A strange thing has happened since Jesus first called people to follow him. Faith in Jesus for salvation and following him as Lord have become two distinct Christian experiences. It’s as if there are two different ways of approaching Jesus and we are free to choose one. The first way is centered on belief. Believe in Jesus and you will have eternal life (John 3:16). The second way is centered on discipleship. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24).
How did believing in Jesus as Savior and following him as Lord become two different categories for Christians? Did Jesus intend for this to happen? Did he envision one group who would believe in him for eternal life and another group who would be committed to him as disciples?
Anyone who reads the Gospels carefully and honestly will see that these seemingly two different streams of Christian experience are really one. Faith in Jesus for eternal life is faith to follow him as Lord. Being “saved” and being a “disciple” are, in the teaching and intention of Jesus, the same thing.
This is evident when we read what happened to the followers of Jesus after his ascension into heaven. The people who believed in Jesus as Savior were originally referred to as disciples. That’s because they understood that believing in Jesus meant following him. In one city, Antioch, they followed him to the point of being considered Christians by other people (Acts 11:26). The word Christian was a way of designating and describing Jesus’ disciples.
Over time this synonymous use of “Christian” and “disciple” has been lost. We have come to think that people first become Christians by faith, and then with training and a lot of commitment they become disciples. We think a person can become a Christian without ever becoming a disciple, and with no intention of ever doing so.
This kind of thinking is foreign to Jesus and to the teaching of the Bible. When Jesus called people to believe in him, he was calling them to follow him. Christians and disciples are the same group of people. They have faith in Jesus as Savior and they follow him as Lord. They read John 3:16 and Matthew 16:24 together, hearing the singular call to faith for the purpose of following him.
Do you believe in Jesus as your Savior? Give attention to following him in love and obedience. Are you seeking to follow Jesus as Lord? Do so by faith, as one who has been granted the gift of eternal life. Bring the terms Christian, Believer, Disciple, and Follower together as your new identity in Christ.
This Sunday at Grace we plan to hear the call of Jesus to faith that follows him. Join us.