- Dr. Charlie Bing Published: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1992
Synopsis: Discipleship is a process, or a lifetime journey. We see that in biblical teaching and in the stories about the Apostle Peter.
The Making of a Disciple
How does God make a disciple? Does a person who becomes a Christian also
automatically become a disciple? When Jesus said, "Follow Me," was He inviting
people to salvation or to something more? This second article in our series on the nature
of discipleship will continue to explore the two different views of discipleship espoused
today and how they relate to the issue of salvation.
I. Disciples: Born or Made?
The opening questions can be phrased simply: Are disciples born or made? In the
first article of this series we concluded that a disciple is someone who is a learner or
follower of a teacher or master. We learned that in relation to Jesus Christ, the term was
used of those unsaved, those saved, and those saved who have made a serious commitment to
Jesus as Lord and Master of their lives. What all three groups had in common that merited
the designation disciples was that all were following Jesus Christ to some degree.
Discipleship is therefore best understood as a journey, a direction, an orientation of
one's life toward becoming like Christ. This can only be accomplished by following Christ.
The most common use of the term in the Gospels was in reference to those believers who
followed Christ wholeheartedly, especially those who were later called apostles. This
fullest sense of discipleship is the focus of this second article. Are such committed
disciples born or made? Is the call to salvation the same as the call to discipleship? We
will examine specific calls to discipleship in the Gospels to see if they are calls to
salvation or something more, that is, if they are calls to a life-commitment beyond the
issue of one's eternal destiny. The calls we will consider are those that relate to the
life of the Apostle Peter, for reasons which will be explained later. First we will
summarize the two basic views about the relationship between the call to discipleship and
the call to salvation.
A. View 1: Disciples Are Born
This view claims the call to discipleship is the call to salvation. The calls are
identical. The conditions of discipleship, hard as they may sound, are also the
indispensable conditions of salvation. This teaching is basic to the Lordship Salvation
position, which teaches that one cannot merely relate to Jesus as Savior, but one
must also give total control of his or her life to Jesus as Lord and Master in
order to be saved. The term disciple therefore emphasizes the obedience and
"costliness" of salvation in contrast to the "cheap grace" purportedly
found in "easy believism," which is the name given the opposing view (called
here the Free Grace view). Likewise, the term follow denotes a commitment to
faithfulness and obedience by which true believers can be identified.
This view is set forth by a number of Bible teachers and theologians. John MacArthur
states, "The gospel Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him
in submissive obedience."1 He adds,
Every Christian is a disciple. . . . Disciples are people who believe, whose faith
motivates them to obey all Jesus commanded.2
James G. Merritt likewise asserts,
The fact is, Jesus sought more than a superficial following; he sought disciples. In
short, the evangelistic call of Jesus was essentially a call to repentance and radical
James Montgomery Boice also argues that
discipleship is not a supposed second step in Christianity, as if one first
becomes a believer in Jesus and then, if he chooses, a disciple. >From the beginning,
discipleship is involved in what it means to be a Christian.4
To support their views these proponents of commitment-salvation appeal to the early
calls of Jesus to the first disciples, as we shall see.
Neglecting the demands of discipleship is considered by these and other Lordship
teachers to be an error of the contemporary church. Modern evangelism (they claim) should
include a call to follow (=submit and obey) in the proclamation of the Gospel.5
B. View 2: Disciples Are Made
The opposing view, here called the Free Grace view for the sake of simplicity,
holds that discipleship is a separate issue from salvation. This does not mean that
committed discipleship cannot be a continuum originating with one's initial faith
in Christ for salvation from sin. Obviously, discipleship should be the logical
choice of those who truly understand the issues of salvation, and often it is. However,
the call to salvation is distinct from the call to follow Christ in discipleship.
The Grace Evangelical Society states this position in its purpose statement: "To
promote the clear proclamation of God's free salvation through faith alone in Christ
alone, which is properly correlated with and distinguished from issues related to
discipleship (emphasis added)."6
Authors such as Zane C. Hodges, Charles C. Ryrie, Robert N. Wilkin, and Roy B. Zuck are
also careful to separate the call to salvation from the call to discipleship.7
In the remainder of this article, our examination of Christ's calls to discipleship
will show that the "Disciples-Are-Made" view is more biblically informed. We
will accomplish this by observing how Peter was made a disciple.
