There seems to be confusion (even among Christians) about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. I’ve decided to start a series of blogs to address this topic and would love some feedback. I don’t have all the answers, but I think it’s a conversation worth having.
Author Michael Wilkins gives 5 possible answers to the question, “What is a disciple?”
1. Disciples are Learners
- disciples are simply those who follow a great teacher
- to put oneself under the teaching authority of someone else.
- both unsaved and saved were learning from Jesus
We would all probably agree that a disciple is a student, pupil, follower of a master, but I think we would all say there is more to be a follower of Jesus than just a “learner.”
2. Disciples are Committed Believers
these people would say that believing in Jesus is entirely different than following Jesus. They argue for a 2 class system of believers. (1) those who believe for eternal life and (2) those who believe AND decide to follow Jesus’ radical claims of discipleship. Dwight Pentecost has said “there is a vast difference between being saved and being a disciple.”
My question with this view.
1. Are there 2 levels of committment to Christ? Can you be an ordinary believer and not a committed disciple?
3. Disciples Are Ministers
This view says that disciples are those who have been “called out” from among the body to minister. Basically those of us who are ministers or pastors are disciples. Everyone else can be considered as ordinary believers. The term is designated for those who are called to do the work of Jesus. This view would say, “Everyone is called to participate in the reign of God, but only some are called to be followers of Jesus.”
- What is my role as a pastor with this view? Am I to make disciples of certain people only? Only those who enter “full time” ministry?? Really? I guess everyone else can take it easy.
4. Disciples Are Converts; Discipleship Comes Later
This is probably the most widespread understanding of a disciple in our American context. This view says that after one is converted they can enter a life of discipleship (following the commands of Jesus) later. You can be a believer but can choose to enter the discipleship process later. This view is similar to #2. The only difference I can see is that this view would consider every believer a disciple, but they may not be on the road of”discipleship.”
A quick theological note: This view aligns well with those who hold to the theological position that separates “justification” and “sanctification” into two different occasions. You are “justified” immediately upon salvation, but “sanctification” occurs later.
- Can you be a disciple without being on the road of discipleship?
- Did Jesus have this in mind when he called his disciples?
5. Disciples Are Converts Who Are in the Process of Discipleship
This view is very similar to the view above, but I do think it is saying something different. Conversion is the beginning of point of a disciple, but discipleship is the natural result that occurs simultaneously. Discipleship is not a second step but rather is synonymous with the Christian life. Essentially, discipleship is not an optional second step in the Christian life.
- Are the difficult discipleship demands of Jesus directed to me(hate my family, sell everything, etc.) ? Or were they directed to those individuals only?
- Is conversion and commitment the same thing?
I’d welcome your feedback on this!