Are You A Believer, Or A Disciple?

I love it when our Pastor refers to us being either a believer or a disciple. He makes a point of differentiating the two. There is a big difference, you know? You can believe in the Big Bang Theory or that Vanilla Ice Cream tastes better than Pistachio Ice Cream, but there is no commitment in that. It is simply your opinion.

Most of us know that when we speak of someone being a disciple of something we are referring to them being a follower or a fan of that object. But there is far more involved in the word disciple. For instance, you might consider yourself to be a disciple of your favorite teacher, or Martial Art instructor. Most of us think of disciples as merely a “student” or “learner.” But one dictionary describes a disciple as a “follower, someone who adheres completely to the teachings of another, making them his rule of life and conduct.” Now that is the point! Think about it. In the Scriptures, the Pharisees prided themselves in being disciples of Moses (John 9:28). Jesus’ followers were called “disciples.” Their discipleship began with Jesus’ call, and they were forced to exercise their will and follow Him (Matthew 9:9).

I often talk to people about their faith, and the most common response I get is, “Oh, I believe in Gawd.” Well, that’s nice but to quote James, “So do all the devils in hell, and they shudder in terror!” (James 2:19). There is a major difference between being a “believer” and being a “disciple.” But, as they say, “While every disciple is a believer, not every believer is necessarily a disciple.”

When Jesus called folks to follow him, he was quite explicit about the cost. Discipleship requires a totally committed life: “None of you can be my disciples unless you give up everything” (Luke 14:33). Sacrifice is expected: “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Those who want to come with me must say no to the things they want, pick up their crosses, and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24).

One translation brings it even further: “They must cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and if need be, in dying, also.” Whoa! We better be prepared for that!

Now let’s be honest. Not all of Jesus’ followers were able to make that kind of a commitment. There were many who left Him after a while. “As a consequence of His teaching, many of his disciples withdrew and no longer followed him” (John 6:66). Yeah, it is sad to think about, but not everyone is able . . . okay, willing to accept His demands. If you will give him your heart, He will give you the ability!

When Jesus called out to you, there was a choice you had to make. Were you willing to be a true disciple? If so, I hope you discovered that your Christian walk was at times challenging (as well as exciting). But hopefully you have grown and discovered a new sense of purpose and direction.

If you have chosen to be His disciple, you are more than a college student who listens to a lecture. No! A disciple listens with intention. He drinks in every word of his teacher; marks every inflection of voice; possesses an intense desire to apply what they learn.

In Luke 14:25-35, Jesus seemed to be laying out all of the requirements of being His disciple. Some of the people weren’t truly committed to Him, they were there to see him perform some miracles, but he also seemed to be discouraging people from committing themselves to Him, to being disciples. He knew the crowd that had gathered believed His message in principle. In fact, before this time Jesus showed how his message was for everyone. He even exposed the Pharisees as the religious hypocrites that they were which made Him enormously popular. But now He appears that He wanted to weed out anyone who following Him for the wrong reasons.

Some of those who followed Jesus were fascinated by His miracles while others came looking for a free meal. Some even hoped He would overthrow Rome and establish God’s kingdom. So Jesus turned to the multitude and preached a sermon that deliberately thinned out the ranks.

Look what Jesus said:

“If people come to me and are not ready to abandon their fathers, mothers, wives, children, brothers, and sisters, as well as their own lives, they cannot be my disciples . . .”

“Those who do not carry their crosses and follow me cannot be my disciples . . .”

“You must first sit down and figure out what it costs . . .”

“None of you can be my disciples unless you give up everything . . .”

Why in the world would Jesus say those kinds of things? He had a good crowd, what more could he ask for? Man, if He had been a modern-day preacher He would have couched His words much more carefully, so He didn’t offend anyone. But no. From here, it looks like He was intentionally trying to get rid of some of them. It wasn’t large auditoriums filled with people that excited Him. He wanted people who were interested in serving His Father. As someone wisely pointed out “Jesus seeks quality over quantity.”