II. Peter as a Model Disciple
When we examine the calls of Christ to discipleship in the Gospels, we find ourselves
constantly crossing paths with one character in particular, the Apostle Peter. Though the
calls to salvation and discipleship can be separated without focusing on the person of
Peter, attention to this prominent disciple is helpful in forming a cohesive picture of
the progression of discipleship. But a focus on Peter is motivated by more than pragmatic
convenience; there is also a theological basis. Peter is presented by the Gospels as the
model disciple with whom readers can identify as disciples themselves.
This point can be argued from all the Gospels in their general presentation of Peter.
Simon Peter was the prominent disciple. Not only is he always listed first (Matt 10:2-4;
Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16), but as the spokesman for the disciples as a group, he
represents the consensus of the group's opinion of Jesus and His teaching (e.g., Matt
16:15-16; 17:24; Mark 8:29; 16:7; Luke 9:20; 12:41;John 6:67-69). Peter is also given the
privilege of being one of the three in Jesus' inner circle along with James and John
(e.g., Matt 17:1; 26:37; Mark 9:2; 14:33; Luke 9:28).
We see Peter's role as the representative disciple most clearly in Matthew and Mark's
presentation of him. In these Gospels Peter serves as the vehicle for Matthew and Mark's
message and the point of identification with the readers in their discipleship. Michael J.
Wilkins notes Peter's prominence in Matthew:
Even as the disciples function in Matthew's gospel as an example, both positively and
negatively, of what it means to be a disciple, so also the portrait of Simon Peter in
Matthew's gospel provides a personalized example of discipleship for Matthew's
Peter functions exemplarily in much the same way as does the group of
disciples. While Matthew concentrates on the disciples as an exemplary group, Peter is
seen as a 'typical" individual
The church would find much in common with
Peter's typically human characteristics. He is much like any ordinary believer with his
highs and lows, and he, therefore, becomes an example from whom the church can learn.8
A similar case can be made for the presentation of Peter in Mark as noted by Paul J.
One must keep in mind that Peter may have representative value for Mark, so that he is
not to be considered only as an individual. For instance, Mark may think of Peter as a
representative of the disciple or of discipleship, both in his generosity and in his
failings. As a disciple he is called to be a fisher of men, and he and his brother set an
example in immediately leaving their nets and following Jesus (1:16-18), so that he can
speak for the group when he says, "We have left everything and followed you"
(10:28). Yet in his falling away at the time of the passion, he is also typical of the
group (14:29-31). Moreover, if Peter is a typical disciple, since the disciples of Jesus
are meant to serve as lessons for the readers of the Gospel, Peter may also be the lesson
par excellence for Christians as to the demands of discipleship upon them.9
Peter's experiences encompass those of a typical believer. His life is presented from
the time of initial faith and recognition of Jesus as the Messiah (John 1:40-42), through
stages of development, to a fuller understanding of what Jesus' ministry encompassed. In
the process, he precipitates Jesus' instruction on what it really means to be a committed
disciple. Positively, Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ and Son of God (Mark
8:27-29) is central to his role as a disciple. But on the negative side, so is his failure
to comprehend Jesus' ministry in suffering and death (Mark 8:31-33). Peter's experiences
of following Christ take all believers through their own failures and successes.
Peter's name change from Simon also has a representative function in the
Gospels. Jesus' new name for him, Cephas in Aramaic or Petros in Greek,
means "rock." In spite of his failures, Peter the Rock would represent
discipleship. Carsten P. Thiede writes:
The early Christians, and this includes the apostles and their pupils, could therefore
look to Peter and his experience as a kind of modelPeter was the petros, the
rock, not because of his strengths, but in spite of his weaknesses, "deputizing"
for the weaknesses of them all.10
For these reasons, when we view the life of Peter, we see the life of a typical
disciple as designed by God. This informs us about the nature of discipleship, when it
begins, how it develops, and the end toward which it is directed. In short, when we study
Peters life we see the making of a disciple.
III. Peter as a Progressing Disciple
When we study the life and progress of Peter in the Gospels, we find definite stages in
his commitment of discipleship based on his responses to Jesus calls to
"follow" Him. As noted in the first article in this series, Jesus call to
"Follow Me" was a call to follow Him in a life of discipleship. The various
calls to follow serve as a helpful framework in understanding the progression of
discipleship or how a disciple is made.
