PART ONE: Is there a difference between believers and disciples?
Firstly, we need to know what a disciple is. The Greek word matethes comes from the root verb manthano, meaning “to learn”. The English word disciple is derived from the Latin discipulus, which carries the same meaning of “pupil, learner or follower”. From this, we see that a disciple is one who follows another with the purpose to learn as his pupil. As such, a follower of Jesus Christ is thus a disciple of Jesus Christ.
This may look and sound obvious but is it? Ask a believer if he is a follower of Jesus Christ and he would very likely say ‘yes’ without any hesitation. But when asked if he is thus a disciple of Jesus Christ, and you might get a pause, a shrug or a vehement ‘no’. Why is this so? That’s because we have been told that we believe first and then decide later if we’d like to be disciples. We’ve accepted that believership is a separate and distinct event from discipleship.
As I pondered this, the Lord gave me an illustration: Imagine a stranger walks up to my 3 year old and says, “Uncle has ice-cream for you. You want? Come with me.” If my little girl believed that man, what would she do? She’d follow him! Immediately, the relationship between believing and following became clear to me — the one we believe, we follow.
We’ve heard countless sermons about Andrew, Peter, James and John, of how they dropped everything and followed Jesus. But have you stopped to think why they did that? Surely, they didn’t just jump at the words of Jesus because they were tired of their jobs. I believe it’s because they believed in who Jesus was and what He promised that they readily followed as His disciples. This must have been the same for Matthew. Otherwise, why would a tax collector leave everything to follow a Galilean carpenter? And as long as these kept believing, they kept following Jesus.
The one we believe, we follow. We cannot believe and not follow. Faith without works is dead. Conviction will always produce action. If I believe, I will follow.
When Jesus issued the Great Commission, the command was simple: Make disciples. He didn’t say to identify those who are willing and available, then call these and make them disciples. In other words, when anyone believes the good news of the Kingdom, make disciples of them! Put another way, the moment someone believes and becomes a subject of the Kingdom, he also becomes a disciple. Make no mistake: Jesus is both Saviour and Master!
This challenges the way we have been leading people to salvation. The sinner’s prayer is a great device but so many don’t even what they have prayed (repeat after me), much less what they have believed! What does “receive Jesus into your heart” mean anyway? And if one is told to believe in Jesus to go to heaven, where is the place of discipleship then?
Salvation is when we repent (turn from sin), believe in Jesus’ work on the Cross (forgiveness), be set free from sin’s dominion (redemption), and we now belong to Jesus (serve and follow Him). It scares me to discover how few Christians are able to talk about their own salvation! I am not advocating printing out a 500-page theological document for the prospect to peruse and sign on the dotted line. I am, however, convinced that there is an even more critical need for proper follow-up so that a new believer knows that believing Jesus means following Jesus. He is, after all, no longer his own, but one who belongs to Jesus.
This misconception weakens the Church because it gives us an excuse not to be disciples, or that we need a passage of time before we qualify to be disciples. How many do you know who have sat in church for 20-30 years and not budged at all? On the other hand, imagine a congregation who is fully convicted that they are disciples the moment they declare their faith in Jesus. I believe that’s how the church was in Acts, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and they literally turned their world upside down.
- Seven Misconceptions of Discipleship
- Misconception #1: Discipleship is a separate decision/event from believership: Part Two
- Misconception #2: Believers must be called to be disciples
- Misconception #3: Disciples are a special class of believers
- Misconception #4: Discipleship is an optional add-on to salvation
- Misconception #5: Discipleship is a ministry or programme in the Church
- Misconception #6: Discipleship is one aspect of the spiritual walk
- Misconception #7: Discipleship is about me