By Shawn Lazar
The vast majority of Christians believe you must be a disciple in order to be saved.
They have it exactly backwards.
You have to be saved in order to be a disciple.
The problem with saying you must be a disciple in order to be saved is that it makes salvation depend upon works. After all, that’s what discipleship means. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ requires effort, sacrifice, and self-discipline. It requires pure thoughts, a pure heart, and selflessly living out of love of God and in service to our neighbors, just as the Lord Himself lived.
Discipleship means works.
But if it means works, then salvation becomes a human achievement, not a divine gift, directly contradicting what Paul taught the Ephesians:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8-9).
Teaching that salvation depends on discipleship also makes salvation uncertain, because who can know if they’ll persevere in faith and good works until the end of their lives?
M. R. DeHaan (1891-1965), a well-known Bible teacher who founded the Radio Bible Class and co-edited the Daily Bread devotional, saw the difference between salvation and discipleship. Here is what he said,
“There is a vast difference between coming to Jesus for salvation and coming after Jesus for service. Coming to Christ makes one a believer, while coming after Christ makes one a disciple. All believers are not disciples. To become a believer one accepts the invitation of the Gospel, to be a disciple one obeys the challenge to a life of dedicated service and separation. Salvation comes through the sacrifice of Christ; discipleship comes only by sacrifice of self and surrender to His call for devoted service. Salvation is free, but discipleship involves paying the price of a separated walk. Salvation can’t be lost because it depends upon God’s faithfulness, but discipleship can be lost because it depends upon our faithfulness” (M. R. DeHaan, Hebrews [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1959], p. 117).
God wants you to be a disciple. He wants you to work. He wants your service, and faithfulness, and love.
But He doesn’t want you to think that’s what saves you.
He doesn’t want you to put the cart before the horse.
Salvation doesn’t come after discipleship. It comes before. Discipleship is costly, but as DeHaan said, “Salvation is free.”