Disciple vs. Believer

What is a disciple and what does it take to become a believer?

I listened to a potential new pastor the other day.  I went to find the church’s statement of faith online.  I was instantly concerned with the byline of the church, (mainly because of the constant error of blurring of discipleship with the act of receiving eternal life by so many).   It said, “Experience The Discipleship Lifestyle”.    I am not at all against a church making disciples of believers, we must!  I am concerned with churches trying to make disciples of people before they believe or as the act of believing.  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 (size always makes me think of Luke 6:26 in addition to lack of individual accountability sometimes — not always something wrong just because of size).  I did take into consideration the area, which might mean that it might be larger than normal because of a long drive to another.  But I don’t believe that is the reason.

Their page displayed the dimmed lights for music, with a multi-colored backdrop of hues of magenta, pink, purple and blues glowing behind the band.   Little disco-ball-shaped green lights danced across the floor in front of the stage, while dotting the faces of some of the audience. I seriously don’t want to be accused of being legalistic, but for me it was a check again.

I quickly argued (with myself) that there is not necessarily anything wrong with a band on stage and dimmed lights (and there isn’t in of itself, just isn’t necessarily for me).    So I pressed on, looking for what their gospel was. 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 the SOF and found His death for our sins mentioned along with spiritual death/separation from God (o.k. good!).  Then I read that we are purchased and declared justified because of His sacrifice (good- I wish they would have included and finished with the 1 cor 15-3-4 resurrection, but sadly not).  

The resurrection is one of the crucial points within the Biblically stated 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).  It also proves His power over sin, death and the grave (1 Cor 15:50-57).  No resurrection, then you have believed in vain (read 1 Corinthians 15).

Yet these little things were not enough at all to reject a church.  I am always disappointed when I don’t find an easily available gospel message.  Shouldn’t it always be upfront and center for any non believer that might decide to try the church?

I decided to bite the bullet, sit back and listen to a sermon and see what the pastor had to say. I chose one a few lines down on discipleship, the first out of a four part series.

Did you go to your brother in private?

A common question I am asked when I do this is, “did I go to my brother in private.” Please allow me to remind you in advance that this is not a sin committed against me, or one made privately.  This is publicly broadcast doctrine which has already been made publicly known to many witnesses. Biblically it should be addressed the same way (publicly), in order 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.

Blending making disciples with eternal life

There were a few things initially 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.

The basic problem with his message was the pastor blended 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 of eternal life.

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

Does Jesus want believers to become disciples?  

Most certainly, and for those who would, there would be a cost — it is certainly not free and easy.  And it is a process that happens over time.  Is eternal life something we earn over time by our deeds or how good of a disciple?   Discipleship IS a price we need to be aware of (so many seemed surprised when they face trials and tribulations).   He did warn us in advance.  

Discipleship and Everlasting life are not the same

How can there be a cost yet be free?   There isn’t.

The gift of everlasting life is free (Read Romans 5).

However, Discipleship is not free — it is a lot of work, and it is costly, and it takes a day to day walk with the Lord remaining in His Word.  And if we miss (as all the disciples did), getting up again with His help.

Unless the Lord had been my help,
My soul would soon have settled in silence.
If I say, “My foot slips,”
Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up.
In the multitude of my anxieties within me,
Your comforts delight my soul.  Psalm 94:17-19

Jesus told the Jews who had already 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 by becoming saved?   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).  Please do not add to God’s Word, do not be unclear with His gospel.

If salvation requires you become a disciple, you MUST ask yourself some questions:

  • Have you sold all you have yet?  
  • Forsaken all that you have (Lk 14:33)?  If not according to the Word you cannot be His disciple.
  • Are all disciples believers? (John 6:64)   If not, then somehow you only know when they stop following Him at some point?  If so, was Demas still saved when he went back into the world?  If you say no, then how did the Holy Spirit identify him as a fellow worker in the gospel (as did Paul)?  Or do you just say he wasn’t ‘truly saved’?
  • Have you picked up your cross?
  • Denied yourself (Matt 16:23; Mark 8:34)?  And have you done it enough times yet, or will you know once you die?
  • Do you hate your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters?  Obviously He meant to put Him first over them (Lk 14:26).  Do you always? How much is enough?
  • Have you followed the two greatest commandments ever? (Love God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength and others as yourself).  If you have, you are perfect.  If not, is God now grading on a curve?
  • Do you wash the feet of others?  Jn 13
  • By your gospel, how long do you need to be a disciple to know you are saved?
  • How good of a disciple must I be?  Anything less than perfect certainly cannot be good enough for God’s standard of perfection.
  • When do YOU receive eternal life under your plan of salvation?