A. Following in Salvation
Peters first encounter with Christ is described in John 1:40-42. The setting for
this meeting is Bethany beyond the Jordan (1:28).11 Andrew,
Peters brother, first meets Jesus, then goes to find Peter. When Simon Peter meets
Jesus, we have no record of his words or thoughts, only that Jesus changed his name from
Simon to Cephas (=Peter, John 1:42). Whether Peter was saved here we do not know.
But Jesus knew he would be saved and useful to Him. However, Andrews faith12 implies Peters. We know that Peter
is at least saved by the time of the wedding in Cana, for there we have the scriptural
confirmation that "[Christs] disciples believed in Him" (John 2:11).
In neither John 1 nor 2 is there any call for Peter to follow Christ as a disciple.
Neither do we find conditions of commitment required by Christ nor any commitment
expressed by Peter. A. B. Bruce notes the significance of Jesus' meeting in John 1 with
those who would later become His disciples:
We have here to do not with any formal solemn call to the great office of the
apostleship, or even with the commencement of an uninterrupted discipleship, but at the
utmost with the beginnings of an acquaintance with and of faith in Jesus on the part of
certain individuals who subsequently became constant attendants on His person, and
ultimately apostles of His religion. Accordingly we find no mention made in the three
first Gospels of the events here recorded.13
The encounter with Peter in John 1 clearly happened in the early phase of Jesus'
ministry. Timing is important in understanding the significance of Jesus' later calls to
follow. The story shows that God's first call to unbelievers is a call to salvation.
B. Following in Commitment
The first call to Peter to follow in discipleship is issued in Matt 4:18-22 and Mark
1:14-20, in Galilee (Matt 4:12, 18,23; Mark 1:14, 16,21). Jesus calls Peter and
Andrew, and James and John, the sons of Zebedee, to become "fishers of men." Is
this episode also a call to salvation? Some of the Lordship Salvation school believe it
Commenting on this call, Boice assumes this interpretation to support his argument for
discipleship is not a supposed second step in Christianity, as if one first
becomes a believer in Jesus and then, if he chooses, a disciple. >From the beginning,
discipleship is involved in what it means to be a Christian.14
There is no dispute that in these passages Jesus is calling Peter and the others to a
further commitment of discipleship. The command "Follow Me" and the promise that
they will become "fishers of men" correctly denote the obedience and submission
essential to discipleship. However, there is no support for Boice's assumption that this
encounter is either chronologically or theologically parallel with the first encounter of
Jesus with Peter and the other disciples in John 1.15
Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:14-20 could not possibly be the same event described in John
1:35-42, which is clearly Jesus' first encounter with Peter and the other disciples. In
John 1 the setting is Bethany beyond the Jordan (John 1:28), not Galilee, as in Matthew
and Mark (cf. John 1:43).16 In John there
is no mention of a seaside setting nor of fishing for men. Furthermore, Peter is brought
to Jesus (1:41-42) rather than being already present as Jesus walked by (Matt 4:18; Mark
1:16). Finally, in the first chapter of John, Peter is obviously introduced to Jesus for
the first time, while Matthew and Mark's accounts report no introduction of the men to
Jesus, and appear to assume a degree of familiarity with Jesus.
Many commentators agree that Matthew and Mark's accounts of Jesus' call to follow and
become fishers of men presuppose the facts of the John 1 encounter.17 Since Peter was saved in John 1 or at latest by John 2 (see v11),
then the call to follow in Matthew and Mark cannot be a call to salvation. James Donaldson
writes on the call to become fishers of men:
The response of the disciples is not an act of faith in Jesus, but more significantly
an act of obedience. Mark's Gospel issues no call to repentance here but only a call to
Hans Conzelmann makes the same distinction between salvation and discipleship in this
narrative: "Jesus does not make this discipleship in the external sense a general
condition for salvation."19 Even A.
W. Pink, a strong Lordship Salvation teacher, agrees: "John tells us of the conversion
of these disciples, whereas Mark (as also Matthew and Luke) deals with their call
to service... "(emphasis his).20
After salvation, Jesus calls those who have believed to a life of evangelism.
