“As He spake these words, many believed on Him. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If ye continue in My Word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:30–32
It is very important to understand the difference between believing on Christ for salvation and following Him in discipleship. These concepts are certainly connected, but the book of John makes it clear that they are not the same. Believers will fail to live a holy life unless they understand discipleship, and they will lack assurance of their salvation if they confuse salvation with discipleship.
The Bible makes a distinction between believers and disciples. In John 2:11 we are told that Jesus did His first miracle “in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory, and his disciples believed on him.” In chapter one, we are told about the men who decided to follow the Lord Jesus, and in chapter two, verse two, they are called “his disciples.” Having seen His miraculous power, these disciples “believed on him.” They became believers.
In John 6 we read about a time when many of His disciples quit following Jesus. It happened after they heard Him make some bold statements about Himself and about receiving eternal life through Him. They had promised to follow Him as their Master and Teacher, but now they realized that He wanted them to depend on Him for their very salvation, and they just were not ready for this. When they complained, Jesus told them, “There are some of you that believe not.” They were disciples of Jesus, but not believers. The prime example of an unbelieving disciple was Judas the traitor.
There Are Significant Distinctions between Salvation and Discipleship
1. Christ’s invitation to salvation is, “Come unto me” (Matthew 11:28); His call to discipleship is, “Come after Me” (Matthew 16:24).
2. Salvation is about the Cross of Christ (Matthew 16:21); discipleship is about your own cross (Matthew 16:22-24).
3. At salvation, you receive a gift, eternal life (John 4:10 and Romans 6:23); in discipleship, you give a gift, your body (Romans 12:1).
4. The salvation decision (putting faith in Christ for eternal life) must be made only once (John 5:24, 6:37-40, 10:27-28); the discipleship decision (commitment to obey Christ) must be made again and again (Luke 9:23).
5. Salvation is a sure thing (Romans 8:1, 8-11, 28-30, 33-39); discipleship is always in danger of failing (Luke 14:25-35).
6. Salvation is about grace (Ephesians 2:5-9); discipleship is about works (Revelation 22:12).
7. Eternal life is the result of salvation in Christ (John 3:16); eternal rewards are the result of successful discipleship (Matthew 16:27).
Salvation (eternal life in Christ) and discipleship (dedication to Christ) are simply not the same. When Jesus came preaching the Kingdom of God, He called people to follow Him as disciples (see Matthew 4:17-5:1). The term disciple means “a learner.” A disciple commits himself to his teacher, as an apprentice does, in order to learn how to do what the teacher does. As the term student is used of a learner in relation to his subject (as a “student of history”), the term disciple is used of a learner in relation to his teacher (as a “disciple of Socrates,” or of John the Baptist).
Many answered the call of Jesus to discipleship, and some continued to be faithful to that commitment, although the majority failed to keep it.
Successful disciples somewhere along the trail came to understand who Jesus really was, and trusted Him for their salvation. Peter is an example of a disciple who, although he often failed in his discipleship commitment, believed on Christ and was eternally saved. Judas Iscariot was a disciple who not only failed at discipleship (he “fell” from apostleship according to Acts 1:25) but also failed to believe on Christ and was eternally lost. The end of the chapter that records the desertion of so many of the Lord’s disciples brings relation between discipleship and believing very powerfully before us.
“From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve.” John 6:66–71
This is part one of this article. Please click here for part two.