Discipleship is a process. We can also say that salvation is a process. There is a point where salvation begins, and we are “born again” — so that we can say that we have been saved. At the end, when Jesus comes again, there is a point where we will experience glorification (and we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is) — so that we can say that we will be saved. And in between there is a process of sanctification going on in which the life of Christ in us is being worked out — so that we can say that we are being saved.
Salvation, then, is an ongoing process, with a beginning, a middle and an end. And in this process, we are with Christ from beginning to end. So, salvation is also a relational development, a growth in relationship with the Lord Jesus.
When I look at the Great Commission as it is expressed in Mark and Matthew, I do no think that they are talking about two separate things from one another. They are both talking about the same thing, but in two different ways:
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15)They are both about salvation and they are both about discipleship, even though Mark uses the word “saved” and Matthew does not, but speaks, instead, of making “disciples.” Salvation and discipleship are not two separate issues. When salvation begins, so does our discipleship. Discipleship is what salvation looks like in the process of practical sanctification. It is what faith in the Lord Jesus looks like in the life of a believer.
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)
At this point, let me be quite clear that none of this — salvation, discipleship, sanctification and, indeed, the entire Christian life — is about our own efforts. It is all the work of God in us, by His grace, and we receive it by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now I would like to talk about a couple of passages I have been thinking about lately in regard to salvation and discipleship. The first is Matthew 11:28-30, where Jesus says,
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.The invitation to come to Jesus and receive “rest” is an invitation to salvation. And Jesus tells us here how to find that rest: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me.” That is discipleship. The Greek word for “learn” here is mathete, which is where the word for “disciple” (mathetes) comes from. But notice how this is sandwiched between the two statements about “rest.” Jesus is not talking about rest and discipleship as two different things but as one thing: rest that is expressed as discipleship. The invitation to come to Jesus for “rest” (salvation) and the invitation to “learn” from Him (discipleship) are the same invitation.
The second passage is John 10:27-28, where Jesus says,
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)Again, being one of Jesus’ sheep indicates salvation. Jesus says He “knows” His sheep. Compare this with Matthew 7:23, where Jesus says to the false teachers, “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
Now, notice what Jesus says about those He calls “My sheep,” and whom He knows:
- They listen to His voice.
- They follow Him.
With all these things considered, then, the invitation to salvation is the invitation to discipleship. Not two separate and distinct invitations. But, again, whether we are speaking of it as salvation or as discipleship, it is all by grace through faith. Becoming a disciple of Jesus is not a matter of our works but a matter of faith in Jesus. Faith in the Lord Jesus is not merely giving mental assent to a proposition about Jesus. Faith in Jesus looks like following Jesus. Following Jesus is how faith in Jesus expresses itself.
This brings me back to the Great Commission, for an additional thought. The going, the baptizing, the teaching — it’s all part of evangelizing, all part of preaching the gospel. In Mark 16:16 we see that the expected response is faith and baptism. Likewise, in the evangelism practiced by the apostles in the book of Acts, the expected response to the gospel of Christ was repentance, faith and baptism — becoming disciples. In Acts 14:21, for example, making disciples was not presented as some separate activity from preaching the gospel: “They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples.” To evangelize was to make disciples, and to believe the gospel was to become a disciple.