C. Following in Obedience
Another time we find Peter following Christ is in the seaside account described in Luke
5:1-11. After an unfruitful night of fishing, Jesus finds Peter washing his nets. He tells
him to launch the boat and let down the nets. Peter objects, but obeys, and catches a huge
haul of fish. The results produce in Peter a broken spirit as he now learns to obey the
Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus tells Peter, "From now on you will catch men" (5:10),
and the text notes that Peter and his companions "forsook all and followed Him"
The story has many similarities to the seaside call in Matthew 4 and Mark 1, and not
surprisingly, some have interpreted it as a parallel account. Such an interpretation adds
fuel to the Lordship Salvation fire, for now they have Christ calling Peter to salvation
in such a way that it includes Christ's lordship over him (v 8) and the forsaking of
everything. For example, Merritt writes, "the evangelistic call of Jesus was
essentially a call to repentance and radical discipleship." He adds, "the call
of Christ to discipleship is a multi-faceted call which demands a singular commitment of
faith and obedience." Merritt next argues from Luke 5:1-11 that part of obedience is
the evangelistic task. He then states the inevitable conclusion from his interpretation of
To be a disciple one must follow Jesus. But to follow Jesus, one will become a fisher
of men. Therefore, "if you are not fishing, you are not following!" The call to
discipleship is indeed a call to evangelism.21
Merritt's equation of this episode with Matthew 4 and Mark 1 and his interpretation of
them as a call to salvation virtually forces him to include evangelism as a condition
of salvation. One might wonder, since Christ's lordship is in view, why stop at
Merritt's conclusion comes from confusing the calls of Christ. However, just as John 1
was shown to be different from Matthew 4 and Mark 1, so also Luke 5 can be shown to be
different from Matthew 4 and Mark 1. Admittedly, there are some similarities, such as the
seaside setting in Galilee, the context of fishing, and the immediate response of the
fishermen who follow Jesus. However, there are many differences. For example, in Luke
there is a multitude pressing Jesus as He stands on the shore, while in Matthew and Mark
He is apparently alone and walking. Also, in Luke the fishermen are out of their
boats washing their nets, but in Matthew and Mark they are in their boats casting
their nets. In Luke Jesus gets into one of the boats for a fishing excursion, but in
Matthew and Mark it is obvious He does none of this. Plummer recognizes some similarities,
but separates Luke's account from Matthew and Mark's:
Against these similarities however, we have to set the differences, chief among which
is the miraculous draught of fishes which Mt. and Mk. omit. Could Peter have failed to
include this in his narrative? And would Mk. have omitted it, if the Petrine tradition had
contained it? It is easier to believe that some of the disciples were called more than
once, and that their abandonment of their original mode of life was gradual: so that Mk.
and Mt. may relate one occasion and Lk. another. Even after the Resurrection Peter speaks
quite naturally of "going a fishing" (Jn. xxi. 3), as if it was still at least
an occasional pursuit.22
Plummer's observation fits the model of discipleship proposed in this article. In a
progression of commitment, a disciple requires continual challenges or calls to become
more of a disciple. This progression is seen in some of the details of Luke's account. For
example, Jesus does not actually call Peter to follow here, yet Peter follows. Evidently
Peter already knew the Lord's will, for earlier Jesus did actually call him to follow
(Matt 4:18-22; Mark 1:14-20). For Peter, the question was one of total submission
to that call. Indeed, Luke notes that in this instance he "forsook all," while
Matthew and Mark both note that he only left the boat and his father. Jesus' words also
seem to mark a progression, for while in Matthew the promise is "I will make
you fishers of men" (Matt 4:19) and in Mark "I will make you become
fishers of men" (Mark 1:17), in Luke Jesus moves from the future promise to the
initiation of a present fulfillment when He says, "From now on you will catch
men" (Luke 5:10). Jesus could say this now that Peter had learned the lesson of
submission and obedience. "It was one thing to call the four apostles, it was quite
another thing to demonstrate to them the power of the gospel they were to handle as
fishers of men. "23
The significance of this episode in the progression of Peter's discipleship is noted by
Richard D. Calenberg:
This event seems to mark an important step in the process and progress of commitment to
Christ in discipleship on the part of Peter, James and John. Never again will they return
to fishing until after the Passion. Peter, in particular, will faithfully follow Christ
through every experience and his presence is repeatedly noted by the Gospel writers. Not
until the events immediately preceding the crucifixion will his commitment to discipleship
It should be no surprise that Peter had returned to his fishing in Luke 5, for as
Calenberg and Plummer both noted, we see he does this again in John 21. A number of other
commentators have noted this obvious progression in discipleship in the Gospels.25
As we examine the calls of Christ to discipleship in Matthew 4 and Mark 1, and later in
Luke 5, we find no mention of the Gospel, no call to believe unto salvation. The calls
were, after all, to become fishers of men as they followed Christ in obedience.
