In Matthew 4:19, Jesus says to His would-be disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” This call to follow Him was also repeated elsewhere throughout the Gospels (Matt. 9:9, Mark 1:17; 2:14; Luke 5:27) and even reiterated toward the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry (John 21:19).
Modern readers are so familiar with Jesus’ calling of His disciples that the most startling aspect of this summons is missed: in the first-century Jewish world, disciples chose their master. However, Jesus took the initiative of selecting who would follow Him (John 15:16).
This original call was a general invitation for His disciples to walk with Him and adopt His way of life that later developed into imitation and application of His unique teachings. Nevertheless, from the very beginning, the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ call was well-defined: to fish for people. In other words, His disciples were called to make disciples.
In John 8:31, Jesus says to those who already believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you really are my disciples.” This requirement to continually obey Jesus’ teachings foreshadows the Great Commission’s mandate that future disciples be taught to observe everything that Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:20).
Though belief is a necessary step in being a disciple, this passage makes clear that being a true Christian — someone who follows Jesus — requires more than intellectual assent or belief. A disciple of Jesus must persevere in obedience. A disciple will remain faithful to the words that Jesus has given and seek to practice what Jesus preached.
Within the church today, all who would shape modern disciples of Jesus must remember and employ the two fundamental aspects of Jesus’ initial call. First, discipleship is marked by following Jesus — observing His life closely, walking with Him, doing the things He did, and obeying the things He said. Second, the purpose of this discipleship is to reach others with the gospel and make more disciples. From Jesus’ first call, a perpetual process was put in place.
As individual believers and collectively as a church, we have the responsibility to continue this kingdom-building process of introducing people to Jesus and equipping them to follow Him. According to Jesus’ own words, as His disciples, we can do no less, but we can also take encouragement from the knowledge that Jesus is the One who will build His church — and He will use you and me to do so.