We’re going to talk about the idea that there are two classes of Christians: the believers (that is, all those who believe in Jesus) and then the disciples who are often defined as the really committed believers.
I’m going to just spill the beans right off the bat here. That’s false and unbiblical teaching!
If you read through the New Testament honestly, you could never come to the conclusion that there are two categories of people whom God considers Christians, the believers and then the more committed believers, the disciples. No, no, a thousand times no!
In the book of Acts, everybody who believed in Jesus was a disciple. Jesus expected everyone to repent and believe in Him, thus becoming a disciple.
Where This Separation of Faith and Discipleship Comes From
The reason that some have come up with this erroneous idea is because they’ve read about Jesus’s very stringent requirements to be a disciple.
So they say, “Well, wait. That can’t be what is required to be a Christian—a believer—because salvation is a free gift! It’s by grace through faith. It’s not by works. Jesus is saying that unless you do these things and your life is characterized by these things that show that you’re really committed and devoted to Him, you’re not His disciples.”
Therefore, they conclude that a disciple must be a higher category of a Christian.
That’s what you get for thinking instead of just believing what you read in the Bible! Because that idea is not found in the Bible.
Understanding What the Gospel is Really All About
The way that those apparently contradictory facts are harmonized is just simply by understanding really what the gospel is all about. The gospel is a call to repentance.
Of course if someone repents, they’re going to act differently after they repent than before they repented. Their life is going to be characterized more by obedience and holiness after they repent than prior to their repentance.
Of course, James said faith without works is dead (James 2:14). People who really believe begin to obey.
When you believe in Jesus, the person Jesus, you’re believing that a human being who walked this earth 2,000 years ago is, was, the divine Son of God. If you believe the story, you have to believe the whole story. He ascended to heaven where He’s been ever since, seated at the right hand of God. We’re all going to stand before Him and He’s going to judge us one day.
A Faith That Means Something
This is not a belief you just add to all the other beliefs in your life, like “I believe the sky is blue”. So what? If the sky was green, it wouldn’t make much difference. This is not that kind of belief.
I believe that one plus one is two. Great. That helps you every time that you add one plus one.
But we’re talking about something that is of no comparison to the average things that we might say that we believe and we do believe. You’re believing that Jesus is the Son of God, before whom you will give an account one day.
Of course if you believe that, you’re going to want to study what He has to say and you’re going to want to line up your life with it. That’s why Jesus said,
If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. – John 8:31-32
If you keep reading for context there in John 8, it’s very clear He’s talking about being set free from sin.
“As He Spoke These Things, Many Came to Believe in Him.”
You know, that passage in John chapter eight very interesting. Let’s read it.
In verse 30, Jesus was preaching a sermon as He always was doing.
“As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him.” There we go. There are some people who have become believers. They’re not believing a doctrine about Him. They’re not believing a doctrine about the atonement. They’re believing in Him.
This is the Messiah. This is the great One that Moses said was going to come. Everyone who didn’t heed the words of that Prophet, he would be utterly destroyed amongst the people (see Acts 3:23). This is someone to listen to and heed and obey.
A Biblical View of Faith
Now, we keep reading. What did Jesus say to those new believers? Did He say, “Let me assure you now that you’ve believed and prayed the little prayer”—which they hadn’t prayed any prayer. Let’s keep it Biblical here!—”Now that you’ve believed in Me, you’re on the way to heaven, and don’t let anybody talk you out of that. Don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise. If the devil tells you you’re not saved, you just rebuke the devil.”
This is what is commonly done in evangelical circles when someone professes to have faith in Christ or someone makes a “decision for Christ.” Our responsibility supposedly then is to begin to assure them of their salvation because they’ve made a verbal profession. Is that what Christ did? Oh no.
John 8:31, the very next verse, “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him [there’s the second affirmation that they’re believers], “If you continue in My Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.”
Jesus Felt That a Disciple Was the Same as a Believer
There, that answers our initial question. Does Jesus feel there were two categories of Christians, those who believe and then those who take a second higher step of commitment and become disciples? No. He’s talking to people who have obviously made some kind of verbal profession of their faith.
And He’s using a synonymous term with the word ‘believer’, the word ‘disciples’. He said to those Jews who believed in Him. “So you profess to believe in Me. If you continue,” or in other verses, He says, “If you abide”, live in My word, “then you are truly My disciples.” There you have it. Jesus felt a disciple was the same as a believer.
I should add one little caveat. “If you continue in my Word, then you are truly disciples.” If you don’t abide, if you don’t continue in my Word, you might think you’re a believer, you might think you’re a disciple, but you’re not a true disciple. You’re a false disciple.
One of the Big Problems We Have in the Church
That’s one of the big problems that we’ve got in the church worldwide as a whole. Jesus goes on to tell them, “You’ll know the truth. The truth will make you free.” They begin to argue with him. He says, “Whom the Son has set free is free indeed.”
He’s very clearly, if you keep reading the context in John 8, talking about being set free from sin. A disciple is characterized by continuing or abiding in the word of Christ and being progressively set free from sin.
This is a Little Lesson. We’ll pick up on our next one. Thanks for joining me! God bless.