Recently I was asked this question: “What does it mean to become a true disciple?”
I had two things immediately come to my mind.
First, I thought… If there are “true disciples,” then I wonder what a “fake disciple” looks like… and I hoped that I didn’t resemble one.
I had sort of a “Lord… is it I” moment.
The second thought I had was about an experience I had while playing baseball in college.
As you get into college baseball, the level of pitching gets exponentially better than in high school. Hitting a 95 mile an hour fastball, or a nasty swooping curveball becomes much much harder. You don’t have time to think. You’ve got to train your body to hit that ball through muscle memory.
So… most hitters who want to improve will spend hours in the batting cage doing the boring, laborious, and monotonous task of hitting balls off the tee. It’s like a musician practicing their scales. And I’m sure you can find parallels in whatever it is you like to do. 🙂
It’s not always fun, but taking good quality swings off the tee in the batting cage will train your body so that when you’re in the game, you’ll end up hitting the ball much better.
Becoming a great hitter takes discipline. There is no shortcut. And I wanted to be a great hitter.
So when practice was over, myself and a few others used to take our bats and walk down to the batting cage and hit hundreds of balls off the tee.
As I did this, I began to notice an interesting pattern.
On the days that the coaches were still lingering around at the field after practice, a few of the other players on the team would come down and start hitting off the tee as well.
But the minute the coaches left the field and drove away, those players packed up and left as well.
Over time I realized that these players weren’t truly trying to get better. They were just trying to give the appearance of getting better. It was all a show.
It was an attempt to fake the coaches into thinking they were working really hard at becoming a disciple of the game of baseball.
They wanted to be on the team, but they didn’t want to put in the work.
And ultimately, it ended up hurting the coaches, the team and those players as individuals as the season evolved.
I’ve never been able to get that observation out of my mind.
From a gospel perspective, the lesson I learned from that situation… was solidified in my mind…. when I read about the Savior’s entry into Jerusalem.
In the book of Mark, Jesus fulfills prophecy by riding into Jerusalem on the back of a colt. He heads over to the temple, has a look around, and then heads back to Bethany, a small village on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives, just outside of Jerusalem. What he saw in Jerusalem, specifically at the temple must have caused him a bit of righteous frustration. So he left, with the twelve, back to Bethany to get some sleep.
When they woke up the next morning, they prepared to return to Jerusalem. The scripture says that Jesus is starting to get hungry as he makes his way out of Bethany, when he sees a fig tree and is excited to have a fig or two.
It was springtime, and this tree was full of leaves, so the Savior could only assume it would be full of fruit. Leaves on a fig tree are almost always a sure indication that the tree has fruit.
But to his disappointment, a hungry Jesus walks up to the tree and finds that it has no fruit, only leaves. It’s outward appearance boasted of fruit, but inwardly, it was barren.
Jesus’s frustrations from the previous day must have returned to him… so He cursed the tree and then made His way back into the city.
When he arrived in Jerusalem again he found some of the same attributes of that fig tree in the people who had charge over the temple.
He found that they had “made broad their phylacteries” (little leather box on their forehead with Hebrew texts to remind them to keep the law) and enlarged the borders of their garments.
Both of those things, and many others, had become outward status symbols for how righteous they were.
Sort of like leaves on a fig tree.
But the Savior told them that “all their works… they do… to be seen of men.”
In a brutally honest assessment, he told them that “Ye are like whited sepulchers which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within are full of dead men’s bones.”
When Christ and the twelve left the city again, they passed by that fig tree, and the disciples marveled at how fast the fig tree had withered away.
Some of the players on my college baseball team were like this fig tree. Their leaves were out… but the fruit never came. They withered away and it negatively affected their career as baseball players.
Throughout my life, I’m sure I’ve been guilty of having too many leaves… and not enough fruit. I know there is always room to get better. There may have been times in each of your lives where you might have felt the same. Some of us have even felt ourselves begin to spiritually wither away.
But fortunately… we’re not fig trees… and we are able to act instead of being acted upon. We can choose to become true disciples.
And this is why this question is so important to me:
“What does it mean to become a true disciple… and specifically a true disciple of the Savior?”
For me, it simply boils down to this. A fake disciple does what they do in order to be seen and heard of men and women for their own image and own glory.
A true disciple commits their life to God and to blessing his children. They give their whole soul and hold nothing back.
It becomes part of who they are.
As Alma suggests, they have experienced a mighty change in their hearts. They have received His image in their countenance.
They spend their lives shining a light on others.
When they put their hand to the plow, they don’t look back.
A true disciple patterns their life after the Savior, and in every way tries to emulate Him.
Not because they have to… but because they want to.
The word “disciple” comes from two Latin words which means “to learn” or “learner.”
And within that word “disciple” is also another important word.
A true disciple of Christ dedicates their life to learning of Him and from Him. But the learning is just one part.
The harder part is actually applying what we’ve learned and having the discipline to do the hard things associated with discipleship consistently for the rest of our lives.
A true disciple of Christ doesn’t try to get Christ and His teachings to align with his or her desired lifestyle.
Instead, a true disciple aligns his or her lifestyle with Christ and his teachings.
A true disciple doesn’t need to put up a front because they know that the measure of their discipleship is based on what they do when no one else is watching.
That movie, that song, that internet ad, that opportunity to serve…
What do we do when the coaches have left the field and it’s just you in that batting cage… alone?
A true disciple doesn’t let anything get in the way of their commitment to the Master.
When they stumble and fall, they don’t stay down. They get right back up and on the covenant path because it’s the most important thing in the world to them.
That is true discipleship. It’s not a single act. It’s a way of life.
If the Savior ever comes to me looking for fruit, I hope to never let him down. I always want to be ready for him.
President Monson used to say… “I always want the Lord to know that if He needs an errand run, I want him to know that Tom Monson will run that errand for Him.”
I also want the Lord to know that I will run that errand for him.
My hope is that each of us will commit our lives to becoming true disciples of the Savior, until our dying days, and that each of us will find happiness in doing so…