Peter initially followed with some enthusiasm (Matthew 4; Mark 1), but not with the
submission and obedience he finally manifests in Luke 5:1-11.Jesus calls those who are his
disciples to submissive obedience.
D. Following in Sacrifice
Now that Peter has learned his first lesson in submission and obedience, Jesus advances
him in the school of discipleship with a lesson on what it really means to be a disciple.
On the occasion of Peter's climactic confession (Matt 16:13f.; Mark 8:27f.; Luke 9:18f.),
Jesus instructs all the disciples in the conditions or cost of continuing in discipleship.
Though all the disciples are addressed, Peter becomes the principal character in
precipitating this instruction.
The interesting juxtaposition of Jesus addressing Peter as "Blessed" (Matt
16:17) and then as "Satan" (Matt 16:23) shows that, though Peter was saved, he
was limited in his understanding of suffering in relation to discipleship. He is praised
for his proper understanding of who Jesus is, but rebuked for his lack of understanding
about what Jesus must do in following the Father's will. Peter's incomplete comprehension
of Christ's submission to God's will indicates a parallel deficient comprehension about
what it means to be a disciple submitted to God's will in the fullest sense. This prepares
the way for Christ's well-known instructions about the cost of discipleship.
The many conditions listed in Matt 16:24-28; Mark 8:34-38; and Luke 9:23-27 (cf. also
Luke 14:25-33) are considered conditions for salvation by Lordship Salvation teachers 26 In the next article of this series, we
will show how each of the specific conditions cannot refer to salvation. Here we make only
some general observations in relation to Peter. First, the conditions are spoken to him as
a believer. As shown, his faith is affirmed by the Scripture (John 2:11), and he
has received the approbation of Jesus for his confession of faith (Matt 16:17-19). Peter
has been following Jesus since the two seaside calls and is included in the
"disciples" whom Jesus addresses (Matt 16:21, 24; Mark 8:33-34). What sense does
it make to have Jesus telling Peter and the disciplesmen who were already believershow
to be saved?
Second, the language Jesus uses to speak of the ultimate goal of the conditions is
language not used of salvation. We have already seen that in the progression of Peter's
relationship to Christ, the call to "follow" is a call to discipleship, not
salvation.27 In giving the conditions of
discipleship, Jesus again uses the term "Follow Me" (Matt 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke
9:23). Jesus also says that anyone who does not meet His conditions "cannot be My
disciple" (Luke 14:26-33). Clearly the issue is discipleship and following, not
faith and salvation. Another important term used in these passages is "come after
Me" (erchomai plus opiso) found in all three Synoptic Gospels for
those who would meet the conditions of discipleship (Matt 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23;
14:27). This term is significant because it is seen here as essentially equivalent to
"follow" and the idea of discipleship. Perhaps more significant is that it is different
from the language Jesus uses to invite people to salvation, which is "come
to Me" (erchomai plus pros).28
Jesus was not telling Peter how to be saved, but what it means to be a disciple in the
fullest sense. Peter was already a disciple, but every disciple is challenged to a fuller
commitment in his walk with the Lord. If the challenge is rejected, the believer has, in
effect, ceased following. For Peter, who does not fully comprehend Jesus' obedience to the
Father, it is time to challenge his incomplete comprehension of discipleship with specific
conditions. Obedient disciples can expect Jesus to challenge them with a call to the
deepest sacrificial commitment.
E. Following in Failure
The next stage of Peter's discipleship finds him faltering in following the Lord. In
the upper room on the night of the final Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus told
Peter, "Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me
afterward" John 13:36). Peter, who still trusted in his own strength to enable him to
follow Christ, objected to the pronouncement (13:35). Jesus, of course, was predicting
Peter's infamous three-fold denial during His arrest (13:38). The "now
afterward" contrast shows this to be a temporary interruption due to impending and
The fulfillment of our Lord's prediction is in John 18:15-27. In this account, there is
positive identification of Peter as still a disciple. The one accompanying Peter to the
courtyard of the High Priest, usually assumed to be the disciple John,29 is called "another disciple" (18:15) or "the other
disciple" (18:16),30 thus identifying
Peter as a disciple to the reader. Not only that, but it is said that Peter "followed
Jesus" (18:15). What we have, then, is a picture of a disciple under great pressure
in his progress of following the Lord.
