Disciple or Christian


Becoming a Christ Follower is not the same as becoming a Christian

Blurring the line of distinction between Christian and Disciple is deadly.  It makes the requirements to become a disciple the requirements to become a Christian.  Under the Christian = disciple model, you have to; hate your father and mother, deny yourself, let the dead bury the dead, sell everything you have, and renounce all.

The Moody Handbook of Theology explains the line of division this way. “Discipleship always follows salvation; it is never a part of it, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”

When the line is blurred, people are instructed to “count the cost” of becoming a Christian. However, a restored relationship with our maker is free and faith-based. There is no cost to becoming a Christian.  Jesus paid it all.

On the other hand, it costs everything to become a disciple (Christ Follower). Jesus expects, utter abandonment, full commitment, and complete obedience without thought of turning back.  Discipleship is an all-in life-style we freely choose after salvation.  It’s foolish to ask unbelievers to promise to live like committed Christ Followers before they become Christians.

Becoming a Christian centers on getting.

Becoming a Christ Follower centers on giving.

For example, becoming a Christian is about being served by Jesus.  Becoming a disciple is about serving Jesus.

If you began the Christian life under the “count the cost” model, you entered a life of bondage and guilt when you should have entered freedom and pardon. The path to freedom begins by drawing a line of distinction between becoming a believer and becoming a Christ Follower


Do you have examples of the blurred line between Christian and Christ Follower?

Did you begin the Christian life in bondage rather than freedom?


Related reading: Is Unmerited Really Unmerited?

Grace Freak

Dan Rockwell

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24 Comments on “Disciple or Christian”

  1. Wayne Says:

    This raises the age~old question from James who says “faith without works is dead.” Can a Christian choose to opt out of discipleship?

    • Dan Rockwell Says:


      Great comment. Obviously, I think believers can and do opt out of discipleship.

      I thought I had posted on faith without works but I guess not. I’ll have to address that one soon.

      Thanks for stopping in,

      Hope you have a good week!


  2. Angel Ribo Says:

    Well stated brother. I am grateful that even in discipleship it is He who not only calls me to make these hard choices but it is He who also continues to provide me with the grace that enables me to carry them out. The great thing is that through faith I came to know Him and through faith I continue increasing in my knowledge of Him as I walk the path of discipleship that is not always easy but always rewarding. Thank you for your ministry.

  3. Paul Graves Says:

    I must admit I’m confused.

    When calling people to faith in Christ how would you handle the ‘counting the cost’?

    Would you not mention discipleship at all, or would you say to the enquirer that discipleship is optional, so as to not dilute the amazing message of grace?

    • Dan Rockwell Says:


      Great question. Doesn’t sound like your confused at all.

      When calling people to faith I’ll invite them to believe. As in John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

      My view is that discipleship comes later and is a free not required response to God’s grace.

      I wonder if others have ideas about this.

      Thank you for jumping into the conversation with your questions. They are good ones.



  4. Great article Dan. I was one who began under the “count the cost” model, and it took many years of confusion, misery, and despair to get it all sorted out the way you’ve explained it here. The “count the cost” gospel is a “gospel” that makes assurance of salvation impossible and puts a person on an endless treadmill of works trying to gain that assurance. It turns out that assurance is meant to be God’s gift to us from the very beginning–based totally on the finished work of Christ FOR us and His promise of everlasting life TO us– apart from any works whatsoever. Like you said, becoming a believer is just allowing Jesus to serve us, not us serving Him. I love how you said that! It’s so encouraging to read someone who is “rightly dividing the word”.

    John 3:16–Just believe it!


    • Dan Rockwell Says:


      Thank you for leaving your first comment on Grace Freak. Your story is my story.

      Your comments on assurance are spot on. There are only two potential sources of assurance, what I’m doing or what He’s done.

      I appreciate your words of encouragement.



      • Diane Says:

        Dan, I really like what I’ve been reading here~!!! I like what you said…
        *” When calling people to faith I’ll invite them to believe.”*
        AMEN~!!! That’s Bible language.

        Glad to see Gary’s comments here too. He has been a huge blessing to me.

        I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog first chance I get.

        All because of His wonderful grace,

  5. adamgroff Says:

    Great post Dan. I have always been confused about what it actually meant to be a christian and a disciple.


  6. Ashlin Says:


    I have to ask myself the questions: “Are all believers disciples?” and “Are all disciples believers?”

