Believer or Disciple?

By Joel A. Hess

Is there a difference between being a believer or a disciple? No.

Recently I have discovered numerous articles attempting to differentiate between being a believer/Christian and a disciple/follower. Go ahead google it yourself. There are many. Here’s one example.

Basically, each author wants to convince Christians that it is not enough to be a believer; they have to be a follower. Usually they begin their argument by demonstrating that Jesus never called His disciples believers or Christians but followers and disciples. This argument fails simply on the misunderstanding of the use of language and word definitions. For instance, the gospel writers sometimes refer to all of Jesus’ followers as disciples yet also refer to just the 12 as Jesus’ disciples. They make a huge jump in assuming that Jesus considered the 12 true followers vs. all the others, especially as the 12 seem to screw up more than the other disciples, namely the women! There is no evidence that the writers of Holy Scripture considered the term “Christian,” “saint,” “follower,” “disciple” as being different levels of membership in Christ’s body, but instead they are used synonymously.

Ironically, many of these authors consider themselves disciples of the Reformation, some are even members of a Lutheran church body! Yet they have fallen back to promoting the very errors the reformation, that is God’s Word, corrected! in Luther’s day the Church segmented the body of Christ as well. Many a man and woman were convinced they had to leave their ordinary life to be a true follower of Jesus. They joined monasteries and cloisters, made vows and pilgrimages, became beggars and priests in order to go up the ladder and be a true disciple of Jesus. Faith was not enough! Trusting Jesus promises of forgiveness and eternal life was not enough!

These modern-day enemies of the Reformation don’t encourage people to pay indulgences or go on pilgrimages. Instead, they tell us that in order to be a true Christian we have to totally commit our life to Christ! That sounds so much better right? Well do it. Try it out for one day. Give everything away to the poor and follow Jesus.

It makes sense, right? Certainly, dear reader, you have surveyed all those people who come to church once in a while. They don’t pay any cost of discipleship. They don’t seem to give much of their time and money to God. They can’t possibly be at the same level as you. You give 10% to the church. You sit on a board for evangelism. You read books about being a disciple versus a believer! How can someone so inactive as that guy laughing it up at Flannagans call himself a disciple of Jesus!?

Yeah right. You’re a real winner. You follow Jesus, huh? You’ve committed yourself to Him? Everything? Sure! When is the last time you have looked in the mirror, O great disciple of Jesus? You keep a little for yourself, don’t you? You look at the opposite sex with lust. You give to the needy while wishing he wasn’t there or that he had a job. You sit in the church service criticizing the song, looking at your watch, thinking about all the stuff you’ve gotta do when you get back to work. Oh, but you put the time in, God must be happy. You know who also thought they were great disciples of God? The ones who put His Son on the cross. The ones who could not believe Jesus was holy because He ate with a guy who hadn’t been to synagogue for years. The ones who differentiated believers in God’s mercy from followers of God’s law.


And believe the Good News! Even for the self-righteous sons of guns who think they are more than a begging believer!

The Father welcomes you to His party as well as that lazy, no good other son you thought you were insulting by calling him a believer.

Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “No one is righteous, no not one!” Not even disciples!

But then he writes, “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Faith in Christ is enough! It is everything. You will never graduate from being a believer. Ever. You will never be more righteous than you were when you first came to faith! Stop scaring people into thinking they need to do more than just believe! Stop being afraid yourself or living in the delusion that somehow you are some great disciple.

Faith in Christ is enough! Jesus is enough. He has done all the work that needs to be done! He died and rose for you. He has given you complete forgiveness and eternal life. And to all you wannabe disciples He says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest!”

So rest not in your own labors, failures and successes of being a follower of Jesus. Rest in Christ. It is enough.

2 thoughts on “Believer or Disciple?

  1. Many excellent points, Joel, however, in order to subscribe to your main idea, we must first delete the entire book of James from the Bible, and we must remove many scriptural verses in the scriptures in which Paul reminds us to guard our hearts and conduct. Thomas Jefferson, great American patriot and renowned member of the founding fathers of our country, did just that, he took a scalpel and cut out the verses in scripture which he disliked in his Bible. He came up with the “Jefferson Bible.” We know that being a follower, or a disciple, or a believer may seem a play on words, however, the word of God shows that each identity applies if not directly, but still indirectly to the spirit and intent of the Gospel. One can claim faith in Christ is enough, but is it really what God says? Or is it how we decided to look at it? James said we must show our faith by our fruit, or our works, not merely profess it. And if we profess it from our hearts, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, our faith will be real, it will bear fruit, albeit imperfectly, and we can then be considered a follower and a believer, a disciple, and one of God’s elect.


  2. Joel, I have often questioned my own faith, examining my own spiritual walk. Is my faith in Christ true and real, I would ask myself? Or am I professing an academic thought from an intellectual rather than a spiritual presumption? Then, I begin to remember that faith in Christ alone, true faith, even weak faith, is the work of God’s drawing and the Holy Spirit. If I have a mere superficial faith in Christ, I am indeed a lost soul and still enslaved to sin. But if my faith is real, it is part of my identity as a sinner saved by grace. I can call myself a follower of Jesus. Also, a believer and a disciple, but still a mere man with the traits of Adam and a split personality. Yet, the love of Jesus and the intervention of the Holy Spirit keeps my faith alive. I can never take faith in Christ as a free pass to heaven, or as something to take for granted. Though my works are still like filthy rags which cannot save me, I know Our Lord calls us to not only believe, but to obey. We have the word of God to convict us as well as encourage us whenever we fall short. Faith in Christ should produce fruit in our lives, not to be confused with legalism and works, and the transformation of lives energized by walking in the Spirit.


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