The denial itself also makes Peter's discipleship the issue. The servant girl asks him,
"You are not also one of this Man's disciples, are you?" Peter denied he
was a disciple (18:17). Meanwhile, the reader is told that the high priest was asking
Jesus "about His disciples" (18:19). Then Peter is asked again by the
servants and officers, "You are not also one of His disciples, are you?"
Peter denied it again (18:25). While Peter is denying the fact that he is a disciple of
Jesus, the reader is shown that, to a certain degree, Peter really is following. After
all, he did follow Christ thus far, in contrast to most of the other disciples. It is in
this context that he failed Christ and came face to face with his own weakness.
Are we to take this interruption in Peter's following as an interruption in his
salvation? There is no biblical support for such a view. The most reasonable
interpretation posits a progression in Peter's following. Though Peter ceases to follow
for a short time, he does not really cease to be a disciple. Jesus' promise to Peter
remains: "You shall follow Me afterward" (13:36). It was not his discipleship
that failed, but his courage. The disciple who is progressing may falter during
tests of his faith. Jesus allows His followers to fail in order to show them their
weaknesses and so that "afterward" they will trust in His power instead
of their own.
F. Following in Service
The last stage in the progression of Peter's discipleship occurs after the resurrection
when Jesus appears to Peter and six other "disciples" in Galilee john 21:1-2).
Peter had returned to his familiar activity of fishing. It is certainly no coincidence
that Peter's activity of fishing forms the backdrop for a further challenge to
discipleship. In contrast to Luke 5, however, Peter does not object to the Lord's command
to let down the net on the right side of the boat (21:6), demonstrating that he has
learned the lesson of obedience.
Jesus' calls to "Follow Me" (21:19,22) come both after the three-fold
commissioning of Peter to a shepherding ministry and after a description of how Peter
would die (21:18). The dialogue shows that Peter is now restored in his relationship with
the Lord. Now that Peter is resigned to God's will to the fullest degree and has forsaken
self-reliance, Jesus is free to tell Peter how he will die. There is no confident denial
of the revelation here as earlier when Christ spoke of His own death. Peter now
understands that discipleship means laying down one's life. When Jesus concludes the
revelation and says to Peter, "Follow Me," He is calling him to minister and to
die in his service to others. Compared to Christ's earlier calls to follow, Westcott
Now to "follow Christ" required further the perception of His course; the
spiritual discernment by which His movements can still be discovered; and yet further the
readiness to accept martyrdom as the end.31
Surely to Peter the words had more significance than ever. At each stage in the life of
a disciple the call to follow has progressively deeper significance.
Jesus called Peter to follow a second time in this interchange (21:22). This second
time emphasizes the single-minded devotion necessary to follow Christ in ministry. Peter
had expressed concern about the future of "the disciple whom Jesus loved"
(almost certainly John). Jesus told Peter that John's future should not concern him, but
told him, "You follow Me." The rebuke and the emphatic pronoun "You" (sy)
indicates that Jesus wants each disciple to follow in his own way. That is, the Lord's
specific will for each disciple must be followed regardless of what others do.
It should now be obvious that the call to follow cannot be the same as a call to
salvation. Such a thought is totally foreign to this last segment of the Gospels' record
of Peter's life. What we have observed is that Peter was called to follow throughout his
life and that all the calls were after he had believed. In John 21 he is called to serve
Christ and to follow Christ's specific will for his life even at the certain cost of that
life. Jesus calls each of His disciples to follow in a specific and unique ministry.
Disciples are made, not born. We have seen this in the life of Peter. Furthermore, the
recurrent calls of Christ to Peter to follow in his life show that there is a sense in
which a disciple can always become more of a disciple. The call to follow persists
throughout the life of a disciple. In Peter's life we see a funnel effect. The progressive
calls to follow begin with a general direction and commitment, but become more and more
specific in what that commitment entails. Each time the disciple is called to follow, new
significance is attached. With each call, the disciple is challenged to a deeper
commitment and a greater sacrifice.
This supports our understanding of discipleship as a direction or orientation, not a
state. It is a committed and progressive following of Jesus Christ as Master. Anywhere on
one's journey toward becoming like Christ one can be called a disciple, even in the midst
of a temporary failure. It seems reasonable to state that anyone who rejects the challenge
to commit himself to Christ ceases to follow and removes himself from the path of
To confuse the call to discipleship with the call to salvation is a simplistic and
confusing approach to the Scriptures and real-life experience. It is disturbing to take
the conclusions of the Lordship position to their inevitable end. If the deeper
relationship of discipleship is not distinguished from salvation, then many or most
professing evangelicalsincluding Lordship Salvationistsare lost.
