Disciples or Converts – Is There a Difference?

discipleship21As far as my formal Christianity is concerned, I come from a baptist background. As baptists, we have a tendency to describe things in categories and outline commands in action-points. This does not always work well for us. While such a cautious approach to the Christian walk protects many of us from error, it does not always work out as planned. A lot of confusion that tends to happen between the teaching phase and the application phase of “doing” church or group bible studies. One confused notion that I used to hold for a long time, yet never paid much mind to, was that there is a difference between a convert and a disciple of Christ.

WE LIVE IN A DECISIONAL WORLD

This distinction between a convert and a disciple is one of the greatest misconceptions in Christianity that seems to promote and emphasize Decisional Regeneration. By “Decisional Regeneration“, I am referring to the popular notion that conversion is usually the choice of man, a worldview often implied in statements such as “I invited Jesus into my heart”, “I accepted Jesus”, “I allowed Jesus into my life” and basically, “I made a decision for Christ” and “I said the sinner’s prayer.”

This understanding of salvation is also translated into a skewed form of baptismal sanctification, where baptism is seen as “a resolution” or the act of “being serious” about Jesus. This is a product of the confusions arising from “Lordship Salvation“, which is the teaching that one can have Jesus as his Savior, but only those who make the decision to be baptized can have Jesus as their Lord. Being Baptized “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” therefore indicates that you are now formally under the “authority” of the God-head. Some of the implications of this understanding of salvation and baptism include the misconceptions that “unbaptized” converts are different Christians, or less Christian and therefore less serious about their walk with Christ.

DISCIPLES AS A SUB-CATEGORY OF CONVERTS

I can’t go into how we came into all this confusion without first having to outline volumes and volumes of church history. But I mentioned it both to prompt you to read more on the subject, if you’re interested, and also to address one of the many misunderstandings related to both salvation and baptism. There is the popular notion that there is a significant difference between being “born again” and being “a disciple”. If being born again refers to the regeneration, or the conversion that takes place in a person when he hears the Gospel, does it mean that the convert is automatically a disciple? Many baptists have this popular notion that “a disciple” is a different category of Christian. I, too, used to hold this view for a long time, without ever giving much thought to it. Part of the reason why this distinction seems so obvious is because of the way most church programs are organized. There are “discipleship classes” and there are also some people who are in a “discipleship relationship” with older men and women. It makes sense why only the members of these categories should be considered disciples.

A CONFUSION OF CATEGORIES

But this is simply a confusion of categories into which the two terms belong. Conversion and being a disciple are not two similar categories that can be distinguished on the same basis. To distinguish between “being” born again and “being” a disciple  can be likened to distinguishing between being born and being a child. One is an instantaneous act, an event, while the other is a continual identity, a nature. The act of being born again is what happens at the “point” when someone begins to be a disciple, the other is the state of being a disciple.

EVERY TRUE CONVERT A DISCIPLE

To be a Christian means to be a Disciple. A Christian is not just a believer of Christ, but a “liver” of Christ, He lives what he believes. A Christian is a follower and student of Christ, irrespective of whether he is learning about Christ from his Bible, his pew, his discipleship class or his “discipler”. In other words, every Christian is a Disciple. The two terms are synonymous. Being born again is the point at which one begins to believe in Christ, being a disciple is being in that state of believing in Christ.

True belief, therefore, cannot be detached from the convictions, motivations, leanings that the believer has or the lifestyle decisions and actions that the believer makes on the basis of his faith.

James says, “Faith without action is dead.” (James 2:17) This does not mean that actions give life to faith, it means that actions are the inevitable outcome and evidence of a true saving faith. In the same way, when Jesus says, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” (John 8:31) He does not mean that continuing in His word causes us to be disciples, He means that continuing in God’s word is the inevitable outcome and entilment of being a disciple. Only true converts are worthy of being called disciples because only true converts can and will continue in God’s Word. Being a disciple is the same as being a convert because being a disciple begins at conversion. If every disciple is a student of Christ, then his or her first lesson about Christ is enshrined in the Gospel that they hear during their conversion: That Jesus Christ died on the Cross for the forgiveness of their sins.

“Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 1:9)

For the fame of His name,

Cornell

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