Believer and a Disciple
What is the difference between a believer and a disciple? A disciple understands the ABC of Christian Growth and ABC of Evangelism. Before attempting to make disciples, ensure you are spiritually healthy by taking the Spiritual Health Assessment.
I’ve coached track & field throwing events for 25 years at Middletown Area High School. In 2008 and 2009, one of my throwers was the Pennsylvania State discus champion. He wouldn't have stood on top of the awards platform if I’d coached him in 1999.
I’d grown as a coach through reading and personal throwing experience. My athletes are my discus-disciples, and my teaching shapes them. Because I’m still learning, my definition of good technique keeps changing.
God’s discipleship standard doesn’t change. He got it right the first time, and there’s no room for improvement.
Christian disciples conform to God’s will and ways revealed through His word and Son.
What is discipleship, and why is it important? What are the essentials of discipleship? Christian discipleship is following Jesus. "Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23 NLT).
A disciple is, first and foremost, a follower of another. We’ll revisit this idea of following Jesus shortly, but before we do, let’s consider the continuity of following God’s ways from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Jesus’ challenge to follow Him wasn’t a brand-new spiritual concept.
Following in the Old Testament
Following God’s Word and ways is central to Old Testament teaching. “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He only requires you to fear the Lord your God, live in a way that pleases him, and love and serve him with all your heart and soul. And you must always obey the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good" (Deuteronomy 10:12-13 NLT).
Instead of walking in God’s ways, we tend to walk in our ways. The book of Judges closes with an apt description: "In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes "(Judges 21:25 NLT). Isaiah 53:6 describes this self-seeking as sheep going astray and going their own way.
Our choice is among imagined independence, imitating the ways of other sheep around us who aren’t following God or conforming to God’s ways. Only the last option is good for us. It is the way of life.
“Today, I have given you a choice between life and death, blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Just choose life so that you and your descendants might live! You can choose this by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him” (Dt 30: 19-20a NLT).
Following God's Will and Ways
Following Jesus is the New Testament version of following God’s will and ways. Jesus is God’s will and ways incarnate. He’s the Word made flesh (John 1:14). He’s the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
Disciples are vitally connected to His life, and they nurture their life-giving connection to Him. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NLT).
Following Is Believing
Following Jesus means believing in Him. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your way, take up your cross, and follow me. You will lose your life if you try to hang on to it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Mt 16:24-25 NLT).
Following Jesus requires single-mindedness and sacrifice. "Another said, Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say goodbye to my family.' But Jesus told him, 'Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God'" (Luke 9:61-62 NLT).
Following Is Fishing
Following Jesus includes fishing for people. “Jesus called out to them, 'Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!'’” (Matthew 4:19 NLT). Not all fishermen are equally successful, but they catch at least some fish.
We're only fooling ourselves if we think we’re following Jesus if we aren't fishing for people. I need to be reminded of that; probably, you do too. Believing in Jesus, following Jesus, and fishing for people requires risk-taking.
Following Is Imitating
Following Jesus influences others. Paul wrote, “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT). This is a concrete picture of making disciples.
Those we disciple will imitate us. Whom are we imitating? Does our example encourage or discourage others from following Jesus?
Following Has a Starting Point
Following Jesus has a starting point, all by God’s grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 suggest that our salvation is a gift from God. So is the faith that brings it home.
Following Is a Deliberate Choice
Following Jesus is a choice. We all begin focused downward and inward on the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). Dr. Waylon Moore describes it as the lure of girls, gold, and glory (a male perspective) or controlling, collecting, and competing (a female perspective).
Everyone is a disciple of someone or something. For example, many follow their cultural values. World-system values oppose God’s purpose, priorities, and methods.
In American culture, for example, the greatest are those with the most servants. Jesus said the greatest in the kingdom serves the most people.
Following's First Step
The choice to follow Jesus begins with repentance. That's a 180-degree turn from a downward/inward focus to an upward/outward direction.
Repentance is faith’s foundation. Without turning from the old way of life, we can’t turn to and receive the life of Christ. We can't hold anything else when our hands are filled with self. Believing in Jesus means accepting and following Him (John 1:12).
Following Means Loving God and Others
Our love demonstrates that we are following Jesus. "What is important is faith expressing itself in love" (Galatians 5:6 NLT). What matters at the end of life’s way?
Old Testament people followed God’s word and ways. Jesus’ summary was to love God with all your being and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). Jesus’ new commandment was to love one another as He loves us (John 13:34-35).
Through faith, disciples love God, their neighbor, one another, and their enemies. Love comes from God: “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7 NLT). “May the Lord make your love for one another and all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows” (1 Thessalonians 3:12 NLT).
Following Is a Battle
Following Jesus is a battle. We experience both a downward/inward pull and an upward/outward pull. Are you being transformed? Or are you conforming to the world system and fleshly values.
“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing your thoughts. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good, pleasing, and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2 NLT).
We continually fight the staying vs. straying battle. My brother’s dog, Baron, illustrates our straying tendency. He ran away whenever he could.
We face the choice of going with the flow or going with the Pro (Jesus). We struggle with serving ourselves instead of helping others. Our calendars and checkbooks are witnesses to where our priorities lie.
Following Blesses Others
Following Jesus blesses others. Disciples are flow-through believers. Through the Holy Spirit, God's blessings flow through them to others.
Disciples actively serve God. “Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works” (James 2:26 NLT).
The Bible knows nothing about a faith that saves us that doesn’t change our character and conduct. We could paraphrase Galatians 5:6: the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through loving deeds.
We’re the wagon, and Jesus is the tractor. Our faith is the pin that connects the two. If we are following the tractor, the wagon overflows with the harvest.
How Disciples Live
Denying self (John 15:8, Matthew 10:1)
Ignoring worldly standards (Romans 12:1-2)
Salting and lighting the world (Matthew 5:13-14)
Conforming to God’s word, will, and ways (Luke 9:23, following; John 15:14, obeying; Galatians 5:22-23).
Impacting others (John 15:8, Matthew 4:19, John 14:12)
Practically applying the Scriptures to make decisions (Hebrews 5:14).
Loving God, Neighbor, believers, enemies (John 13:35, Matthew 22:37- 39, Matthew 5:44)
Enduring hardship (John 15:18ff, Acts 14:22)
Spirit-empowered (Acts 1:8)
Disciplines of Disciples
Devotions regularly (John 15:7-8)
Invests time, talents, and treasures to further God’s Kingdom (2 Corinthians 8)
Small group family connection (John 13:34-35; 15:7-17; Acts 2:46; 5:42).
Congregational worship participant (Hebrews 10:25).
Involved in ministry (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6; Ephesians 4:11-13).
Prays tenaciously (Luke 18:1)
Living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2; Luke 9:23-25, 14:25-35).
Empowered by faith (2 Corinthians 9:8).
Shares Christ with others (Matthew 9:36-38).
How can you improve your disciple-making? Discipleship Books Free Download educates church members and church leaders on how to make better disciples.
Use the Church Assimilation Strategy to glue disciples into the fellowship.