Back in the 7th chapter of Judges we see that the Lord did the same thing. He wanted to give His servant Gideon a victory against the Midianites, but the way the Lord intended to do it was completely contrary to the way we would have done it. You see, through a series of tests, God whittled Gideon’s original army of 32,000 down to 300! You have got to be kidding? But no, Yahweh knew He could do more with 300 alert, committed men than He could with 32,000 half-hearted ones.

Three times in Jesus’ teaching in the 14th chapter of Luke, He said, “cannot be my disciple.” In other words, Jesus was saying that if you wanted to be His disciple there were some absolute requirements, so you better take them into account.

But we don’t do that in our churches, do we? No! We simply figure that if they know the right words to pray, write their name on the “decision card,” and give us their address, that is enough. We never talk about their sin and the need to repent. In our minds, the whole concept of sin is archaic; outdated; part of our grandparents “Ol’ Time Religion.”

All we have to do is lift our hand; pray a simple “Jesus prayer”; and then tell them that they now have Jesus and their Ticket to Paradise has been stamped and paid for. Afterward, we simply continue to live our lives without giving it another thought.

Back in 1939 Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote what has become a Christian classic. I am of course referring to “The Cost of Discipleship.”

One of the most quoted parts of the book deals with the distinction Bonhoeffer makes between “cheap” and “costly” grace:

. . . “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ . . .

“. . . costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

As another writer put it:

“Cheap grace, in effect, makes Jesus Christ out to be our magic genie of sorts here to grant us our every request instead of our Savior and Lord to whom we owe everything, including our very lives. And while that may suit our lifestyle, it has absolutely nothing to do with knowing and following after Jesus”

Here’s the thing. Time is running out, so it is time each of us determines if we prefer to play church or are we willing to surrender to Jesus being our Lord? It is time we stop trying to be at ease while pretending to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus declared “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one goes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). It doesn’t matter how long you attended your church, or how faithful you have been in making your offerings. You could be real nice to your neighbors, polite to the waitress, but if you have not sworn allegiance, surrendered all that makes you who you are, you have not found Jesus. He is not your Lord.

Let me illustrate how this worked in my life. Back in the early years of my faith, I had a pastor who used to tell me, “If He is Lord, He will want some say about every aspect of your life. He will want to have some say as to what music you listen to; what movies you watched; how you behaved on a date; how you dressed and who you hung out with.” And when I fell short of that, he pointed it out to me. I so much appreciated his insight and guidance.

I very distinctly remember a time when another brother and I were having a discussion about a girl we both knew. I don’t remember what he said, but I do remember that my response was, “Yeah, she would be really pissed off about that.”

Now, that was the way I talked back then, but my Pastor overheard our exchange and immediately interrupted, “Hey! Don’t you think you could find a better choice of words?” I was embarrassed and looked at the other brother and said, “I think she would be quite upset about that.”

Now I was quite proud of myself, but my pastor simply said, “That’s better.” There was no “Congratulations” or “Good job.” Nope. Just, “That’s better.” I guess he expects more from me and for quite some time after that, I was disappointed in myself. I desired above all else to honor my Lord in every aspect of my life, including my conversations.

I have grown to realize that Jesus never pussyfoots around. He is Lord! And as I learned from the writings of Elisabeth Elliot, “Until our will and our affections are brought under the authority of Christ, we have not begun to understand, let alone to accept, His lordship.”

So over the years I have grown in my faith and understanding. I have a greater knowledge of my Lord and about His Kingdom. I truly say that my only desire is to live what has been described as “a life of reckless abandon” for my Lord. I will put all my energy and strength into that and nothing more. I take that back. I have one more desire, and that is to share with whoever will listen the delight, the wonder, the joy of complete devotion and surrender to the Lord. For them to pass beyond being mere believers, and become disciples.


With these Morning Messages, I take you on guided tours to, as Bunyan described, the Celestial City. At times we linger at corners familiar and unseen. And explore the depths of our faith along the way.

The trail is long, but there’s no hurry. Though we do need to stock up on supplies for the way, and that’s where I need your help. If you enjoy these messages, please consider becoming a contributing member of this tour group. It will be very much appreciated.

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