Hull shows the incongruity of such a view with reality when he speaks of true disciples:
If disciples are born not made, while these characteristics would take time to develop,
they would develop 100 percent of the time in the truly regenerate. Therefore, every
single Christian would be a healthy, reproducing believer. If people did not reflect the
disciple's profile, then they would not be Christians.
If disciples are born and not made, non-Christians dominate the evangelical church. A
generous estimate would find no more than 25 percent of evangelicals meeting Christ's
standard for a disciple. As stated earlier, only 7 percent have been trained in
evangelism, and only 2 percent have introduced another to Christ. By Christ's definition,
disciples reproduce themselves through evangelism. If one takes the "disciples are
born and not made" theology and joins it to the definition of a disciple given by
Jesus and then adds the objective facts concerning today's evangelical church, the results
are alarming. At least 75 percent of evangelicals are not Christians, because they just
don't measure up to Christ's standards of what it means to be a disciple.32
Lordship Salvation teaching has imposed a standard for salvation that most professing
Christians cannot meet. This by itself does not make it wrong. But it does make it
dubious in the extreme.
The issues of salvation and discipleship must remain distinct if one is to appreciate
the wonders of each. The call to salvation through faith alone with no other conditions
beautifies the doctrine of grace. The call to discipleship with its hard conditions makes
the Christian life more meaningful and purposeful. Not surprisingly then, Lordship
Salvation theology is detrimental to the Church. As Hull writes,
The "disciples are born and not made" theology has many harmful effects. Some
quarters accept it because they have not stood that theology toe to toe with Jesus'
definitions. When it does stand toe to toe, it creates a gospel of works. It adds to the
requirements for salvation. Not only does it require faith in Christ, but commitment to
the disciple's profile is required. Unless you are willing to commit to world evangelism,
labor in the harvest field, placing Christ before everything in your life, then in the
words of Jesus, 'You cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:25-35); therefore you are denied
Disciples are made, not born. When we understand this, our Gospel remains truly of
grace. Then as those saved by grace, we are motivated to cooperate with God and commit
and submit ourselves to His purpose of conforming us to His Son, our Lord and Master,
Dr. Charlie Bing, GraceLife Ministries
1 John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to
Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), 21. See also 29-31, 196-98.
2 lbid., 196.
3 James G. Merritt, "Evangelism and the Call of
Christ," in Evangelism in the Twenty-First Century: The Critical Issues, ed.
Thomas S. Ranier (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1989), 145.
4 James Montgomery Boice, Christ's Call to
Discipleship (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 16.
5 E.g., Richard P. Belcher, A Layman's Guide to the
Lordship Salvation Controversy (Southbridge, MA: Crowne Publications, 1990), 94-95;
Boice, Discipleship, 13-16; MacArthur, The Gospel, 15-17; John R. W. Stott, Basic
Christianity (London: InterVarsity Press, 1958), 108.
6 The purpose statement can be found in past issues of
the newsletter, The Grace Evangelical Society News.
7 Zane C. Hodges, Absolutely Free! (Dallas:
Redención Viva, 1989), 67-76; The Gospel Under Siege, 2nd ed. revised and enlarged
(Redención Viva, 1992), 39-50; Charles C. Ryrie, So Great Salvation (Wheaton:
Victor Books, 1989), 103-14; Robert N. Wilkin, "'Soul Salvation,' Part 3: Saving Your
Soul by Doing GoodJames 1:21," The Grace Evangelical Society News 7
(February 1992), 2, and "Part 4: Gaining by Losing-Matthew 16:24-28"
(March-April 1992), 2; Roy B. Zuck, "Cheap Grace?" Kindred Spirit 13
(Summer 1989), 7.
8 Michael J. Wilkins, Following the Master:
Discipleship in the Steps of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 185.
See also his study, The Concept of Disciple in Matthew's Gospel: As Reflected in the Use
of the Term Mathetes, Novum Testamentum Supplement 59 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1988); and
Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple-Apostle-Martyr. A Historical and Theological Essay, trans.
Floyd Filson, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 25-33; Robert H. Gundry, Matthew:
A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982),
332,334; Jack Dean Kingsbury, "The Figure of Peter in Matthew's Gospel as a
Theological Problem," Journal of Biblical Literature 98 (1979): 72, 80.
