Disciple vs. Believer.


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I listened to a potential new pastor the other day.  I went to find the church online.  I was instantly concerned with the byline of the church, (which is mainly because of the blurring of discipleship with the act of receiving eternal life by so many).   It said, “Experience The Discipleship Lifestyle”.   Many of you may not share my concern, but let me explain why to the best of my ability with all of my distractions.

rom 5-8I have to say at first I was worried when I got on their website and saw the size of the church.    I did take into consideration the area which might mean that it might be larger than normal because of a long drive to another.   Their site displayed the dimmed lights for music, a multi-colored backdrop with hues of magenta, pink, purple and blues glowed behind the band. Little disco-ball-shaped green lights danced across the floor in front of the stage and also dotting the faces of some of the audience. I don’t want to be accused of being legalistic, but for me it was a CHECK… (sigh). But then again, I quickly argued (with myself) that there is not necessarily anything wrong with a band on stage and dimmed lights.    So forward I went.

What do they believe?

I looked at the statement of faith under ‘what we believe’.  The gospel was not really

spelled out. I searched for the word gospel (nope), then the word salvation (no), eternal life (again no), so I started just to read down and found His death for our sins mentioned along with spiritual death/separation from God (good).  Then that we are purchased and declared justified because of His sacrifice (good- I wish they would have finished with the 1 cor 15-3-4resurrection.  This is one of the points within the gospel that proves Jesus is God and has the power to take His life back up again – 1 Cor 15:3-4, John 10:17-18).

So I decided to forge ahead and listen to a sermon and see what the pastor had to say.  I chose a sermon on discipleship, the first out of a four part series.

Before any of you ask, “did I go to my brother in private,” please allow me to remind you in advance that this is not a sin against me privately.  This is publicly broadcast doctrine which has already been made publicly known to many witnesses and so Biblically should be addressed the same way to save others from the error.  Although I will go to him soon, I do want to deal with the not so simple error while I am sitting in this hospital room.

There were a few things I noticed that weren’t wrong, but caution signs for me.  The word sovereign was used a lot.  Yes God is Sovereign, but it is a buzz word that Calvinists use often, so I pay attention when I hear heavy usage of the word.  But that’s not really the point of the blog today.  Basically, the problem with his message was the pastor blending discipleship with the act of becoming saved from eternal death/separation from God.  The terminology we use for being saved literally means to be delivered eternally from that penalty by the free gift.

The wages of sin is death, but the free gift is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).

Did Jesus want believers to become disciples?  Most certainly, and for those who would, there would be a cost.     One we need to be aware of (as many seemed surprised when they face trials and tribulations), but He did warn us in advance.  How can there be a cost yet be free?   There isn’t. The gift of everlasting life is free (Read Romans 5).  Discipleship is not, it is work, and it is costly, and it takes a day to day walk with the Lord remaining in His Word.

Jesus told the Jews who believed on Him (John 8) to ‘continue in His Word’ and they would be His disciples indeed, and they would know the truth and the truth would set them free.  Why do you need to be told how to become a disciple if you are already one?   Or do we see a difference here?

Listen, I implore you.  Salvation from hell, (deliverance from that penalty) is a FREE GIFT.  Stop adding works to it.  It is not a process — it is instantaneous, we are given eternal life, sealed/baptized by the Spirit the moment we believe.  We are passed into the kingdom of His dear Son, from death unto life, from darkness unto light.   We are sanctified, perfected forever by His one time sacrifice (Rom 6:23; Eph 1:13, 4:30; Col 1:13; John 5:24; Acts 26:18; Heb 10:10, 14).

Anyone who adds any works on top of what you must do to be saved, (before or after) is still making a burden too heavy for you (or them) to bear.   And they are keeping the lost from heaven by shutting up the Kingdom of heaven against men and themselves if they have not believed (Matt 23).  They may not understand that this is what they are doing, but if they want to see people receive the free gift of eternal life, they need to stop corrupting the simplicity that is in Christ if they have ever believed(2 Cor 11:3-4).

