plans for world history, the church lives in a special moment in which the Lord has come, spoken, and gone, and believers await his return—faith is called for in this hour, and mutual exhortation sustains and strengthens faith.
The evidence of the Christian truly partaking of Christ’s salvation involves endurance to the end. The condition (if indeed) has been understood in various ways. Some have argued that the condition (“if”) indicates that true Christians can lose their salvation. Scripture is clear, however, that true believers cannot lose their salvation, as evidenced, e.g., by John 10:27–29 (“no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand”), Eph. 1:4 (“he chose us in him before the foundation of the world”), and many other Scripture passages (e.g., John 6:39–40; Rom. 8:35, 38–39; Phil. 1:6; 1 Pet. 1:3–5). Hebrews 3:14 should be understood in connection with Hebrews 3:13, as is indicated by the linking word “for” (Gk. gar). That is, v. 14 is linked to the exhortation not to become hardened (in unbelief and sin). Thus the logic of the argument is that those who are hardened or who become hardened (Heb. 3:13) give outward evidence that they are not (and never have been) genuine believers who “share in Christ,” because genuine believers do not become hardened; instead they persevere—that is, they hold on to their original confidence firm to the end. Of course, Scripture also encourages believers to pray for and seek to bring back any who have fallen away (James 5:20; 1 John 5:16), in the hope that they will turn back. Still, this passage should be viewed as a sober warning—intended as a means that God uses to keep Christians resolved in faith and obedient until the end. The ongoing experience of perseverance results in “confidence” and assurance that one does in fact “share in Christ.” This verse then provides a grave warning to everyone who claims to be saved—that is, to examine oneself carefully to be sure that one is in fact a genuine believer, because if there is no evidence of perseverance in faith and obedience, then there is real reason to doubt that such a person has ever been saved.
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