I think it should be obvious you cannot be a disciple unless you have first accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. But can you be saved without being a disciple of Jesus? I don’t think that answer is as clear. Earlier in my faith walk, I probably would have said yes. These days, my answer is leaning towards no.
We could probably trade scriptures all day long trying to prove one side or the other, but at the end of the day, I think the bulk of evidence lands on the fact that to be a believer in Jesus is to be His disciple. This has serious ramifications for the way we live our lives.
While we can never earn our way to Heaven by the good things we do, we also can disqualify ourselves by not doing the things Jesus commanded us to do. If Jesus is our Lord, it means we will obey Him. Jesus Himself said if we love Him, we will obey His commands (John 14:15). So, it seems improbable our love for Him can be genuine if we live a life of disobedience to Him. It fails the test of basic logic. This doesn’t mean we will never fail to obey Him. It doesn’t mean we won’t fall short time and time again. What it does mean is that our desire and actions will always be towards obeying Him.
In the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus didn’t tell us to go and make converts. He told us to go and make disciples. You can’t be a disciple unless you have first been converted, so the command seems to take care of the issue. If we are going to make disciples, we first must tell others the good news of Jesus. If we make disciples, it implies we are also bringing others to Christ. The converse isn’t true. We can lead people to Jesus and leave it at that. In such a case, I believe many would fall away quickly and never get to experience the promise of eternal life with Jesus (Matthew 13:1-9,18-27).
Once again, the infinite wisdom of Christ is on display. By telling us to make disciples, He knew we would have to first go and tell people the good news of His salvation. Then we would have to walk beside these new converts and teach them what it means to follow Jesus. It also means we will have time to invest in far fewer people than if we were just preaching to thousands every day. This follows the example Christ set by choosing to invest his life in just twelve men and a few women. From this small group, His gospel has spread throughout the earth.
We’ve got to stop getting hung up on the numbers. A church of 50 disciples will do far more for the Kingdom of God than a megachurch of several thousand cultural “Christians”. We need to think small, not big. That’s countercultural, but it is the way of Jesus. Making disciples is difficult, messy, and time-consuming. We won’t be able to do it unless we first have repented and surrendered everything to Jesus. Only then will we be ready.
If we don’t do the things Jesus told us to do, if we choose not to obey Him, we are in great peril. I don’t believe one can be saved from Hell if they choose not to be a disciple of Jesus. There’s no such thing as a passive, cultural, or nominal Christian. There are disciples of Jesus whom He will welcome into His Kingdom, and there are those whom He will shut outside (Matthew 7:21-23). You can decide right now which you will be. You are in or you are out; you can’t keep a foot on each side of the line. If you’ve been a Christian in name only, repent. Turn from the way you are living. Choose to be a disciple of Jesus today.