Is Believer the Same as Disciple?
John 8:31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. (NKJV)
We look to the Bible for patterns or models for how we as Christians should live. We almost instinctively refer back to what we call the “Lord’s prayer” to find out how to pray. We know where to find verses on partaking of communion. But I wonder how many of us have looked to this passage we are studying today, as the next step immediately following one’s conversion to Christ?
We don’t often think about it in these terms, but there is an important difference between being a believer in Jesus Christ, and being a disciple of His. Many will come to faith in Christ and be recognized as believers, however not all of them will ever become a disciple of His. They are saved, but they are not a disciple.
The greek word μαθητής (mathētēs) translated disciple, means follower or pupil. I fear we’ve modernized our use of the word “disciple” to the point that we no longer understand it the way the author intended. We think that if we as believers engage in the activities of prayer and Bible reading, we can justifiably be known as a disciple of Christ.
Bible reading can’t be a qualification for being a disciple. When the twelve men were following Jesus the New Testament had not been written. There was no local Bible store where you could purchase your own personal copy of the Old Testament. The scriptures were found primarily in the temple and the synagogues, not in the hands of Jesus’ disciples.
Prayer also can’t be a qualification for being a disciple. I think you would be hard pressed to find gospel references to one of the twelve engaged in prayer. As a matter of fact, when Jesus took three of His disciples into the garden to pray with Him, He found them sleeping instead of praying!
Well, maybe the words believer and disciple are synonymous – they mean the same thing. A believer in Jesus is a disciple of Christ, right? Wrong. To make the mistake of treating those two words as one has a grave negative impact on the biblical concept of salvation.
Let’s take another look at John 8:31,
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. (NKJV)
Jesus did not say “saved indeed”, or “born again indeed”, or “converted indeed”. He clearly stated that abiding in His word is what distinguishes you as a disciple or pupil of His. We do not slip in and out of being saved depending on whether or not we are following Jesus at the moment.
Maybe the next logical question to ask of this passage is what does Jesus mean by “abide in My word”? The greek word μένω (menō) means to remain, stay or reside. Are we back to the idea that devoted, consistent Bible reading makes you a disciple? I don’t think so.
Let’s think a minute about the twelve men Jesus referred to as His disciples. They very literally submitted to Jesus as their teacher. They went where He went, they did what He told them to do, they heard His instruction and asked questions. They interacted with Jesus in much the same way a modern day student would interact with their teacher. These men abided in the instruction (word) of Jesus. They tried to understand what He taught, and they attempted to incorporate what Jesus taught into how they lived. I think verse 32 supports this perspective.
32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (NKJV)
Do you see the student/teacher relationship in this verse? A teacher servers the student the truth about the subject being taught. The student receives that truth and combine it with previous truth learned. It has the direct effect of influencing the student’s understanding and ultimately his behaviour.
Are you a believer? If so, wonderful! Are you a student of the word of God? Yes? I applaud you. Are you a disciple of Christ learning from being in relationship with Him and allowing His truth to mold and change you? Then you possess the greatest station this life could offer, you are a disciple of Christ.
If you are a believer, but have never become a disciple, start today. Sit at the feet of Jesus as Mary did and learn from Him.
Matthew 11:29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (NKJV)