Believers, or Disciples?
To become the Lord’s disciples
we must put what we have
heard into practice
The word “disciple” occurs over 250 times in the New Testament. It is a remarkable fact, however, that it does not occur even once in any of the Letters; every single time it appears it is in the Gospels and Acts. (The Letters do speak of “discipline,” but not of disciples.)
No doubt, this is not just a coincidence, but something quite meaningful. It should lead us to ask, why don’t the Letters speak of the believers as disciples? Why are disciples only spoken of in the books of History?
There is no direct answer to this question in the New Testament, but I still feel it that it may be showing us something important, even in a somewhat hidden way, about what it means to be a follower of Christ.
In the Letters, of course, we have the teachings, exhortations, and testimonies about the Christian life and faith. These are all quite crucial, for they point us to Christ and show us how we may live the Christian life.
However, the actual living out of the Christian life is not in the Letters; to see that, we must come to the Gospels and Acts. These books of History give us the actual record of how the early Christians followed Christ.
And that is why, it seems to me, the Letters don’t speak of disciples. Very simply, the disciples are those who actually live out the Christian life, not those who merely hear teachings about it.
Again, the teachings are absolutely crucial. They show us that we can only follow Christ based on our identification with Him, and because He now dwells within us by His divine life. Without this revelation our following of Christ would merely be an outward form, not something in reality (cf. John 16:13; the word “truth” there denotes “reality”).
Yet, we may sit in our church meetings and read and study our Bible (as we certainly should!) and have all the teachings, exhortations, and testimonies there are about following Christ. But, until the day comes when we finally begin to live out what we have heard and read, we are only a believer; we are not yet a disciple of Christ.
Sadly, so many Christians today are happy just to be believers—to have the assurance of their salvation, along with some Biblical teaching for their own spiritual satisfaction and to help them live a good, moral life. How many of us truly strive to enter into all the New Testament reveals to us, so that we become the Lord’s disciples indeed?
As we have seen in our recent Notes, to be a genuine follower of Christ is not at all easy. It only comes at a great cost as the Lord leads us into glory (Heb. 2:10; cf. Luke 14:33). We can only take this way, in fact, if we are first captured by a vision of the ascended Christ, as Paul was:
What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the sake of the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.
— Philippians 3:7-8
May this, and all we read in the Word, move us to pray:
“Lord, grant us such a vision of the heavenly Christ, that we could never be satisfied to merely be believers! Gain us to pursue You and pay the price to become Your true disciples today, those who actually live according to the vision we have seen!”
— Up Next —
“His Closest Followers”
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— 16 November 2021 —