Knowing the difference between salvation and discipleship can make all the difference to your Christian walk. And confusing the two can be devastating to it.
Lucas Kitchen wrote a neat little book on this difference (see here).
You see, God wants you to be eternally saved.
And He also wants you to be a disciple.
But the conditions for being eternally saved and being a disciple are incredibly different.
If I had to make a comparison, it would be like the difference between being a citizen and being a veteran.
To become a veteran, you have to be recruited into the military, pass a series of medical, physical, and mental exams, take an oath of enlistment, and faithfully complete your service time.
To be a citizen, you just need to be born in the right place.
Obviously, being a veteran is far more demanding than being a citizen.
The same is true for salvation and discipleship. Jesus put the difference this way:
“But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:40).
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matt 16:24-25).
Notice the subtle difference?
You come to Jesus for eternal life. In John, coming to Jesus is a metaphor for believing in Him. You come to Him in faith.
By contrast, you come after Jesus by following Him as a disciple. Simply believing in Jesus is not enough to be a disciple. It also requires taking up your cross, which means nothing short of dedicating your life to Him (don’t forget the cross was a means of execution).
You do not come after Jesus and take up your cross to be born again or have everlasting life. But you do it to have a full life now and rewards in the world to come.
Notice that Jesus ties taking up your cross to being rewarded according to your works. Eternal life is according to faith apart from works (Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9). But eternal rewards depend entirely on your works.
So come to Jesus by faith, then come after Jesus by works. Be assured, Christian “veterans” will be rewarded for their lives of faithful service.