    All believers aren’t disciples. To say that all believers are disciples is to say that when one is fully pursuing selfish pride, they are still a disciple. – I don’t jive with that. I think you can believe without pursuing being a disciple. A man that has his mind set on pursuing an adulterous relationship is probably not a disciple. The focus always needs to fall on Jesus.

    All disciples are believers, because they are (believing while) purposefully denying themselves of things that are prohibiting the furtherance of the Gospel.

    If the community of faith concurs that a Christian is someone who believes in Jesus (Jn 3:18), there must be a distinction between a believer and a disciple. The judgement for being a disciple, meaning “who determines who is a disciple and who isn’t”, seems to fall in Jesus’ lap at Bema, perhaps? One day I might be able to consider myself a disciple, while other days I surely screwed up royally. Truth be told, I think any honest believer would say that every day has its fair share of screw-ups and could void us of our “disciple” status.

    What do you think, Dan and others?


    • Dan Rockwell Says:


      The best thing I can about being a disciple is I’m in pursuit.

      I nailed down the idea that Jesus would be at the center of my life. I’m learning to live it out with some successes and some failures.

      Even when I fail, I go back to Him.

      Thanks for joining the conversation


  7. Jennifer Snyder Says:

    Ok I understand that Christianity is free and being a disciple comes at a cost. The thing I don’t understand is choosing to follow Christ and being a Christian go hand in hand, don’t they? If I’m a christian how can I just say I’m a christian but choose not to follow christ. And also whats the price of following him? Its saying I will give everything all of me, and in doing that you are faced to trust him in faith day by day. I guess thats just where he wants me,but how far will he let me go. sometimes I feel like my faith is being tested and I wonder if he is still listening.

    • Dan Rockwell Says:


      Thanks for leaving your first comment on Grace Freak.

      I wouldn’t say hand in hand, I would say – one follows the other.

      If I’m a christian how can I just say I’m a christian but choose not to follow Christ? Great question! I’m not proud of it, but I choose not to follow Christ, and I am a Christian. Every time I’m filled with anger, lust, greed, coveting, worry, (shall I go on?) I’m choosing not to follow. I’ll add that being a Christian is about being not doing. What do others think?

      I’m with you on your last comment. How far… not beyond what you are able. Hmmmm, now that really helps doesn’t it?

      Best to you,


  8. landsway Says:

    Another interesting and thought provoking blog. We need to be ever aware of the fact that salvation is by faith through grace only. While being a disciple requires true discipline and committment, I think it only can come about because of a deep and burning love for Christ and a devotion that would almost drive us to that point. I would think a true disciple would not even look at the cost and surely would not count the cost. Instead they would look at the grace that had been shown to them and only wish there was more they could do. They would know that to whom much is given, much is required but this service, or discipleship would almost be demanded by their own spirits or souls. Discpleship is not for everyone but the ones who are so drawn will experience and joy like none other.

    • Dan Rockwell Says:


      Thanks for joining the conversation. Grace Freak readers enjoy reading the comments people leave.

      You’ve added the motivational dimension to an important discussion.



  9. What a refreshing post! Thank you for showing the clear distinction between justification and sanctification. I’ve summarized it this way. There are two great exchanges in Christianity: First, Christ gave up His life to give humanity life.
    Second, the believer gives us his life so that Christ can life His life through the believer. The first exchange is a gift from Christ to the believer while the second is a gift from the believer to Christ. Both cost the giver, but are free to the recipient. From a believer’s perspective, the first is justification while the second is sanctification.

    Grace is very hard to grasp because there is really nothing else like it in the world today. Everything else seems to have a catch and require the person to contribute something in some way to get the “free” thing. You get this great free gift if you just spend $19.95. But the only “if” is belief in Christ. There is no cost to the recipient with the grace of God as we are receiving a gift from God. Unfortunately, most of the universal church has a hard time grasping the grace of God. Grace by its definition is unmerited favor and a gift from one party to another without condition. It is clear that all humanity is guilty of sin and all deserve eternal separation from God (Romans 3:23). The grace of God is humbling and takes us to a place where we are uncomfortable and must admit that we are spiritually naked before God. We must realize that we have nothing to offer God and are completely unworthy and dependent upon Him for salvation. Only at this point can we realize and appreciate the freeness of the grace of God. He loves us and sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. He bore our sins in His body on the cross and offers us eternal life and unconditional forgiveness (1 Peter 2:24). We are to accept this salvation and forgiveness of sins simply by faith in Him. Following salvation, those who have been forgiven are invited to respond by willingly presenting our bodies to God for His bidding and service, the sacrificial call of discipleship (Romans 12:1-2). Charles Ryrie wrote in Balancing the Christian life, “the presentation of the body is reasonable or rational or logical in view of the greatness of the mercies of God in salvation.” (p. 79)

