Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament 
DISCIPLESHIP. —In the Gospels no word expressive of ‘discipleship’ occurs, although they are full of the living reality which it expresses. This is not surprising, for it is never God’s way to teach abstract truth, but truth embodied in actual life. From the concrete and the living facts it is left to us, by the exercise of our natural faculties, to abstract the generalization or induction which presents the idea in its purity. Christ always followed the Divine method; and, accordingly, while He made disciples, and trained them in discipleship, He hardly made any attempt to define or describe what this involves; nor did He give much instruction which represented with any directness the ideal that He had in view. From these negative facts themselves the primary truth on this subject may be learnt: Discipleship, in the Christian sense, is essentially a matter for living realization rather than for psychological analysis or formal compliance.
If for His followers later the making of disciples began with preaching the gospel, for the Lord Himself it commonly began with the authoritative appeal, ‘Follow me.’ There were, of course, times when this summons called a man literally to arise and go with Jesus to some new place and duty; as when the first among the Twelve ‘left the nets and followed him’ ( Mark 1:18; Mark 1:20). But the same summons was still employed by the Lord after His resurrection, when it could have no such literal signification ( John 21:19). And there is a group of instances ( Matthew 10:38; Matthew 16:24, John 12:26) in which ‘bearing the cross’ and ‘disowning oneself’ are conjoined with the call to follow Him, where it is clear that ‘following’ has wholly a spiritual sense. The fact that we speak of ‘following an example’ too often leads to the misinterpretation of this pregnant call to discipleship which was so characteristic of the Lord Jesus. It is no injunction to copy Him, though, of course, the imitation of Christ must enter into the aim of every disciple. That, however, belongs to a rather later stage of discipleship, while the summons to ‘follow’ is its initiation. The choice of this word rests upon the ancient metaphor of a ‘way of life’ which Christ adopted for Himself when He affirmed ‘I am the Way,’ and which underlay and coloured not a little of His language. So the call, ‘Follow me,’ is an appeal to trust His guidance, and venture oneself along the track that He explores into the unknown regions of life, with the need of ‘bearing the cross’ and ‘losing life to find it.’ ‘Come on! Fear not to go through the valley of the shadow of death with me in the quest of life. “He that is near me is near the fire; he that is far from me is far from the kingdom.” ’ Thus at the threshold of discipleship lies the requirement which He always made of those to whom He rendered service,—the requirement of courageous trust or ‘faith.’ And for such as are ready to obey this first appeal to ‘follow’ He opens ‘a new and living way through the veil’ which hides so much of the realms of life from our eyes. And this way is ‘human to the red-ripe of the heart,’ and fit for human feet to travel, for the way is ‘His flesh,’ His mortal life, His human nature—what for us men and for our salvation He came down to make His own.
There are some few sayings in which the Lord delineates the features of discipleship under one or another of its aspects. E.g . ‘A disciple is not above his master … it is enough for the disciple that he be as his master.… If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household?’ ( Matthew 10:24 f.). And in close connexion with this stands the reiterated teaching, ‘Whosoever he be of you that renounceth not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple’ ( Luke 14:25-33). Elsewhere He emphasizes not the outward lot, but the inner character of discipleship: e.g. ‘Come unto me all ye that labour.… Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls’ ( Matthew 11:28 f.). The same gentleness and lowliness which are ever ready to render loving service are again taught as characteristics of discipleship in the action of washing the disciples’ feet on the last evening, when, having sat down again, He said, ‘Perceive ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Teacher and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that ye also should do as I have done to you’ ( John 13:12 ff., cf. also Luke 22:24-26, Mark 9:33-37, Matthew 23:10-12). What the disciple must learn is not mainly ‘teaching’; he must ‘learn Christ.’ ‘Truth is in Jesus,’—‘the Truth and the Life,’—and the disciple must glow ‘in the knowledge and love of God and of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.’ So love is what must be learnt above all else, and affords the test of true discipleship. ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another’ ( John 13:35). And the Lord traces diseipleship down to its roots when He declares, ‘No man can come to me except the Father which sent me draw him.… It is written … They shall all be taught of God. Every one that hath heard from the Father, and hath learned, cometh unto me’ ( John 6:44 f.).
A large proportion of the Lord’s teaching bears, of course, upon the nature of discipleship and the character of the disciple, even when it is not cast in the form of dealing with this directly. E.g . the Beatitudes ( Matthew 5:3 ff.) are, under one aspect, all so many facets of discipleship; metaphors like ‘the salt of the earth,’ the ‘light of the world’ ( Matthew 5:13-14), ‘a little flock’ ( Luke 12:32), ‘the branches of the vine’ ( John 15:5), ‘every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted’ ( Matthew 15:13), and many another, including those developed into parables,—all sketch some features of discipleship, as do such sayings as that one must be reborn, and much of the teaching concerning the Kingdom.
The final charge which the Lord laid upon the disciples whom He had trained and tested Himself was, ‘Going forth, make’ ye disciples of all the nations’ (μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, Matthew 28:19). Discipleship for all is thus set forth as His own ultimate aim. In reading the words one must carefully guard against the lamentable imperfection of rendering in the Authorized Version, and borrowed thence in some of the language of the Book of Common Prayer; also against the faulty punctuation of the sentence which is found alike in the Authorized Version and the Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885. ‘Teaching’ is no translation of μαθητεύσατε, which means far more; while a colon ought to replace the comma after ‘nations,’ and only commas, or at the most semicolons, should separate the succeeding clauses. Without attention to this, the great importance of this passage must be missed. Rightly read, it gives the Lord’s own interpretation of how discipleship is constituted. The whole commission is, ‘Make disciples of all’; and three steps are then indicated in so doing, which answer to three essential factors in discipleship—(1) Baptizing into the Name; (2) teaching to observe all commands; (3) the constant spiritual presence of Christ. There is no complete discipleship without these three elements. The first is the portal of discipleship, the admission to a new destiny; at once the begetting of a new life on the part of God, and the profession of a new hope and purpose on the part of those whom He claims as His children. The second is the training needed to make the promise good; for only in the course of life’s discipline can character be formed or resolutions realized,—it is ‘in our endurance that we must win our souls.’ The third is the pledge that none shall ever be left to face the stress of life’s probation alone, but that for every disciple union with Christ is a support which may be securely trusted, the Divine Incarnation working itself out for ever till the goal shall be reached, when ‘God shall be all, in all’ ( 1 Corinthians 15:28). The first disciples understood the charge which had been given them, and acted on the lines laid down from the earliest day on which they began to ‘make disciples’ for their Lord. So when, on the day of Pentecost, those who had been touched by Peter’s preaching put the inquiry, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ the answer of the Apostle was explicit: ‘Repent ye … be baptized … ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ ( Acts 2:37-38). Here are the same three elements of discipleship; for ‘repentance, (μετάνοια) is the form which ‘observing all things commanded’ necessarily takes to start with in those who are passing from walking in their own ways to following the way of Christ; while the Holy Spirit is, of course, the Spirit of Christ present permanently with those whom He unites to Himself. See also preceding article.
Literature.—Seeley, Ecce Homo , ch. vii.; Latham, Pastor Pastorum; Expositor , iv. iv.,  286 ff.
E. P. Boys-Smith.
Webster's Dictionary 
(n.) The state of being a disciple or follower in doctrines and precepts.