Some are the false brethren (Gal 2:4-5), yet others of them are bewitched (Gal 3:1-7), trying to bring people back under the law.    I assume mostly because of the plethora of Discipleship books out there by popular pastors like David Platt, John MacArthur, Francis Chan, John Piper, J.I. Packer, Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Steven Furtick, Andrew Murray, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, etc. (To name a few — almost all of which I have had books by).   I just want to plead with these men, please, prepare yourself with the gospel of peace daily.   There is no doubt that Christ wanted you to make disciples.   But guess what?  Many disciples were not believers and therefore never possessed eternal life (John 6:66) because He knew who it was that did not believe and who would betray Him (see 63-64).  Also remember in John 8 we see believers who needed to be told how to be disciples by continuing in His Word.    Being a disciple does not = believer and vice versa.

We see lots of good people in this world, who seem to be great disciples (from our human perspective).  And we surely (as teachers, pastors, missionaries, or any of us in the body), should strongly desire to see people made into disciples so that they can grow in His grace and walk worthy.  One of the ways the Word shows us we can do that is by warning them of the wolves, declaring the whole counsel of God, and commending them to the Word of His grace (Acts 20:26-32).  Pointing them to Christ and His Word, the needed thing, the good part (Luke 10:38-42).  We need to abide in Christ and continue in His Word in order to be disciples and bear good fruit.  The minute we fix our eyes on our own works we are in trouble, we need to keep our mind stayed on Him and our armor kept on at all times.    Timothy was warned by Paul to take heed to the doctrine, saving both himself and his hearers (1 Tim 4:16).  Saved from what?  We know Timothy was saved, so what would taking heed to the doctrine deliver Timothy from?  The error and consequences of bad doctrine.

If you are like this Pastor, teaching this way(another gospel) to men, women or children anywhere, you are causing some serious consequences.  Here are a couple of the major ones to consider:

  1.  You are keeping the lost — lost.
  2. You are bewitching the saved, and bringing them under bondage.

They in turn do the same rendering their own gospel ineffective.

Is this the message you want to share?  Please, I beseech you, pray on this, search His Scriptures, did you learn this from Him or from man?

Friend, the law is not even made for the righteous (1 Tim 1:9).  Christ is our righteousness and the end of the law for us because we believed (Rom 10:4).  We are in Christ, living by the law brings a curse (Gal 3:10), it will not straighten out a wayward believer, it will put them back under a curse.  It condemns us and keeps us from walking in the Spirit.

No one is ever made righteous by the law (Gal 2:21).  Being a disciple is separate from the free gift of salvation.  Good works is something believers should do, but it is not automatic and never to be included as part of what we must do to receive or keep eternal life.

This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.  Titus 3:8

It’s a shame, but believers can most certainly remain barren and unfruitful.

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.  For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.  2 Pet 1:5-9

And carnal, full of envying, strife and division (1 Cor 3:1-4).

What are the remedies?  Preach the clear Gospel if you believe they are not saved (1 Cor 15:3-4).  The unhindered gospel.  Trust in the power of the gospel (Rom 1:16-17, 1 Cor 1:17-18).    Don’t add works to it.

Have you possibly been trusting in your own wisdom or enticing speech?

This pastor said the people focused too much on the cross.   What??  I don’t know what he meant when he said that, (nor my friend who was there and heard and was shocked), but what does God’s Word say in 1 Cor 2:1-5?

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.  For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

Shouldn’t the gospel be a part also of every believer’s daily armor? (Eph 6:10-18).  We SHOULD strive to be disciples, but the way to do that is to keep our eyes fixed on the Author and Finisher of our faith.   We need to CONTINUE in His Word and then we will know the truth and the truth will set us free.   If you love Jesus, feed and tend His sheep (Jn 21).   Wash their feet (Jn 11) if you really want to do the same as the Master.

Be determined to preach Christ and Him crucified.  Earnestly contend for the faith once delivered brethren.  Pray for all men (1 Tim 2:1-6).  I mourn, I know many of you do as we long for fellowship in person with others.  Take heart, we have a little strength, encourage each other, hide His Word in your heart, take heed to it.   May the Lord bless you.

Recommended reading on this subject:


Secure Forever! God’s Promise or Our Perseverance? (by Pastor Thomas Cucuzza)

Salvation in Three Time Zones (by Pastor Dennis Rokser)

Has Subtle or Unbiblical Language crept into our gospel (Holly Garcia)

This is a good one to consider what one should do in dealing with carnal believers.

Let’s Preach the Gospel: Do You Recognize the Importance of Preaching the Gospel to Both the Unsaved and the Saved? (Dennis Rokser)