I read an article in the paper recently that got me thinking about labels—the ones we give ourselves and the ones we stick on other people. Mentally ill, physically challenged, LGBTQ, woman, minority, refugee, illegal immigrant, single, married, mother, father, childless, divorced, widowed, mourner, addict, victim, liberal, conservative, educated, poor, wealthy, sinner, unworthy, lost, other. We wear these labels like brightly colored Hello! My Name Is name tags. They become our identifiers.
The Danger of Labels
But these labels can divide. Back in college, I took a class about nationalism and multiculturalism. Throughout the semester, we discussed how individuals and societies use an “us versus them” mentality to establish identity, further agendas, and even wage wars. I learned that we often use labels as shields and weapons against each other rather than tools to unite and lift.
The adversary thrives on labels because he’s all about “us versus them.” It’s been that way from the beginning. He wants us to disagree with each other. He wants us to focus on our differences rather than rally around our similarities. He wants to tear us apart so he can tear us down.
The Savior taught, “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Nephi 11:29). Instead, the Savior encourages us to lay aside all other labels and claim the label of disciple.
Discipleship is Available to All
Anyone can be a disciple. The scriptures say, “[Jesus Christ] doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).
Jesus doesn’t care about our other labels. He sees them. He understands them. He helps us learn from them. He even offers to heal or carry them. But (And this is important!) He doesn’t define us by them. Instead, “The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Discipleship is a matter of heart. Anyone willing to give his or her heart can bear the name disciple.
Discipleship Requires Discipline
Here’s the thing about discipleship though. Discipleship requires discipline. It requires putting Christ first. It requires choosing to follow Him and His teachings. It requires keeping God’s commandments. It requires making commitments and keeping promises. Jesus said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:31, emphasis added).
“Discipline comes from discipulus, the Latin word for pupil, which also provided the source of the word disciple” (Merriam-Webster dictionary). Somewhere along the way, we’ve turned the idea of discipline into punishment. But really, discipline is just being willing to accept boundaries and corrections so we can improve. Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ means leaving behind all those other labels and defining ourselves as pupils or followers of Jesus.
Discipleship is hard work. It’s not enough to say we are disciples. We have to go out and be disciples. We have to serve each other. We have to bridge differences with love. We have to forgive. We have to stand up for truth. We have to defend freedom. We have to obey. We have to follow.
Discipleship and Identity
Discipleship is easier when we know who we are. Consider one verse in John’s account of the Last Supper in the New Testament. Just before Jesus washed the feet of His Apostles, the scriptures include this statement: “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself (John 13:3–4, emphasis added).
Did you catch that? Jesus knew who He was, where He came from, where He was going, and what He had been promised. That sure knowledge not only strengthened Him to humbly wash His Apostles’ feet but carried Him through His atoning sacrifice and ultimate triumph over sin and death.
Like Jesus, we are literal children of God. We came from the Father and will return to Him one day. As disciples, we have also been promised all the Father has. When we know these important truths, the choice becomes more clear. But we have to choose.
Will You Choose Discipleship?
Discipleship is hard. It requires everything. True disciples abandon other labels and take upon themselves the name of Christ “at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9). If you choose to be a disciple, you might face ridicule (because, let’s face it, not everyone understands or chooses discipleship). You might have to sacrifice family, friends, positions, or accolades. You will probably struggle because discipleship takes effort.
But if you choose discipleship, you will undoubtedly grow. You will learn about love. You will find strength to handle the challenges you face. You will learn to serve. You will know true joy. And most importantly, you will become like the Master you follow.
It’s up to you. Of all the labels out there, will you choose disciple?