Thoughts to Ponder

Can you be a believer but not a disciple?

Recently I read a couple of books which contained something that shocked me. They both claimed that a person can be a believer and yet not be a disciple. Or in other words not follow Christ.

I could hardly believe what I was reading. So I did some more checking via the Internet to see how wide spread this thought was. I was shocked to find that many people seem to believe this. They believe that you can be saved by believing that Jesus died for your sins and then you can walk away for all practical purposes and not follow Him. Never grow, never serve Him, never do anything or produce any fruit at all.

I want to look at this subject and see if it is biblical to believe a person can be saved and yet not a follower of Christ. I should explain exactly what I mean by not being a follower of Christ. I think it should be pretty obvious but just in case. I mean a person who lives like he is not a believer. Whose life does not change, who produces either no fruit or bad fruit, who serves his own pleasures and not those of God.

Here is a statement from one of the books I read: Salvation is guaranteed, but not discipleship, because discipleship makes radical demands that some people are not ready to meet. There are Christians who are truly saved but do not continue on the road of discipleship.

I want to be fair but it would seem to me that the author is saying that salvation does not make any radical demands on a person, only discipleship does that. See how easily and yet completely the author separates the two?

Let me quote two more examples from authors that shows what I am talking about:

But for the Christian, fruit is not a salvation issue, but a fellowship issue.

...a Christian who at no point in his entire life bore any eternal fruit. And yet his salvation is never jeopardized.

I wanted to use these two quotes because they come from different authors who teach the same thing. They both claim that you can be saved and yet not have any outwards signs. They claim that you as a believer may never in your entire Christian life produce any fruit. Again this goes back to the difference they see between being saved and discipleship. Now let me quote from God's word:

(Matthew 7:16-20 NIV) [16] By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? [17] Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. [18] A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. [19] Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [20] Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Jesus tells us we can recognize people by the fruit they bear. Was Jesus mistaken? Is it possible to not see any fruit and yet be looking at the life of a believer? Of course Jesus was not mistaken, and I don't need to prove that, but yet I want to just show that this idea is also addressed in other places in God's word:

(James 2:20-26 NIV) [20] You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? [21] Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? [22] You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. [23] And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. [24] You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
[25] In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? [26] As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Some people take what James said the wrong way and claim that he is preaching a works salvation, but that is not what he is doing. He is pointing out that true faith will manifest itself by the actions (or fruit) of the believer. If there is no fruit then there is no true faith. In other words a person cannot claim to have placed their faith in Jesus Christ and not show any outward signs of that faith. Sounds exactly opposite of what the two authors I quoted believe doesn't it?

Let's get back to discipleship. Can a true believer produce just a little fruit and yet not follow Christ? I want to show you some things that Jesus had to say. Here is the description of Jesus' calling some of His disciples:

(Matthew 4:18-20 NIV) [18] As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. [19] "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." [20] At once they left their nets and followed him.

(Matthew 9:9 NIV) As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

He did not just tell them to believe in Him, He told them to follow Him. Now look at some other people who claimed they wanted to follow Him:

(Luke 9:57-62 NIV) [57] As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."
[58] Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
[59] He said to another man, "Follow me."
But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
[60] Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
[61] Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family."
[62] Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."

Was Jesus trying to discourage them? No, but He was making it clear that following Him would cost them. Some of Jesus' statements sound pretty harsh until you understand what was really going on. People thought that Jesus was going to set up an earthly kingdom, so they wanted to be part of it. He was explaining that at least in the short term the hardships would be more than the luxuries.

The man who said he would follow, but wanted to go bury his father was not saying that he wanted to bury his father right now. He was saying, let me go back home and live my life until my father dies and I get my inheritance and then I will follow you. Jesus tells him that this won't do.

