Sometimes we refer to Christians as believers or disciples. Some Christians may even use the terms interchangeably. In this post, I want to address the question, what is a disciple? In doing so, it should become abundantly clear that these two terms-believer and disciple-are not the same.
In simplest terms, a disciple denotes one who follows a teacher. For instance, Jesus was, among other things, a great teacher. He had twelve men who followed Him wherever He went. This they did to the intent that they might learn of Him and that they might experience the kind of fellowship He enjoyed with the heavenly Father. Based on the aforementioned definition of a disciple, these twelve men were Jesus' disciples, and they were thusly referred to throughout the records of the gospel.
Because this was the relationship these twelve men had with Christ, He was proactive in teaching them. In the book of Matthew, chapter 17, for instance, a man brought his son who was possessed with a demon and asked Jesus' disciples to help his son. Because earlier Jesus had given His disciples power to cast out demons, He was displeased that they failed to deliver the man's son. "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?" Jesus said to His disciples (Matthew 17:17, KJV).
Note the words above, "how long shall I be with you." The point is that Jesus knew He would not be with His disciples forever. He was on earth for just a season and afterward He would return to heaven to His Father. At times, He was not pleased with the progress of these twelve men whom He referred to as His disciples.
One day, Jesus was speaking to some Jews, and as He spoke some of those Jews believed on Him. "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed" (John 8:31, KJV). So from this passage, we conclude that a disciple of Christ is a person who after becoming a believer, continues in the teachings of the Lord.
You might say that to become a believer is the means but to become a disciple is the end. It is good when a person repents of his sins and places His trust in what Christ did on the cross. All of heaven rejoices when that occurs. But God's ultimate will is for each man and each woman to become a disciple of the teachings of His Son Jesus Christ. Hence, in the Great Commission, we are commanded, "Go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19, NIV).
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