Anyone who adds any works on top of what you must do to be saved, (before or after) is still making a burden (load) too heavy for you (or them) to bear and their gospel is false (this is called lordship or loadship doctrine).   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, in which case they are the deceived who are also deceivers.  But if they are a deceived believer, they need to repent (change their thinking).  All of us should desire to see people receive the free gift of eternal life.  These people 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 enemy, and 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).  Again, don’t get me wrong, BELIEVERS SHOULD BECOME DISCIPLES.   

I want to plead with these men, please, if you are saved, PLEASE prepare yourself with the gospel of peace daily.   There is no doubt that Christ wanted the church to make disciples.  But I do not believe that He intended any of us to make disciples of people as a condition of receiving the free gift of eternal life.

Many DISCIPLES were not believers (Jn 6:44) 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 saw believers who needed to be told how to be disciples by continuing in His Word.


(and vice versa)

We see lots of good people in this world, who seem to be great disciples (from our human perspective).   I could list Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh day Adventists, etc. who appear to be so.  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.


Firstly, they need to be believers.  One of the ways the Word shows us we can make disciples 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) is hugely important.  We need to abide in Christ and continue in His Word in order to be disciples and bear good fruit. We need to add to our faith, but this comes by hearing the Word — if we do, we will bear fruit (2 Pet 1:5-11).  The minute we fix our eyes on our own works we are in trouble, we need to keep our mind stayed on Him (Is 26:3; Heb 12:2) and our armor kept on at all times (Heb 4:16).    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 (eternally), so what would taking heed to the doctrine deliver/save Timothy from?  The error and consequences of bad doctrine, loss of life, loss of rewards, maligning the way, etc.

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

  1.  You are keeping the lost — lost.
  2. If you yourself are saved, you are losing rewards, and these works will be burnt up, and I cannot believe you will not also be chastened in this lifetime as you will be guilty of the blood of others.
  3. If you are not saved, you are yourself becoming hardened to the truth.
  4. You are bewitching the saved, and bringing them under bondage of Hagar.
  5. Those you have bewitched often in turn do the same, rendering their own gospel ineffective.
  6. You will not make the saved disciples this way, you will make the honest person doubt their salvation.   A proud person is just resisted by God.
  7. You will make the saved person stumble.
  8. You have been working for the wrong side…

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).

People somehow think the law is just the 10 commandments, there are 613 commandments of the law, look into it. They are all works (Gal 2:16).  They may be good works, but we not by adding them to help us become saved.   If 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 as we see in Galatians.  Why?  Because we have been hindered from obeying the truth (Gal 5:7).

Friends, no one is ever made righteous by the law (Gal 2:21).  There are many works in the list of being a disciple above.  Being a disciple MUST be separated 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.  Again if you do, you are accursed (Gal 1:6-9).  The Holy Spirit said it, it is not me.

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. (WHY?) These things are good and profitable unto men.  Titus 3:8

It’s a shame, but believers can most certainly remain barren and unfruitful (2 Pet 1:5-9), And carnal, full of envying, strife and division (1 Cor 3:1-4).

Will you remain this way?

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

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.

PASTORS: 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?  Shouldn’t we focus on the cross?

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.

Shod your feet daily.

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)

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


28 Responses to “Disciple vs. Believer

  • Reblogged this on Jesus Cares For He Answers Every Prayer and commented:
    And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. Acts 16:30-31

  • Nadine Warner
    8 years ago


  • Nadine Warner
    8 years ago

    This is so awesome – and AMEN !!!! SO CRITICAL ! Praise Jesus Christ our saviour for His Death burial and reserection – HIS payment –in full —for our sins by His grace- NOT BY OUR WORKS— THE FREE GIFT-of salvation and eternal life —- I pray for daily opportunities to share the clear gospel – and yes with other believers too. Praying for you and Adam and your family and look forward to talking to you again soon in bible study.This post really comforted me as I was with a heavy heart over the same concerns

  • So many have fallen into this trap, because their pastor preaches/teaches this way.

    “This pastor said the people focused too much on the cross.”
    So many pastors teach this way because they read (and learn from) each other rather than the Bible. Nothing wrong with studying with others, but, if it cannot be proven in His Word, then why would a pastor feed it to his sheep?

    ~ Test all things; hold fast what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21 NKJV)

    Praying this pastor will be ready to hear and receptive to the Truth.

