Are All Believers Disciples?

by Bob Wilkin

Many today are saying that the call of discipleship is the call of salvation. They suggest that to be saved one must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Christ. That one must forsake all to be saved. That one must count the cost of becoming a Christian. That there is a price to pay for eternal salvation.

One suggested line of evidence for this view is the fact that the Book of Acts typically refers to Christians as disciples. If discipleship is not a condition of salvation, how is it that Luke seems to describe all believers in Acts as disciples?

The answer, I think, is fairly simple if we construct the syllogism underlying this argument.

Major Premise: All saved people are disciples.
Minor Premise: Discipleship is costly.
Conclusion: Salvation is costly.

The minor premise is surely true. Discipleship is costly. See Luke 14:25-33.

The conclusion is obviously false. Salvation is absolutely free. There is no cost to the recipient. Salvation is the gift of God (John 4:10; Eph 2:9; Rev 22:17). Gifts are, by definition, free to the recipient. To speak of a gift that costs is as illogical as speaking of a circle which is square. Both are impossible and illogical. Salvation is not costly to the recipient. It is free.

Therefore, either the major premise or the syllogism itself must be flawed in some way.

The major premise is not quite accurate. The accurate statement is this: all saved people under biblical instruction are disciples.

Jesus indicated in Matthew 28:18-20 that to make disciples we must baptize people and teach them to observe all that He commanded. The word disciple means a learner. Jesus had many disciples, pupils. Some, like Judas, were even unsaved. But all disciples were learners.

Luke in Acts does not discuss the issue of whether there might be saved people who were not baptized and not under the instruction of the church. That question was not part of his purpose. (Nor does he explicitly deal with the issue of whether there were unsaved people in the early church who were under biblical instruction and hence could be called disciples.) However, clearly it is conceivable that a person could be saved and not under biblical instruction. If a saved person was receiving absolutely no biblical instruction, then they could rightly be called a believer but not a disciple.

On the other hand, if a saved person receives instruction, he would rightly be called a disciple regardless of how mature or immature he was in Christ. Even an immature believer could be called a disciple. Indeed, Luke points out that the people in Ephesus who came and burned their magic books had been believers for some time (Acts 19:18). Either Luke considered these people to have been believers who were not disciples or, more likely, disciples who were relatively immature.

If we adjust the conclusion in light of the adjusted major premise we come up with this syllogism:

Major Premise: All saved people under biblical instruction are
     disciples.
Minor Premise: Discipleship is costly.
Conclusion: It is costly for saved people to submit to biblical
     instruction.

Here is another syllogism approaching the subject from a different angle:

Major Premise: Salvation is free.
Minor Premise: Discipleship is costly.
Conclusion: Salvation and discipleship are not the same thing.


Bob Wilkin is the Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society.

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