Charles Ryrie [Speaking of the distinction between discipleship & salvation]:

“No distinction is more vital to theology, more basic to a correct understanding of the New Testament, or more relevant to every believer’s life and witness”.

From the forward in Zane Hodges book entitled The Gospel Under Siege


I.) The Term “Disciple” Defined

A.) A “disciple” was a Student, Learner, a Pupil (Matt.28:19-20)

  1. μαθητής – mathheiteis – a learner, student, pupil, one who follows the instructions of a teacher

Socrates was called a disciple of Homer

Later, Socrates had his own disciples following him & his teachings

  1. From the noun μανθάνω – manthano – to learn
  2. Related to μαθητεύω – matheiteuo – to disciple, instruct, teach, to be a disciple, a follower of another’s doctrine.

B.) Disciples were associated with their Teacher/Master.

1.) John the Baptist had disciples (Matt.9:14)

2.) The Pharisees had their disciples. (Matt.22:16)

3.) Moses had disciples. (John 9:28)

4.) Paul had his own disciples. (Acts 9:25) (the disciples = his disciples)

5.) The Lord Jesus had His own disciples. (Luke 6:17)

6.) Disciples were expected to: leave all their pursuits behind and follow their teacher wherever he went in order to be with the teacher all the time. Many great teachers of the ancient world had disciples enrolled in their “school”.

II.) Characteristics of Discipleship

A.)There was always a “cost” involved in enrolling in the master’s school.

B.) Disciples were not always loyal to their Teacher.

1.) Some disciples were disciples only for a time and then “quit”. (John 6:66)

2.) A whole multitude of disciples turned against their teacher. (Luke 19:37-39)

3.) Some disciples were “secret” disciples. (John 19:38)

C.) Disciples were not always “good students”.

1.) Not all “students” put their heart into studies! Some just go through the motions.

2.) Zane Hodges: [From his book entitled, Absolutely Free – caution, he makes some radical statements in this book! ] “One thing is obvious … If the educational process called discipleship is so demanding, no one should try to enroll in it who does not yet possess the spiritual capacities that are freely given at the moment of the new birth…. But what we must note especially is our Lord’s directness with His unsaved pupils. Their position was precarious indeed. Despite the stern terms which Jesus had publicly laid down for discipleship, they enrolled anyway. Yet no happy end was possible for them, unless they believed in Him for eternal life…. Discipleship to the Lord Jesus Christ obviously is intended for those who have been regenerated through faith in Him. But discipleship – even today – involves public preaching and teaching. We should not be surprised if unsaved people are sometimes drawn into the process.”

3.) John 8:31 – They were supposed to “continue” in their studies.

D.) Students come in many different varieties

1.) Some are committed & dedicated. Others are lazy and uncommitted.

2.) Some will learn a lot. Others will learn very little.

3.) Some will persevere. Some will quit.

4.) Some will receive an “A+”, others a “C”, and others will barely pass! Some will fail.

E.) A “student’s” life involves sacrifice. It requires lots of hard work. Discipleship made many demands upon its students.

F.) A “Student’s” life involves commitment (Luke 14:25-33)

  1. Not all “students” make the grade. Some fail.
  2. A disciple is NOT equivalent to a believer.

1.) The terms are not used interchangeably.

It is significant that the term disciple never appears in the Bible outside of the gospels & Acts.

Why? Because disciples were expected to physically follow their Master. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, it was no longer possible to physically follow Jesus around and sit at His feet to hear His voice. Over time, the term faded out of use.

2.) In the epistles, Christians are called “saints”, “brethren:” and “believers”, but never “disciples“.

3.) A person may be saved, and yet not taught/discipled (very much anyway!)

4.) A person can be a believer and NOT “discipled”:

Example: A death bed convert – he was not baptized, and not taught, yet truly saved! He would probably flunk a simple Bible quiz!

The thief on the cross was a true believer, but never discipled! He gave up nothing. He never followed Jesus anywhere!

5.) A person can be a disciple and NOT a believer!

Example: Judas! He was “hand chosen” by the Lord to be enrolled in His school. He followed the Lord for 3 ½ years. He heard and learned many things.

Who would score higher on an academic, written test? The thief on the cross or Judas?

Judas followed Jesus 3 ½ years, the thief did not.

Judas left his family behind for all that time. The thief gave up nothing.

Of course the thief was “taught of the Father” and Judas was not!

III.) Confusing Discipleship & Salvation

A.) Use Caution in Making Application from Discipleship Passages

There is certainly much application that can and should be drawn from the passages which speak of discipleship, but caution must be exercised.

1.) The requirements for discipleship are NOT requirements to become a Christian.

2.) Rather, they are to be applied to those who are already saved and speak of how to live the life of a Christian, not how to become a Christian.

3.) To confuse the two is to confuse the fruit with the root.

There are a lot of things God expects of His children. But living up to those expectations is NOT how we become a child of God.

4.) Much confusion arises through a failure to keep salvation and discipleship distinct.

While there may be certain points of similarity, the contrasts abound! To confound these two issues is to confound the grace of God and the works of man.

B.) To place the requirements of discipleship upon the unsaved is a serious error.

1.) Consider the words of Lewis Sperry Chafer: “The unregenerate person, because of his condition in spiritual death, has no ability to desire the things of God, or to anticipate what his outlook on life will be after he is saved. It is therefore an error of the first magnitude to divert that feeble ability of the unsaved to exercise a God-given faith for salvation into the unknown and complex spheres of self-dedication, which dedication is the Christian’s greatest problem“.

2.) Lordship salvation came about by means of “forcing” the gospel of God’s grace into the words of Jesus.

  1. Follow Me” is NOT the plan of salvation!
  2. Is it really necessary to sell all your earthly goods in order to become a Christian? Is it necessary to be willing to do so?
  3. Pick up your cross & follow me” is NOT the plan of salvation!