  • Holly, thank you for such an encouraging post, you are always clear in your presentation, and you make the necessary distinctions that should be made: Believer Vs Disciple.
    You know, in all my years of attending Bible studies and churches, I have never been taught to make the separation between Justification Vs Sanctification until I started listening to Tom Cucuzza and reading the posts on Expreacherman and yours in the last 2 years or so. Now I can see clearly the free Grace of God and His full and complete payment for my sin on the cross and His offer of eternal life totally free without any conditions except simple faith in Christ Jesus, ( plus nothing, minus nothing).
    You may be living on the other side of the planet Holly, but I have been so blessed by your website, you are my sister-in-Christ, I truly appreciate you and pray for you and family, especially Adam. God bless you and all your efforts in encouraging the Body of Christ all over the planet, Alice

    • Alice, I sure appreciate that. And that is what I strive for and yet miss the mark. I do try to go back and re-read, and ask friends in Him to read and correct any errors they find. His truth is so important, and I am thankful with you for these brethren in Christ that have contended earnestly for the faith once delivered. I am so happy you are my sister in Christ too, one day no longer separated by space, we’ll be together with Him, and so shall we ever be <3

  • Holly, this is a great article!

    Billy Graham, the King of American Lordship “salvation” in the 20th century, was one who perpetuated the error.

    Following is a quote, in which Graham makes clear that he conflates costly discipleship with free eternal life. In so doing, he is teaching a false gospel of works:

    I am afraid that many Christians, in their zeal to share their faith in Christ, have made the Gospel message of making disciples for Him too simple. Just to say “believe in Christ” can produce a false assurance of the hope of Heaven. Jesus spoke often about the gift of eternal life. To make it clear, He said, “Count the cost.”

    • Well, I responded (or started to once) but it disappeared.

      I am afraid Billy Graham for whatever reasons has such a muddy gospel at this point that he has no clue whether or not he will enter heaven when he dies, and has said so himself. How terribly tragic for him and for all of his disciples/followers/students.

      They need to ask questions and look at context.

      Is counting the cost a requirement in order to receive the free gift of eternal life? In order to be saved?

      What must I do to be saved?

      Count the cost?

      I don’t believe so…

      If so, they need to look at the entire passage in context.

      Is discipleship (student/pupil) the same as being saved (from eternal damnation)?

      If it is, then the next logical conclusion is for people like Billy Graham to question whether or not he is truly saved. How would he know? Is it possible to do all these things at the instant we believe? Is salvation a work in progress?

      Has he hated his father?
      Has he hated his mother?
      Has he hated his wife?
      Has he hated his children?
      Has he hated his brethren?
      Has he hated his sisters?
      Has he hated his own life?
      Has he borne his cross?

      Is that REALLY what we must do to be SAVED?

      NO! In context, the passage states if they are unwilling, they cannot be His DISCIPLE (again means pupil – student – learner). We must put Christ and His Word first in order to grow in His grace and knowledge.

  • Dennis Monroe
    8 years ago

    I thank you so much for this website and for the links to other free grace websites. For many years I have been like a dog chasing its tail trying to have the assurance of my salvation. It took me a long time to understand that my problem was Lordship Salvation. I could never be “good enough” and just could not “make Jesus Lord of my life” to a level where I could feel “now I’ve made it.” The writings of Dr. Harry Ironside finally helped me to begin to pull out of the Lordship trap. The whole thing of Lordship Salvation is torture! Your writings have been instrumental in cementing for me what free grace really means. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I thank the Lord for you.

  • Dennis Monroe
    8 years ago

    I have read all of Pastor Thomas Cucuzza’s small books very carefully. However, the pull of Lordship salvation is strong, probably because I was in it for so long. When I find myself heading for another tail spin, I read the appropriate parts of the Bible again, reread Pastor Cucuzza’s books, and come to this website. My wife and I have been attending a Free Grace church (very hard to find) in which we hear the true Gospel preached all the time. We are sad because it appears the senior pastor is leaving for something else. The associate pastor that is about to be voted in is a Calvinist, full-on Tulip and he never preaches the Gospel. I don’t think the elder board knows what they are doing. This church is about to do “a 180.” I simply cannot stand to listen this man’s preaching. I guess we will be hitting “the dusty trail” again, looking for a new church.

    • Dennis, you are wise to avoid spending any time in a church that teaches, or tolerates, performance salvation.

      I have prayed for you in not sitting under false teaching that undermines the gospel.

