There is No Christianity Without Discipleship

Can you be a “Christian” without being a disciple of Jesus?
For an answer to this question we should begin by looking where we should always look for answers; in Scripture.
Μαθητής, the Greek term translated as “disciple,” is used in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts over 260 times; with 99% of those instances referring to disciples of Jesus.
“Disciple” is by far and away the most common term used to refer to someone who believes in Jesus in the New Testament.
In contrast, Χριστιανός, the Greek term translated “Christian” is only used 3 times in Scripture.
Luke wrote:
“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26).
Notice first that “Christian” was simply another name for a disciple of Jesus.
You had to be a disciple of Jesus first to be called a Christian.
The concept of being a Christian and then becoming a disciple is completely foriegn to the New Testament. There is no Christianity without discipleship in the Bible.
Next, notice that the context indicates that it was the unbelievers in Antioch who were referring to the disciples as Christians. Only three verses later, Luke returned to referring to believers as disciples.
Luke doesn’t use the term Christian again until he quotes King Agrippa saying to Paul:
“Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”  (Acts 26:28).
Again, this is an unbeliever who is using the term Christian (possibly in a derogatory manner).
Luke (or any of the other Gospel writers) never quote a disciple of Jesus referring to themselves as a Christian. Peter came the closest when he wrote:
“However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:16).
Notice that Peter refers to “Christian” as “that name” as if it were a derogatory name used by unbelievers when they persecuted believers. And given the context of 1 Peter, that would be completely logical.
Therefore, only Luke and Peter ever use the term Christian, and only in quoting unbelievers. No New Testament writer ever used the term Christian to refer to themselves or to address other believers.
Therefore, the New Testament is comprehensively about being and making disciples of Jesus, not about being a Christian.
Again, there is no Christianity without discipleship. According to Scripture, one cannot be a Christian without being a disciple of Jesus.
The most decisive argument that Christians must be disciples of Jesus comes from one of the first disciples, John, who wrote:
“We know that we have come to know [Jesus] if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:3-6).
While John does not specifically use the term “disciple” in this passage, he clearly defines what it means to be a disciple by saying that those who claim to believe in Jesus must obey and imitate Him.
Moreover, John uses the term “disciple” more often than any other New Testament writer. John obviously held that believers must imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple if they truly know Him.
However, the predicament that we now find ourselves in is that we have a large number of people who consider themselves to be Christians, but have never had it properly explained to them that they are to be disciples of Jesus, what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, and/or why it is so imperative that they are to be disciples of Jesus.
And thus undoubtedly, there is at least a percentage of those who consider themselves to be Christians who actually have no interest in being a disciple of Jesus either. And when it is demanded of them that they imitate and obey Jesus as His disciples, they will oppose discipleship at every opportunity.
They do not want their comfortable Christianity disturbed.
Therefore, that is exactly what we must do.
In order for the American Evangelical church to be able to successfully keep the Great Commission of Jesus, we must encourage those who consider themselves to be Christians (but have no desire to be a disciple of Jesus) to either repent, and then imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple; or allow them to go out from us (1 John 2:19).
We simply cannot accomplish our mission while constantly coddling false believers within our midst.
So, how do we do that?
Once again, we should turn to Scripture.
The logical answer would be to layout before those who claim to be Christians (but have no desire to imitate Jesus as His disciple) a compelling scriptural explanation of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and why we must be disciples of Jesus; so that they will either have to repent and become one, or they will not be able to tolerate being in the midst of those who are truly disciples of Jesus.
So, what does that look like?
In our particular culture and context, we have identified the scriptural arguments for “why” and “how” believers are to be disciples of Jesus that most of the people who claim to be Christians (but are not willing to be a disciple of Jesus) have never heard or considered before.
(Again, we believe that many Christians are not disciples of Jesus because they have never had it clearly explained to them; which in turn must mean that there are important scriptural truths that they have either never heard or never understood.)
We identified these scriptural truths and the arguments to support them over the last 6 years through Bible studies, conversations, and interactions with people who claimed to be devoted Christians.
We then further honed and developed the support for these truths through studying the historical teachings of the church; and through continuing to have conversations with those who claimed to be devoted Christians.
Over that multi-year period, we found that these were the truths that would convince people to either jump all in, or simply walk away from imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciples.
And to be honest, it is fascinating (yet sometimes heartbreaking) to watch what happens. People you thought would jump all in, walk away. And people you thought would walk away, jump all in.
(As a side note, jumping all in doesn’t mean that they were immediately mature disciples. They still have to start as spiritual infants and move through the discipleship process to maturity.)
Below are these scriptural truths organized into 4 principles. Do not be surprised if you have never heard or considered some of these truths before; that’s the point. These are the scriptural truths that we identified that most Christians in our culture and context had never heard or considered before.
The scriptural support for each principle is footnoted and there is a link at the bottom of this article to another article that provides supporting quotes from historical church leaders.
(We also understand that people are skeptical. All we can say is that we have found that in our culture and context, Christians have honestly never had these scriptural principles explained to them before; and when they do hear and understand them, it brings them to a clear point of having to make a decision about imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciple. If you have found something better that works in your culture and context, Amen!)
  1. The Image of God as the Basis of Discipleship:
The ultimate goal of the Gospel (redemption through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus) is that men bring glory to God by being re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be.[1]


