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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

Is Discipleship Required for Salvation?

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

The Difference Between Salvation and Discipleship

Salvation and discipleship are two interconnected yet distinct aspects of the Christian faith. While they are closely related, understanding the difference between the two is crucial for every believer.

Comparison of Salvation and Discipleship

Salvation refers to the initial act of receiving God's grace and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. It is the moment when a person acknowledges their need for a Savior, repents of their sins, and accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior. Salvation is a free gift from God, not something we can earn through our own efforts. It is the starting point of our spiritual journey, where we are reconciled with God and receive eternal life.

On the other hand, discipleship is the ongoing process of following and growing in Christ. It involves a personal commitment to live according to the teachings of Jesus, to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and to actively participate in God's kingdom work. Discipleship requires a daily surrender of our will to God's will, a deepening relationship with Him, and a willingness to learn, obey, and imitate Jesus. It is a lifelong journey of spiritual growth, characterized by prayer, studying the Word of God, fellowship with other believers, and serving others.

While salvation is the entry point into the kingdom of God, discipleship is the path we walk as we seek to become more like Christ. Both are essential components of the Christian life, and while salvation is a one-time event, discipleship is a continuous process that shapes and molds us into the image of Christ. As disciples, we are called to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and live a life that brings glory to God.

What is Required for Salvation?

Salvation is a beautiful expression of God's love and grace toward humanity. Understanding the requirements of salvation helps us grasp the depth of God's plan for our redemption and the significance of our response.

  • Repentance: This involves acknowledging our sins, recognizing our need for forgiveness, and turning away from a life of rebellion against God. Repentance is not simply feeling sorry for our actions but “metanoia” in Greek – “to change the mind.” Implicit in this concept is the changing of the behavior as well.

  • Faith in Jesus Christ: Salvation is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ. We must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, who lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, and was raised from the dead. This faith involves entrusting our lives to Him, accepting His sacrifice on our behalf, and placing our hope and trust in His finished work.

  • Confession of Jesus as Lord: Another requirement of salvation is confessing Jesus as Lord. This means recognizing Him as the supreme authority in our lives and submitting to His lordship. It involves a declaration of faith, publicly acknowledging Jesus as the ruler of our hearts and lives.

  • Baptism: While baptism is not a requirement for salvation, it is an important step of obedience for believers. Baptism symbolizes our identification with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. It is an outward expression of an inward transformation and signifies our commitment to follow Jesus.

It is important to note that these requirements are not meant to be a checklist or a means of earning salvation. They are responses to God's grace and the work He has already done for us. Salvation is a gift that we receive by faith, and these requirements serve as a natural outflow of a transformed heart and a genuine encounter with Christ.

Discipleship: Required for Spiritual Maturity

There’s a difference between purity (the forgiveness of sin) and maturity (a well-formed Christlike character). One is given instantaneously in salvation, and one comes gradually by the addition of habits and transformation.

in 2 Peter 1:5-7, the apostle Peter encourages believers to supplement their faith with various qualities. Clearly, his audience already have salvation. Yet, salvation is not simply a forensic transaction that takes place in time past. It is also a present reality that is living and growing. This "present reality" of salvation is discipleship: Through it we are “saved” in a dynamic and growing way.

Overall, the passage in 2 Peter 1:5-7 encourages believers to continually pursue growth in their faith, adding to it the virtues that will strengthen their walk with God and their relationships with others.

Discipleship is not just a suggestion or an optional add-on to the Christian faith; it is a requirement for spiritual maturity and growth. It is through discipleship that believers deepen their relationship with God, mature in their faith, and actively participate in His work in the world.

Are Disciples Ever Unsaved?

It is an important theological question to consider whether disciples of Christ can ever be unsaved. While Scripture emphasizes salvation for those who have genuinely placed their faith in Jesus, there are instances in the Bible where individuals who were considered disciples of Jesus demonstrated unbelief or fell away.

Let’s consider a couple examples.

The example of Judas:

Judas Iscariot is a prominent example often cited in discussions about unsaved disciples. He was one of the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus and participated in His ministry. Yet, he ultimately betrayed Jesus, leading to His arrest and crucifixion. Judas' actions reveal a heart driven by greed and a lack of genuine faith. While he walked alongside Jesus and performed miracles, it is evident that his heart remained unrepentant and far from God. Jesus Himself referred to Judas as "the son of perdition" (John 17:12), indicating his ultimate destiny.

