The call to discipleship vs. the call to believe

The call to become a Christian is a call to believe something. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Ac 16:30b-31a). Our culture says it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. The Bible indicates what you believe is the only thing that matters.

The call to become a disciple is a call to do something. Jesus explained the doing of discipleship in Luke 9 when He said, “23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

10 contrasts between becoming a Christian
and becoming a disciple

Christian: Free
Discipleship: Costly

Christian: Getting
Discipleship: Giving

Christian: You are unworthy
Discipleship: Living worthily

Christian: Focus on Christ’s love for you
Discipleship: Expressing your love for Christ

Christian: Christ’s commitment to you
Discipleship: Your commitment to Christ

Christian: Christ bears the cross for you
Discipleship: You bear a cross for Christ

Christian: receiving eternal life
Discipleship: receiving eternal reward

Christian: An unbeliever’s response to grace
Discipleship: A believer’s response to grace

Christian: Happens instantaneously
Discipleship: Happens everyday

Christian: There is one condition – faith
Discipleship: Many conditions – obeying

Mixing the call to discipleship with the call to faith confuses the requirements to becoming a disciple with the requirement to become a Christian. At which point we are not saved by faith. We are saved by works.

If you are not a Christian, the call is trust in Jesus for eternal life. If you are a Christian the call is serve Jesus with all your life.  The call to believe precedes the call to serve.


What contrasts can you offer? Does anything trouble you about discipleship following belief?


Grace Freak

Dan Rockwell

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32 Comments on “The call to discipleship vs. the call to believe”

  1. Ed Underwood Says:

    Christian: Conversation with a religious guy in John 3.

    Discipleship: Conversation with believers in Luke 14:25-35.

    Salvation is free; discipleship is costly.

  2. Angel Ribo Says:

    Christian: What matters is who He is for us.
    Discipleship What matters is who we are for Him.

  3. Hi Dan,

    Great article. But when you say “The call to believe follows the call to serve”–is that what you meant to say or is it “The call to serve follows the call to believe.” ?

    I really enjoy your articles and you’re very succinct in how you write.


  4. Crystal Says:


    I’ve been a Christian for several decades, I’ve attended many churches of many denominations, I’ve done all sorts of reading on matters of faith, and somehow I’ve never heard anyone make such a clear distinction between Christianity and discipleship.

    Just to be clear, I was not under bondage trying to earn salvation. I understood grace as a free gift. Instead, I was failing in discipleship – basically deciding it wasn’t necessary. I try to be obedient (because I generally have no idea what to do and I figure God is the only one I can trust to give me good advice), but being obedient takes on a qualitative difference as part of discipleship.

    Thank you so much,

    • Dan Rockwell Says:


      Thanks for leaving your comment. It’s an honor to have you as a Grace Freak reader. It’s my hope that in all of life from beginning to end we keep Jesus central.

      Best to you,


  5. I have often heard my dear friend, Dr. Earl Radmacher contrast these two words:
    Christian: Believe (John 3:16)
    Disciple: Abide (John 15:4)

    Great post, Dan! THANKS!

    Joe Lombardi

  6. Jennifer Snyder Says:

    Hi Pastor Dan, really enjoyed part two of being a chritian and discipleship. At church you had christian: Happens instaneously and Discipleship:progressive on your blog it reads discipleship: happens everyday. Does this mean discipleship is a progressive thing that happens you must work on daily?

    • Dan Rockwell Says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      Thanks for stopping in. To answer your question. I chose to write, “discipleship happens every day” because in Luke Jesus said, “take up your cross daily.” Taking to heart what Jesus said in Luke, I think discipleship is turning from living a me-centered life to living a Jesus-centered life everyday. Hope that answers the question.

      Be well,


  7. landsway Says:

    I agree that society says it does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere; but one can be sincerely wrong. Another difference would be christian–salvation is a gift by the grace of God-
    Discipleship is and act of submission by us.

  8. tcompton Says:

    It seems as though discipleship comes down to learning the word and applying it. Each is hard in it’s own way. Both require time and effort.It cost the original 11 their lives for learning and obeying this gospel of grace. Ahh, and then there’s Judas the disciple who wasn’t a believer(near as I can tell).Th

  9. tcompton Says:

    It seems as though discipleship comes down to learning Christ’s teachings and then applying them. Both are an effort of time and will. both are costly in their own right. It cost the original 11 their families,jobs and ultimately their lives to learn and then live out this gospel of grace. Ahh, and then there’s Judas(near as I can see, he wasn’t a believer but was a disciple), gotta believe! Thanks for this good stuff Dan!

  10. Dan Hambleton Says:

    My first thought after reading this was “Why are we dissecting our spiritual Message to this degree?” I guess all questions can become relevant when we get lost along the path.

    For me, my spirit and my faith were followed by works. How could I have faith when my God-given free will did not leave room for Him? It was after I changed my actions out of desperation that I had a profound awakening and humble faith.

    What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” James 2:14

    No. We can die physically of dehydration in the desert with 100% faith that water exists. We can also die spiritually of unawareness in the church with 100% faith in Christ.

    “But someone will say, “You have faith; I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” James 2:18

    It sounds to me like our faith is in our actions if I stop trying to intellectualize the difference. I’d drive myself crazy with contradictions if I read the Bible like a textbook.

    Dan- What are the costs involved with carrying the Message (i.e. discipleship)? I’ve tried all the alternatives and the price tag was enormous.