  1. The Purpose of Imitating Jesus as His Disciple:
The goal of men being re-conformed to the image of God is accomplished by men being conformed to the image of Jesus, who is the perfect image of God, through imitating Him as His disciple (through the empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit).[2]
(Please take note that almost every book in the New Testament has a reference to being conformed to the image of either God or Jesus. This is not an obscure concept; it is one of the most commonly taught principles in the New Testament and therefore in the early church.)


  1. The First Century, Biblical Understanding of Discipleship:
Imitating Jesus as His disciple begins (but does not end) with specifically learning and then keeping the words, teachings, commands, and example that He gave during His earthly ministry. It is simply impossible to imitate someone without knowing what they said and did.[3]


  1. Biblical Discipleship in a Relational Environment (Relational Discipleship):
Being conformed to the image of Jesus by imitating Him as His disciple is not a passive process, but an active/interactive process that occurs within a relational environment; which was established and demonstrated by Jesus during His earthly ministry.[4]
For more of our story and historical support as to why it is so important to repent from sin and then imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple, start here and follow the links the end of each article:
[1] Genesis 1:27, Matthew 5:48, Romans 1:22-23, 3:23, 1 Corinthians 11:7, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Galatians 6:14-15, Ephesians 4:22-24, 5:1, Colossians 3:9-10, 2 Peter 1:4.
[2] Romans 8:29, 12:2, 13:14, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 15:49, 2 Corinthians 4:4, 5:17, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 4:11-13, Philippians 2:1-5, 3:7-11, Colossians 1:15, 1:28-29, 2:9-12, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2 Timothy 3:12, Titus 3:4-6, Hebrews 1:3, 6:1, 12:1-3, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:1-4, 2:21, 2 Peter 3:18, 1 John 2:6, 3:3, 4:17.
[3] Matthew 7:24-29, 10:24-25, 11:25-30, 12:41-42, 13:16-17, 13:34-35, 17:5, 24:35; Mark 4:24-25, 4:33-34, 6:34, 8:38, 9:7, 13:31; Luke 6:46-49, 9:35, 10:24, 10:38-42, 11:31-32, 17:10, 19:47-48,  John 3:31-36, 4:25-26, 4:40-42, 5:24, 5:38-39, 5:46-47, 6:28-29, 6:63, 6:66-69, 8:31-32, 8:51, 9:26, 10:27, 12:48, 13:34-35, 14:12, 14:15, 14:23-26, 15:7-17, 15:20-24, 16:6-8.
[4] Mark 3:31-35, 4:34, Luke 10:38-42, Acts 2:42-47, 1 Corinthians 14:40, 2 Timothy 2:2, 1 Thessalonians 2:8.