Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Discipleship & Salvation

by Dennis Pollock

For some years there has been a running battle between evangelicals who emphasize salvation through embracing Jesus as Lord and Savior and those who insist on saying absolutely nothing about making Jesus Lord when sharing the Gospel with unsaved people. This second group sees any talk about the Lordship of Jesus as a deviation from grace-based salvation and mock such an emphasis, labeling it “lordship salvation.” Their idea is: tell people Jesus died for them, tell them they need only believe on Jesus to be saved, and say nothing about any lifestyle change, or repentance, or submission to Christ.

After all, they suggest, the formula for salvation through Christ is believe and be saved – not change your life and be saved or give up your drinking and be saved or start or stop any other practice and be saved. Any stress on behavior change or following Christ’s commands leads to a works-based salvation which is no salvation at all.

Technically, both groups agree that salvation is by grace through faith. But the “only believe” group stresses that this belief must never be accompanied with any insistence or even a suggestion that your life will need to change. The “lordship” folks believe that any kind of faith which does not lead to lifestyle change is no faith at all, and that real faith, Holy Spirit empowered and enabled faith, will always lead to repentance and the willingness to give up known sin. And they don’t see anything wrong with telling prospective Christians this from the beginning.

In full disclosure, I have to acknowledge that I fit into this latter group, and in this devotional study I will tell you why I believe this. To me, the fundamental question is this: Can one become a Christian and not become a disciple of Jesus? For most of the history of the church that question would never have needed to be asked, and if asked it would have produced indignation among believers. They would have told the questioner: “What kind of nonsense is this? It is ridiculous to think you could be a Christian and not be a disciple of Jesus!” But that is precisely what these “never-suggest-lifestyle-change” folks are really saying.

Nature of Discipleship

Let’s take a look at the Biblical idea of discipleship. Nearly everyone agrees that a disciple is a student, a learner, and a follower of Jesus. The word disciple or disciples is used continually throughout the gospels and the New Testament. It is a far more common term for followers of Jesus than Christian. In fact, before the word Christian was coined, disciple was the word of choice. In Acts we read: “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”

Did Jesus use the term disciple for His followers? He most certainly did, and in fact He laid down some qualifications about just who could be His disciple. We find these conditions spelled out in the fourteenth chapter of Luke. The first condition He gives is this:

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:26).

Here Jesus says that some people may be His disciples and others will be refused. Jesus clearly outlines His criteria for disciples. You must put Him above every other relationship in your life. If you love your husband or your wife more than Jesus – sorry, you fail the test. If you are so devoted to Momma that you put her opinions ahead of Christ’s call on your life – discipleship is not for you. If you dote on your children to such a degree that Jesus takes second or third or fourth place: don’t bother trying to pretend to be a disciple of Jesus.

There is no easy “believism” here. Jesus is not saying, “Just believe I’m the Son of God,” and keep right on placing your loved one ahead of Me. I really don’t mind a bit.” He is saying, “If you are not willing to put Me ahead of every human relationship, I can never call you My disciple.” And He is telling people this right up front. He is not saying, “Believe on me, and over time I will gradually wean you away from your idolatrous love for others.” He is saying that we will never even get to first base with Him if we cannot make Him the supreme love of our lives.

Bearing the Cross

Next He goes on to drive the point home deeper still: “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27). A cross is a place of death; to bear it is to be willing to say no to our flesh, to say no to our own hopes, dreams, wishes, pleasures, preferences, passions, ambitions, plans, visions, ideas, penchants, biases, leanings, and inclinations, and follow the will and purpose of Jesus wherever it may lead. We are no longer our own, and we will have to be ruthless and constant in saying no to self and yes to Jesus.

I once visited a church where the pastor’s sermon was based on this question: “What would your life look like if you started saying ‘yesto Jesus?” He attempted to tell how great and blessed we would all be if only we started saying yes to Jesus as He led us and moved on our hearts. I thought it was a terrible sermon. In asking this question he was implying that we Christians rarely do say yes to Jesus, and then suggesting that our lives would be so much better if we were to start doing so.

But the willingness to say yes to Jesus is what makes a person a Christian and a disciple in the first place! If he had a congregation (and it was a large church) of people who nearly always said “no” to Jesus, he had a church entirely made up of non-Christians! To call Jesus Lord is to be willing to say Yes to Jesus in whatever He says in His word or says by His Spirit to our hearts. Any less than that, and we most certainly are not His disciples, and if we are not disciples how could we be Christians at all? Is it possible to be a Christian and not a disciple of Jesus? Are we Christians a bunch of non-disciples – non-following, non-obeying, rebellious people who have mentally agreed that we believe on Jesus, but have never had the slightest intention of following Him or obeying Him? Is this the best Jesus can produce among the people who are called by His name? In the “Great Commission” Jesus commands us to “go and make disciples of all nations,” not to merely go and persuade people to pray the sinner’s prayer!