    Thanks for all the insight on your blog!

    • Dan Rockwell Says:


      Thanks for leaving your first comment. I appreciate it. I’m not sure what your question means but in general the cost of discipleship is everything you have and are. Maybe I’m missing something.



      • Dan Hambleton Says:

        That sounds more like the price I paid when I was destroying my life. I had nothing and was nothing when I made that first prayer. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel like I had to give anything up 🙂

    • Dan Rockwell Says:


      Got cha on the “not give up anything” It’s a joyful service. It’s a joyful sacrifice that in the end is not sacrifice at all



    • Heath Casey Says:

      I personally think James 2 is often misappropriated when discussing faith in Christ. I think Zane Hodges did a wonderful job of discussing the problems regarding how it is punctuated today(differently in our commonly used translations: NIV, NASB, NKJV). When does James’ objector really begin and end. It makes all the difference and removes any supposed contradiction, for there is no contradiction in the Word of God! (I blogged about what Zane had to say here)…this blog is inactive.

      God Bless!


      • Dan Rockwell Says:


        Thanks for adding to the conversation. I’m looking forward to future comments you make.



      • Dan Hambleton Says:


        Thank you for a new look at this passage.I had never thought to question the beginning and ending of the objector. I like to read out of the Geneva Bible (first fully translated English Bible) and it does not use quotes. The start and end becomes even harder to determine as you can see:

        But some man might say, Thou hast the faith, and I have works: show me thy faith out of thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God: thou doest well: the devils also believe it, and tremble. But wilt thou understand, O thou vain man, that the faith which is without works, is dead? James 2:18-20

        The Geneva Bible was also the first Study Bible and provided notes by the original translators. This can obviously be taken with a grain of salt, but here is what they concluded over 400 years ago when they translated to English.

        “2:24 The conclusion: he is only justified that hath that faith which hath works following it. 2:26 The conclusion repeated again: faith which bringeth not forth
        fruits and works, is not faith, but a dead carcass.”

        It sounds like the translators thought James was using works to further define faith and not separating the two. I wish I knew Greek myself! lol

        As for contradiction, I truly believe that 100%. The contradictions arise in one’s self when he tries to read the Bible for knowledge instead of direction. Which is probably what we are doing right now 😉

        – Dan

  11. Cheri Buss Says:


    Great message, but left me somewhat confused. I accepted Christ at a Christian Camp when I was 12 years old and have a hunger to a growing relationship with Christ. I understand about its my believing in Christ I am saved and free. But here is the confusing part, in my adult faith journey my husband and I where called into youth ministry (15 years)and I took this meaning was Discipleship. RE: Matthew 28:19 & 20 So are we not all to be both (Christians & Disciples of Christ)? And would you say there are different levels of both? We all grow differently in our walks of faith. My brother wanted to know a example of today’s disciple. Would you say you are both? Confused I may have to see you some Sunday.

    • Cheri,

      I’ll toss out a couple ideas. Others may want to add also..

      I don’t think there are different levels of being a Christian. I think thats an either/or thing.

      If diciple means learner, I’m not sure there are levels of discipleship either.

      I think there are levels of maturity in Christian life.

      I’m holding to the idea that discipleship follows becoming a beliver. I think, the commission to make disciples begins with inviting people to Jesus and then calling them to discipleship.

      I am both a believer and a fumbling disciple.

      Thanks for leaving your comment



      • I think being a believer is a yes or no thing and I tend to feel the same about being a disciple. I don’t know that but I look at it this way. Either I’m living for Christ or myself. Im either beaing a cross for Christ or Im not.

        This is more or less agreeing with you, Dan, but I think the point is maturity. Im either serving the lord more or less than the next guy. Where grace isn’t something that cant be measured, my actions are. I hate saying anything in the christian life this way but I’m either obey a little or a lot.

        I guess you could call that levels, Id more think of it as like rookie, veteran, all star, but it’s different for everyone. Everyone’s lives and circumstances are different so discipleship for me and discipleship for you are different with different burdens to carry.


      • Dan Rockwell Says:


        Thanks. I’m settling in on the idea that both Christian and Disciple is an either or thing and maturity has levels. Maybe someone will blow that idea out of the water? Rookie Disciple, now there’s a term I never heard before. But it makes sense.

        I’m getting a little nervous. I wonder if there will be other ideas?

        Best to you and your new blog


  12. Jared Young Says:

    I find it hard for someone to disciple me, but easy to disciple someone. I don’t like pride because it gives me a holier than though complex that is a detriment to ministry. The thing is I want to be discipled, but often its on my terms. I’m working on having grace with those over me and finding peace and rest in God to provide someone who is willing to disciple me and my ego (we are one you know =)

  13. Pete Chadwell Says:

    Dan wrote:

    “If diciple means learner, I’m not sure there are levels of discipleship either.”

    Excellent point. I was going to say that there are different levels of discipleship, while there are not different levels of being Christian (being saved). But your comment made me realize that my thinking there was sloppy.

    So, there are disciples who have learned very little and won’t learn much more; and there are disciples who will learn a lot, in relative terms, during their lifetime. This translates into levels of maturity; levels of experiential sanctification. But regardless of which of these categories you happen to fit into, you have eternal life if you have chosen to put your trust in Christ.

    Thank you, Dan. That really added some clarity for me.

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