3.) Adding the extremely difficult requirements of discipleship to the one requirement for salvation (believe) is tampering with the gospel message itself!

  1. It is equal to making a willingness to submit to all the difficulties and trials of life a prerequisite for being “born”!
  2. Those are issues for one who is more mature.

4.) Discipleship is the desired PRODUCT of salvation, not a PREREQUISITE for it!

C.) The Bible PLEADS with men with a sense of urgency to be saved soon/now/today! The Bible warns men NOT to rush into discipleship!

1.) Plea for men to come to Christ right away

Luke 14:16-24 – An invitation which is “free” and men are invited to “come”.

2.) Warnings for men NOT to rush into becoming a disciple

Luke 14:25-33

3.) Obvious contrast in Luke 14

  • Come to the banquet! It’s free! (vs.16-24) [salvation]
  • Don’t rush into discipleship. It’s costly! (vs.25-33) [discipleship]

4.) Reasons for the “warning” against rushing into discipleship:

  • The requirements for discipleship are superhuman!
  • No one will ever be able to fulfill such requirements unless they are FIRST SAVED and empowered by the Holy Spirit!
  • Any school would warn students not to bother enrolling unless they are able to do the work!
  • Many enrolled in the Lord’s “course”, but they did not pass because they were not born again!
  • The warning is to unbelievers NOT to assume that they can finish the course! They will fail! They must FIRST be saved!
  • Jesus said, “Don’t bother enrolling unless you are equipped to finish!” You must be born again!
  • The Problem: Many enroll in this educational & religious process WITHOUT the new birth! Many attach themselves to Jesus externally, join churches, claim to be a follower of Christ and DO follow and learn up to a point! But they do NOT have what it takes to fight the good fight and finish the course! They are all doomed to failure without the new birth! Hence, the warnings!
  • Discipleship is obviously intended for those who truly believe on Christ.

Salvation & Discipleship Contrasted:

Salvation Discipleship
Salvation is free.

[but not cheap! I Pet.1:18-19]

Eph.2:8-9; Rom.6:23

Discipleship is costly.

Luke 14:25-33

The terms of salvation are simple.

John 3:14-15; 4:14; Rev.22:17

The terms of discipleship are extremely difficult. Luke 14:26-27
Salvation takes place in one instant of time. Acts 2:47 Discipleship takes a lifetime.

John 8:31

Salvation is believing on Christ.

Acts 16:30-31

Discipleship is following Christ.


Salvation is a birth – entering into life. John 3:3,5 Discipleship refers to the way a life is lived.


Salvation is forever. John 10:28-29 Discipleship may end. John 6:66
Every saved person enters heaven. Rev.21:6-7; John 5:24 Not every disciple enters heaven. John 17:12; John 13:11; I John 2:19
Salvation is always completed. There are no “drop outs”. Phil.1:6; I Pet.1:5-9; I Cor.5:5; John 6:37-39 Discipleship is not always completed. There are many “drop outs”.

Luke 14:28-33; John 6:66-67; Matt.13:20-21; I Cor.9:27

Salvation involves having our burdens “removed” at the cross.


Discipleship is a life of “bearing burdens” for Christ in following Him.

Matt.11:29-30; 16:24; I Pet.2:20-24

Salvation involves Christ’s love for me. Rom.5:8; Gal.2:20 Discipleship involves my love for Christ.


A saved person is a believer.

I John 5:1

A disciples is a learner, student, pupil.

Not all disciples were true believers.

Matt.10:4; John 6:64

Being saved involves trusting .


Being a disciple involves training.


Salvation involves receiving God’s gift. John 1:12; Eph.2:8-9 Discipleship involves receiving God’s instruction. Acts 2:42
Every believer measures up to the full demands of God’s righteousness.

II Cor.5:21

Not every believer measures up to the full demands of discipleship.

Luke 14:25-33

Salvation involves one’s position which is unchangeable, perfect, & finished. Col.2:10 Discipleship involves one’s condition which is changeable, imperfect, with room for growth. Matt.11:29; 26:69-75
Salvation emphasizes what God has done. I Cor.15:1-4 Discipleship emphasizes what man must do.

Luke 14:25-33

The focus of salvation is on the WORK of Christ . I Cor.1:18 The focus of discipleship is on the WORD of Christ. John 8:31
The saved person is a saint .

I Cor.1:2

The disciple is a student.


Salvation is God’s commitment to His word based on the work of His Son. Rom.3:24 Discipleship is the believer’s commitment to Christ’s word based on his relationship to Christ. John 6:68
The invitation to salvation is “Come unto Me.” Matt.11:28; John 6:37 The invitation to discipleship is “Come after Me.” Luke 9:23
Salvation is the sinner hearing His word and believing on Him. Jn. 5:24 Discipleship is the saint sitting at His feet and hearing His word. Luke 10:39
The sinner does not try to fulfill the demands of discipleship in order to be saved. The saint does seek to fulfill all the demands of discipleship because he is saved.
Salvation involves a response of faith to the cross of Christ.

I Cor.1:18; 15:1-4

Discipleship involves bearing one’s own cross daily.

Luke 9:23

God’s salvation is perfect, lacking nothing.

Col.2:10; I Cor.1:30

My measuring up to the demands of discipleship is less than perfect.


The requirement for salvation is one: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 16:30-31

The requirements for discipleship are many: continue in Christ’s Word; love Christ with your whole heart; bear a cross daily; forsake all that we possesses; etc.
Salvation relates primarily to justification. Discipleship relates primarily to sanctification.
Salvation puts a person into a right relationship with Christ the Teacher Disciples is an ongoing relationship and interaction between Teacher and student

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