The case of Judas raises challenging questions about the nature of his discipleship and salvation.

While he was outwardly part of the group of disciples, it is believed that he never truly experienced genuine faith and spiritual transformation. This example highlights the distinction between superficial association with Christ and genuine saving faith.

The example of Ananias and Sapphira:

Ananias and Sapphira, a married couple in the early Church, are described in Acts 5:1-11. They sold a piece of property but withheld part of the proceeds while pretending to give the entire amount to the apostles. When confronted by the apostle Peter, they were both struck dead. This account serves as a sobering reminder of the seriousness of hypocrisy and deceit within the community of believers.

While Ananias and Sapphira were part of the early Church and associated with the disciples, their deceptive actions revealed a lack of genuine faith and obedience. Their sin was not merely a matter of misjudgment or mistake but a deliberate and calculated act of dishonesty. It is evident that their hearts were not aligned with God's purposes and their actions were contrary to the values and teachings of Christ.

These examples demonstrate that not all who outwardly associate with the disciples or engage in religious activities necessarily possess genuine saving faith. It underscores the importance of sincere belief, repentance, and a transformed heart as essential aspects of true discipleship. While discipleship can include individuals who fall away or demonstrate unbelief, their ultimate standing as unsaved individuals should be discerned with caution and humility, leaving final judgment to God.

Can a person be saved, and not engage in discipleship?

While Scripture emphasizes the transformative nature of discipleship and the call to follow Christ, there are instances where individuals experience salvation without the opportunity for continued discipleship.

The example of the thief on the Cross:

The thief on the cross is a compelling example often cited in discussions about salvation and discipleship. In Luke 23:39-43, we read about the two thieves who were crucified alongside Jesus. One of them expressed faith in Jesus, acknowledging Him as Lord and asking to be remembered when Jesus entered His kingdom. In response, Jesus assured him of his salvation, saying, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."

This account raises the question of whether the thief had the chance to engage in discipleship or demonstrate a transformed life. He had no opportunity to actively follow Jesus or participate in the practices of discipleship. However, his sincere faith and recognition of Jesus as Lord were sufficient for Jesus to grant him salvation.

The example of martyred, unbaptized believers:

There are instances throughout history where believers have been martyred for their faith before they could receive water baptism. Some early Christians, for instance, were put to death for their beliefs before they had the opportunity to be formally baptized.

The early Church placed a strong emphasis on the importance of baptism for salvation and the forgiveness of sins. However, the reality of persecution and martyrdom meant that some believers were killed for their faith before they could be formally baptized with water. In light of this, the idea of "baptism of blood" emerged as a way to acknowledge the spiritual significance of their martyrdom.

In other words, salvation and discipleship are two sides of the same coin. They are distinct, but united.

Discipleship is salvation continuing into transformation

An often forgotten element of salvation is salvation from ourselves, and our natures without Christ. Salvation is spoken of as:

  • In the past

  • In the present “by grace you are saved” (Ephesians 2:8-9) “you are being saved” (1 Corinthians 15:2) “to us who are being saved” (1 Cor. 1:18)

  • In the future “we shall be saved” (Romans 5:9-11)

Discipleship is being saved from the presence and power of sin now, not just from the consequences of sin in the past.

This means salvation must progress into holiness. God invites all those who have been delivered by him into a covenant relationship of holiness of heart and life.

The Example of the children of Israel in the Exodus

The children of Israel were delivered from the slavery of Egypt (a type of sin), and brought out. This reminds us of salvation through Jesus, of whom Moses was a prefigure.

But this deliverer (their Moses, our Jesus) brings them to a mountain of decision, where he invites them into a deeper connection with their Deliverer, God the Father. This deeper relationship is based in God’s holiness.

Salvation results in discipleship. Discipleship Results in holiness.

Discipleship involves growing in knowledge, understanding, and imitation of Christ's teachings and example. As believers engage in discipleship, they are shaped and transformed by the Holy Spirit, leading to a pursuit of holiness—a life set apart for God's purposes. Holiness is the outworking of discipleship, reflecting Christ's character and righteousness in every area of life.

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