Summary: Biblically speaking, a disciple is a sincere believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, one who is abiding in His Word and consequently being set free from sin.
The Minister’s God-given Goal – Part 2
Biblically speaking, a disciple is a sincere believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, one who is abiding in His Word and consequently being set free from sin. A disciple is one who is learning to obey all of Christ’s commandments, and one who loves Jesus more than his own family, his own comfort, and his possessions, and he manifests that love by his lifestyle. Jesus’ true disciples love one another and demonstrate that love in practical ways. They are bearing fruit.
Obviously, those who are not His disciples cannot make disciples for Him. Thus, we must first be certain that we ourselves are His disciples before we attempt to make any disciples for Him. There are ministers who fall short of the biblical definition of a disciple. The minister who falls short of the Biblical definition of a disciple cannot make disciples and will not even try. The minister who falls short of the Biblical definition of a disciple is not committed enough to Jesus Christ to endure the difficulties that come with making true disciples.
Although Jesus made it quite clear what a disciple is, many have replaced His definition with one of their own. For example, a disciple is anyone who professes they are a Christian. One may be a believer in Jesus but not be a disciple of Jesus. Because it is so difficult to simply ignore Jesus’ demanding requirements for discipleship that are recorded in the Bible, there are two levels of Christians, the believers, who believe in Jesus, and the disciples, who believe in and are committed to Jesus. According to this theory, there are many believers but few disciples, but that both are going to heaven.
This theory neutralizes Jesus’ commandment to make disciples, which in turn neutralizes the making of disciples. If becoming a disciple means self-denying commitment and even hardship, and if becoming a disciple is optional, the large majority of people will elect not to become disciples, especially if they think they will be welcomed into heaven as non-disciples.
The question that needs to be answered is does Scripture teach that one can be a true believer in Jesus but not be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Is discipleship an optional step for believers? Are there two levels of Christians, the uncommitted believers and the committed disciples?
Jesus did not think that becoming a disciple was a secondary, optional step for believers. His three requirements for discipleship in Luke 14 were not addressed to believers as an invitation to a higher level of commitment. Rather, His words were addressed to everyone among the multitudes. In John 8:30 we are told “As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him.” Jesus said to the many that believed in Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). Jesus did not say to those newly professing believers, “Sometime in the future you may want to consider taking the next step, a step of commitment, to become My disciples.” No, Jesus spoke to those new believers as if He expected them to be disciples already, as if the words believer and disciple were synonymous terms. He told those newly professing believers that the way they could prove they were His disciples was by abiding in His word, which would result in their being set free from sin (8:34-36).
Jesus knew that a profession of faith was no guarantee that they really did believe. He also knew that those who truly believed He was the Son of God would act like it; they would immediately become His disciples, desiring to obey and please Him. Such believers/disciples would naturally abide in His Word; in addition, as they discovered His will by learning His commandments, they would be set free from sin. That is why Jesus immediately challenged those new believers to test themselves. His statement, “If you are truly My disciples” indicates He knew there were many who believed in Him that were not true disciples, but only professing disciples. Only if they passed Jesus’ test could they be certain they were His true disciples From John 8:37-50 there is evidence that Jesus had good reason to doubt their sincerity.
In His Great Commission, that disciples be baptized the book of Acts indicates that the apostles did not wait until new believers took a second step of commitment to Christ before they baptized them. Rather, the apostles baptized all new believers almost immediately after their conversion. They believed that all true believers were disciples.
In this regard, those who believe that disciples are the uniquely committed believers are not consistent with their own theology. Most of them baptize anyone who professes to believe in Jesus, not waiting for them to reach the committed level of discipleship. Yet if they really believe what they preach, they should only baptize those who reach the discipleship level, which would be very few among their ranks.