I heard a caller on a radio show ask, “Can you be a Christian without being a disciple?” I have been wrestling with this same thought of late. Before diving in, we should define the terms, so we are all on the same page. The term “Christian” now means many things in our world, but for this discussion, I mean someone who has trusted Jesus is who He says He was and has surrendered their lives to His Lordship.
A disciple, again for our discussion, is someone who is constantly and consistently pursuing Jesus, desperate to live their lives as He lived His. My inclination is to say you cannot be a Christian if you are not a disciple. I could be wrong but let me give you some reasons for my belief, and then I’ll say a few words about why I might be wrong.
To me, calling yourself a Christian, in the New Testament sense of the word, means you are a “little Christ”. You imitate Jesus in your life, love like Him, look like Him, and live your life for Him. It should be synonymous with the word ‘disciple’. To be one is to be the other. Many are co-opting the word “Christian”, and it now means multiple things depending on your context, personal background, and your geography.
Christians who are not disciples seem to comprise much of the Church in the Western world, and that is a travesty. We are without excuse. No one should be a Christian without being a disciple when we have so many excellent resources at our fingertips. In Iran, where the Church is experiencing explosive growth, I have heard from a missionary there most of the believers are immature in their faith because they lack materials to help them grow. The Holy Spirit alone is more than adequate for teaching, but I know how much my walk has benefited from the instruction I have heard and the books I have read from those who are further along in their faith journey than I am.
The only reason we differentiate between the words “Christian” and “disciple” in the West is because of the lack of commitment by so-called Christians. They want Heaven without cost. Too many want comfort without sacrifice. Those are the ones I am most concerned about and wonder if their conversion was sincere. To come to Christ is to turn away (repent) from your old life. I don’t know how you can cling to the old while claiming the new.
Now, I could be wrong. The grace of Jesus is both massive and mysterious. It is possible if you place your faith in Him, that alone guarantees eternity with Him. There are some scriptures you could quote to support this view (John 10:28-29; Ephesians 2:8-9), though I would argue you’d have to stretch their context a bit. I believe the amount of Scripture implying our lives will be different if we know Christ is overwhelming (Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 3:16; James 2:15-20; Ephesians 2:10; Matthew 7:22-23). Can you be a Christian without being a disciple? I don’t think so. But, even if you can, I must ask, why would you want to? If you are so in love with Jesus, why would you not surrender your life to Him? The love of Jesus compels me to spend the rest of my life in a vicious pursuit of His holiness. I miss the mark more than I care to admit, but the quest never ends. Jesus gave His life for me. I’ll spend the rest of mine giving it to Him.