    • Katmazdobelieve
      8 years ago

      I do the same whenever I begin to have those nagging old LS thoughts come to my mind. I come back here and Expreacherman as well.
      Iron sharpening iron. I need it too because at some point the confrontation with my mom is going to happen and I need to be able to show her why all those pet passages have been misused over and over.

      • If you can Kate, just be in prayer as you speak and rest in the power of His Word. Ask for wisdom (Col 4:5-6) and salt and grace seasoning your speech. If you have email, find nice picture Scriptures with the verses on it, just start sharing them with her once a day. If you don’t, then maybe send her a card in the mail, or make Scripture postcards and send those. Ask the Lord to show you how to share His Word, and pray for other laborers for the harvest. Sometimes they do better hearing it from someone else.

    • Dennis: I can relate all too well I am sad to say. My childhood church was a Bible church that grew. Our pastor didn’t want it to get too large so they expanded and bought other land and spread out. One of the off shoot churches was where I had moved to in the early 90s. It was before I really understood Calvinism, although I had encountered a lot of the reformed and also Arminian thinking in my Christian High school. Back then I didn’t realize what they were other than super pious and I believed wrong. Little did I know what I would find out. Anyways, back to the offshoot church. The pastor was one who compromised for whatever reason. His two sons differ from him theologically and both are pastors. Not a surprise really. This pastor became the head of Phoenix Seminary. I suppose that’s where he knew Wayne Grudem. Wayne is the author of systematic theology, a charismatic Calvinist. I remember listening to his sermons online, and stopping, starting, and eventually quitting. I am not saying I was anything special to figure it out, I just could not listen to him, and if there is any reason I’d have to attribute it to God’s mercy. I suppose others of the reformed persuasion would say it was just too theologically deep for a simple person like me to understand 🙂

      As I began to understand the depths of the problems on both sides of Calvinism and Arminianism, I saw those who identified in the ‘middle’ as Molinists (and there are other terms). I just saw them both as error, and couldn’t see how it was o.k. to allow a little leaven into the church. I suppose that is why in the end there will be a great falling away from the faith. Leaven… the doctrine of the Pharisees which leavens the whole lump. We see it and we see all the other signs. I thank the Lord for His pure Word. For His teaching, for His opening up of the Word to us, for His Spirit which He gives us, who guides us and teaches us as we humble ourselves under His mighty hand and study with His approval only.

      May the Lord continue to protect us, and may His peace that passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

  • jasonc65
    8 years ago

    The gospel preached all the time is what my soul thirsts for. A typical church in my area preaches a clear gospel one Sunday, then goes off to topical la-la land.

    • It’s part of the armor we should ‘put on’ each and every day Jason. Share it with yourself, thank Him for it in your prayers, pray for opportunity to share with another, email it to friends. <3

  • jasonc65
    8 years ago

    It is one of the things I appreciate about Tom Cucuzza. Even as he goes through Revelation and thanks God for America, he always goes back to the gospel.

    • Jason, yes, Tom is very gospel-oriented in his messages.

      My wife and I have been listening to some of his Revelation series.

  • Reblogged this on Redeemingmoments and commented:

    Every day I see people corrupting the simplicity that is in Christ. Don’t be an unwitting worker for the accuser of the brethren.

  • jtackett0872
    7 years ago

    Great post! Thanks, Holly.

    • Great to see you John. I was actually thinking and praying for you guys just yesterday and actually started to write you. (Things have been crazy, my life has been full as I know yours has too). Hope to get with you soon. Love in Christ to you all. Hug your precious rewards of children and Theresa (Pr 18:22) <3

      • jtackett0872
        7 years ago

        Yeah, I’ve not been online very much as of late. I don’t need all the distractions that come with it though I do miss the people I have met. I’m trying to spend a lot more time with my family (in addition to all the other things going on). I’m not sure when we’ll be out your way again but when we do I’ll be sure to let you know. I will keep you in my prayers and I hope you and yours are well. If you wouldn’t mind, please tell all our mutual friends on Facebook that I said hi. Even Ben if he’s still around.

        • John, I definitely understand, I have not either, although we did do the women’s Bible study yesterday. I don’t have much time, but I do still try to get on there to share the gospel when I can. But with a new husband, new home, remodeling, etc., life has been quite busy and sometimes stressful for sure. Please do let us know, we’d love to see you. I will definitely tell our friends, I know many miss you, even and especially Ben 🙂 They started a club to bring you back at one time 🙂 God bless you all, your family is definitely precious, just love your kids, and I know they are blessings to you. In Christ, Holly

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