Forsaking All

In Luke 14 Jesus is still not finished with declaring the qualifications for discipleship. He continues: “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). Once again Jesus emphasizes that not all who desire to be His disciple will qualify. There must be such a dramatic and entire submission to Him that there is a willingness to forsake absolutely everything – every relationship, every possession, every status symbol, your reputation, your money, your security, your friends, your career… you name it, Jesus claims the right to have it. This does not mean that we will all have to sacrifice everything to become a Christian. It does mean that we will have to be willing to sacrifice anything and everything if need be. We never know in advance just what Jesus will ask of us: where He might send us, what He might ask us to lay down. And the willingness to surrender all to Jesus must be present at the beginning or we are no disciples of Him!

More Than Insurance

Salvation is free, but discipleship can be costly and when we receive Jesus by faith it must be done with the full awareness of what we are “signing up” for. Call this lordship salvation, discipleship salvation, or simply counting the cost, this is Christianity 101. We are not simply applying for hell insurance. We are devoting our lives to the King of glory and submitting all we possess or ever hope to accomplish into His mighty hands. Jesus exhorts us to count the cost of discipleship:

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it (Luke 14:28).

These concepts are undeniable apart from an extreme theological bias. They come straight from the mouth of Jesus. But those who stress mental belief without the necessity of lifestyle or even heart change, suggest that this is something to be wrestled with only by mature Christians. In their minds, when you are attempting to win people to Jesus you should say nothing about these things and just tell them that if they believe on Jesus they will be saved and will not have to go to hell. Perhaps they will submit to His lordship somewhere down the road in their Christian journey. Thus, they distinguish between becoming a Christian and becoming a disciple of Jesus. “Believe Jesus died on the cross and rose again, and you will escape hell, even though you may still fully plan to go in your sinful lifestyle just as much as ever. But sometime later you might get around to submitting to the leadership of Jesus and become a disciple. Or perhaps not. The main thing is: whether you ever become a disciple or not, at least you won’t go to hell. After all you’ve prayed the sinner’s prayer!”

Testimony Meeting

Imagine a testimony meeting in a home group where new believers come together and share what Christ has done for them. A young man stands up first and declares: “I thank God for saving me. Before my salvation I used to be a burglar. Now that I am a Christian I still rob homes, but before I leave I make sure and place some gospel literature on the kitchen table so that these people can be saved and go to heaven.” The group gives a hearty “Amen,” and then a young lady stands. She joyfully announces. “I have been saved for over a year now. Before my salvation I was a prostitute. Of course that hasn’t changed, but now after I service my clients I remind them that God loves them.” Then a tough-looking man takes the floor and says, “I used to beat my wife every day, but now that I am saved I always take a day off on Sunday – I haven’t beaten my wife on a Sunday for over two years now.”

We all instinctively know that this is insane, but is it really so different from what those who mock “lordship salvation” are saying? They suggest that any and every lifestyle change is absolutely unnecessary and should never even be mentioned to those we attempt to convert to Christ. Jesus says, “Count the cost before you follow Me,” but they say, “Don’t count the cost – don’t even think about the cost. No change desired or necessary.” This kind of foolishness was apparently creeping into the New Testament church, forcing the apostle James to address the issue. He tells us that just because we say we believe doesn’t really mean too much – “even the devil believes and trembles.” He goes on to say something that would absolutely drive some of these never-talk-about-change folks crazy if it were not in the Bible and were instead said by some contemporary Christian writer. James writes:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (Jas 2:14)

The Faith That Saves

Of course, Paul makes it clear that we are saved by faith. So what is James saying? He is saying: “Can that kind of faith save anyone – the faith that does nothing, refuses to obey Christ, and willfully disregards His claims, teachings, and demands. Can that kind of faith save us?” And of course the answer to this question is, “No, that kind of ‘faith’ saves no one!’ ”

While it is true that we are indeed saved only and exclusively through faith, the faith that saves is God breathed and is a warm, living faith, a heart-faith which fully embraces the lordship of Jesus Christ. It is willing, yes more than willing to place Him above every relationship, every possession, every dream, and every hope we currently have or will ever have. Jesus becomes our Master, our Savior, our Friend, and our God, and we become His disciples. This is true discipleship, and discipleship is a great place to be – in fact it is the only place to be.


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