Good question. This term has been embraced in the past decade or so by many churches and groups who use it in so many ways that its real meaning has become somewhat diluted. So let’s look at what the root word “disciple” actually means:
Wiktionary.org says: disciple – A person who learns from another, especially one who then teaches others; An active follower or adherent of someone, or some philosophy etc.
This unadorned definition reflects closely what Jesus laid down as the requirement for his disciples in Luke 9: 23: “…If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Let’s take a closer look at what Jesus is saying.
1) It’s a person’s desire. Some translations say, ‘if any wishes to come after me…” Desire expresses my heart, my feelings, what I truly long for.
2) In conjunction with my desire is this: it’s a choice. More specifically, it’s a conditional choice, since the evidence of genuine discipleship requires more than just my desire. There must be a commitment. I must engage my will and decide I will be a disciple.
3) Once the will is engaged, true discipleship demands action. The first is to “come after” or follow. You can’t do that standing in place. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” If you have the genuine desire, then step out in faith and God will establish your path.
4) But the action of following requires self-denial, which is only genuine self-denial when accompanied by the correct attitude. That doesn’t mean you become a doormat. In fact, our example is Jesus himself in Philippians 2: 2-5: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,”
Notice; it doesn’t say to ignore yourself or pretend you don’t have preferences. But our attitude is to be humble, our actions free of contention, self-exaltation, and self-centeredness. Don’t ONLY think of yourself, consider the desires of others. That’s the sacrificial attitude of Jesus. Mark 10:45 says: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
So deny yourself. Give your life away. That means sacrificially, humbly, seek the interest of others by putting their desires ahead of your own. That’s the action of a disciple. And this is an action that must be done daily. It’s the daily act of crucifying my own selfish desires to sacrificially serve others. That’s the cross we are called to take up. Are you willing to do that? Learning that and teaching it to others is genuine discipleship.
Sexual sinners in particular struggle strongly with pride and self-centeredness. I’m not saying others don’t. But this is a core issue with ALL sexual sinners. We seek to bring men to the place of recognizing these root issues in their life and we pray they will genuinely repent and begin to walk with Jesus. “If we walk by the Spirit, we will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). Implicitly we also know that if we DO NOT walk by the Spirit, WE WILL fulfill the desires of the flesh. We pray God will grip men’s hearts with the truth of the gospel, that they might be set free from the power of sexual sin in their lives, and come to know the joy of following Jesus as true disciples.