The other man wanted to go back and say good-bye, but again this is more than what it appears. It reminds me of Lot's wife. She longed to go back and it cost her dearly. This man wants to go back and live a normal life and yet claim to follow Jesus. Jesus makes no bones about it, people like that are not worthy of Him. Again don't get this wrong, none of us is worthy of salvation, that is not what Jesus is saying. He is saying that we can't just get our ticket to heaven punched and think our responsibility ends there.

Here is another statement Jesus made:

(Matthew 10:37-39 NIV) [37] "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; [38] and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. [39] Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

If we put anything before God then we are not worthy of Him. We can't claim to be a follower of God if we place anything before Him. Think of the 10 commandments. You shall have no other gods before me. If we place anyone or anything ahead of Jesus Christ then we have made it a god in our life and placed it before Him. This is a discipleship issue but it is also a salvation issue.

Would you say that Jesus calls all believers, His sheep and He is their Shepherd? Then look at what He has to say about His sheep:

(John 10:27-28 NIV) [27] My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

They follow me... Sounds like discipleship doesn't it? Yet it also describes salvation. They are both the same. You can't separate them. You can't claim to know Christ and not love Him, you can't love Him and not follow Him.

(1 John 2:3-6 NIV) [3] We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. [4] The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. [5] But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: [6] Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

This passage too leaves little to the imagination. If we don't follow His commands, we don't know Him. You can't be saved if you don't know Jesus Christ.

(1 John 5:3-5 NIV) [3] This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, [4] for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. [5] Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

If you don't overcome, meaning change and come out and be separate from the world then you don't know Jesus Christ. You can't get your ticket punched and continue to live as the world lives. You must follow Christ or you are fooling yourself about your salvation.

We must also continue following Him:

(John 15:6 NIV) If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

I will admit that there are different levels of discipleship. Some people grow and progress in their faith while others seem to just drift. The danger for those who are drifting is which way are they drifting. I have yet to see anyone drift toward God, but I have seen many drift away from God. The danger is of falling into apostasy and not remaining in Christ.

Why would these well known and respected Christian teachers and authors claim that you can be a believer and yet not a disciple? I can't speak for them, but I can tell you what it appears to me to be. They need to justify all those so called Christians out there who claim salvation but are yet living carnal, sinful, selfish lives. To do so they not only have to separate salvation from discipleship but also ignore some pretty plain passages of Scripture:

(Hebrews 10:26-27 NIV) [26] If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, [27] but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

You can't claim salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and live like the world. If you do then you are part of the world and have no part in Christ. I am not saying that a Christian will never stumble and fall into sin, but their life will not be characterized by sin, or they are not a Christian.

(James 4:4 NIV) You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

Look very closely at this passage from James. First it shows choice; "anyone who chooses..." Then it says "becomes an enemy of God." Those two statements are vitally important. Sinners (non-believers) do not choose to be friends with the world, they are the world. Next, sinners (non-believers) do not become enemies of God, they were born enemies of God, just like all us of were. So what is James saying? He is saying that if you are a Christian yet you choose to be friends with the world, meaning to indulge in the sins of the world and live as the world, then you become an enemy of God. He is referring to people who choose to follow the world instead of following Christ. Don't let people fool you about this, you can't walk away from Christ and still retain your position in heaven.

(1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NIV) [9] Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders [10] nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Why would Paul bother to tell believers this? Surly if they are believers they understand that sinful man will not inherit the kingdom of God, so if that is what Paul is saying it was just a waste of words. Paul is saying exactly what he means. People who are these things, no matter what label they place on themselves, such as Christian or believer, will not see heaven. Again you cannot see heaven by living like this even if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and died for your sins. Part of faith is putting that faith to work, or in other words being a disciple.

If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for your sins, but you continue on in sin, then you are saying that you believe, but don't care. That is not saving faith. There won't be any part-time Christians in heaven. There won't be any believers who are not disciples in heaven.

Listen to Jesus, He said and is still saying "Follow Me!"

E-Mail Ralph

These devotionals are written by Ralph Dettwiler, and reflect his views.

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December 2002