  10. Pete Chadwell Says:

    Great post, Dan. Regarding the James 2:17 stuff, since someone raised that issue, here’s how I understand it: “Faith” here is not the ACT of having trusted in Christ… in this case the word for “faith” is pistis which is a NOUN. The word refers really to the collection of things that you believe or know to be true. That is your “faith”. My understanding about the word “dead” is that it doesn’t mean “invalid” as if to mean “unsaved” at all, yet this is usually how it’s taught. (incidentally, The Watchtower teaches it this way as well… you’re not saved unless you do works.) Rather, “useless” is really a better way of understanding the word in this context.

    Sometimes I illustrate James’ point this way: If you believe that it’s safe to wear seat belts when riding in a car, but you don’t actually APPLY that belief by actually WEARING the seat belts, then your belief that seat belts should be worn is useless. Believing that you should wear seat belts, all by itself, does you no good. You actually have to ACT on that belief.

    In the same way, believing that you should treat others as you yourself would like to be treated does you no good unless you actually treat others the way you want to be treated.

    Hope that makes sense to someone. I’m open to any correction on that… but this is how I’ve come to understand it.

    • Dan Rockwell Says:


      Thanks for leaving a clear understandable comment. It makes sense to me and you packed a ton of thought into a short reply.

      I look forward to your future comments,


      • Regarding what Pete wrote, I just want to make sure this reasoning is not applied to receiving the gift of eternal life, in which faith in Christ is in and of itself is enough for justification.

        The following is my understanding of what Paul and James are saying:
        (Paul) If you say you believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life and actually do, then you are justified before God. (James) But if you don’t actually apply that belief through living out your faith in Christ in front of others, then your faith is useless and others will not be able to see or know that you are indeed justified before God.

        Abraham was justified by faith before God (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3) and he was justified before men by works, as when he offered up Isaac for sacrifice (James 2:21, Romans 4:2). There are two justifications. Paul speaks of justification before God by faith while James speaks of justification before men by works.

        From a practical standpoint, assume I see someone not living a Christian life. My thought should be that they need to hear the gospel and believe in Christ to receive the gift of eternal life. Now that person could already be a believer, but happened to be living in the flesh (we are all often guilty of this). The only way I might know for sure is if the person tells me that they have already believed in Christ for eternal life. God already knows whether someone is justified or not, but other people can only know based upon what someone tells us. James is saying, live out your faith before people so that your faith is useful, productive and beneficial to not only you but more importantly to others in which you are ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20, Matthew 5:16)

        One last caution is that we don’t want to teach people to look to their changed lifestyle or good works as a proof of their justification. The focus rather should be on Christ, His word and His promise that all who believe in Him have eternal life (1 John 5:13). You can however look to your works to determine how well you are progressing as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, namely evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in our life (Galatians 5:22-23).

  11. Dan Rockwell Says:


    Thanks for advocating for a clear simple faith alone gospel.

    So glad you brought up assurance in your last paragraph. When discipleship = being a Christian then assurance becomes a matter of my behavior/lifestyle/service/obedience. In other words I look to myself for assurance and not to Jesus.

    Separating discipleship from salvation opens the door for a faith alone assurance.

    Be Well,


  12. Pete Chadwell Says:

    I would have to say that Scott’s explanation of this passage seems plausible enough to be at least a candidate, and certainly preferable over the usual Lordship slant. I tend to think, however, (and it might be that I’ll end having to admit I was wrong about this someday) that it’s still not distinct enough from the Lordship view. I really do not think that faith in Christ is in view here. This book seems to focus on resolving life’s trials and tribulations, not on giving unbelievers evidence that you’re saved. I think that’s an important element. I prefer an explanation that does a more thorough job of exploding the Lordship angle, though I realize that our priority ought to be discovering the truth about the passage first, and not necessarily refuting a given perspective.


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