9 Paul J. Achtemeier, "Peter in the Gospel of
Mark" in Peter in the New Testament, eds. Raymond E. Brown, Karl P. Donfried,
and John Reumann (London: Geoffrey Chapman Publishers, 1974), 62. See also W. S. Vorster,
"Characterization of Peter in the Gospel of Mark" Neotestamentica 21(1987):
10 Carsten P. Thiede, Simon Peter: >From Galilee
to Rome (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988; first published in 1986 by
The Paternoster Press), 36. See also Gundry, Matthew, 334.
11 Suggestions for the location of this
"Bethany" (MjT and NU text reading; "Bethabara" in the TR is least
preferred) vary from the Bethany near Jerusalem to the region of Batanea in the
Transjordan and to the north. For the purpose of our study, we only note that the setting
of this encounter is not in Galilee. For more discussion, see D. A. Carson, The
Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Co., 1991),
146-47; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, The New International Commentary
on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), 142.
12 The account of John 1 leads us to believe that
Andrew believed in Christ: (1) He followed John the Baptist (John 1:35) and evidently
believed Johns witness about Christ (1:36-37); (2) He followed Christ (1:37, 39-40);
(3) He believed Jesus was the Messiah (1:41; cf. 20:30-31); (4) In the following story,
Philip and Nathaniel obviously believe (1:45, 49-50); (5) Andrews faith is confirmed
in John 2:11.
13 Alexander Balmain Bruce, The Training of the
Twelve (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1971), 1.
14 Boice, Discipleship, 16.
15 lbid., 16-17.
16 See footnote 11 for a discussion on the location of
17 See William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel
According to Matthew, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973),
245-46; R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel (Minneapolis:
Augsburg Publishing House, 1964), 169-70; Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical
Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Matthew (London: Robert Scott, Paternoster
Row, 1909), 48; Herman N. Ridderbos, Matthew, trans. Ray Togtman, The Bible
Student's Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), 77; Frederick Louis
Godet, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), 1:330.
18 James Donaldson, "'Called to Follow': A
Twofold Experience of Discipleship in Mark," Biblical Theology Bulletin 5
(February 1975), 69.
19 Hans Conzelmann, Jesus, trans. J. Raymond
Lord (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973), 35; in agreement, see Ridderbos, Matthew, 77.
20 A. W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, 4
vols. (Ohio: Cleveland Bible Truth Depot, 1929), 1:62-63. Jesus' call to Philip to
"Follow Me" (John 1:43) may seem incongruous with the argument thus far, as
Jesus' encounter with Philip in John 1:43-45 appears to be His first. However, there is
much evidence in the passage that Jesus was calling him to discipleship, not to salvation.
Hendriksen notes: "We may probably assume that Andrew and Peter had told their friend
and townsman about Jesus" (William Hendriksen, A Commentary on the Gospel of John,
New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953], 1:108). See also John
Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: John (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1988), 45;
and R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg
Publishing House, 1943), 161. Indeed, John makes a special note that Philip was from the
same city as Peter and Andrew (1:44). Also, while 1:43 says Jesus found Philip, in 1:45
Philip says he found the Messiah, indicating a previous knowledge, expectation, and even
faith. It may also be possible that in 1:43 Jesus simply meant accompany Me on this
journey" (so Godet, John, 1:331) in much the same sense as He told the first two
disciples, "Come and see" (1:39).
21 Merritt, "Call of Christ," Evangelism,
22 Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical
Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Luke, The International Critical Commentary
(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1896), 147. In agreement, see Lenski, Matthew, 168-72,
and The Interpretation of St. Luke's Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing
House, 1961), 276-77; William F. Arndt, Luke, Concordia Classic Commentary Series
(St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1956), 155-56; Leon Morris, Luke: An
Introduction and Commentary, revised ed., Tyndale New Testament Commentaries
(Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 124; Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on
the Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand
Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1951), 181; William Hendriksen, Exposition of
the Gospel According to Luke, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book
House, 1978), 279-80.
23 Lenski, Luke, 277.
24 Richard D. Calenberg, "The New Testament
Doctrine of Discipleship" (Th. D. dissertation, Grace Theological Seminary, 1981),
25 See Hendriksen, Matthew, 245-47; Geldenhuys, Luke,
181; Arndt, Luke, 156. For other excellent presentations of this idea, see Bruce,
Training, 11-12, and Bill Hull, Jesus Christ Disciple Maker (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H.
Revell, 1984), 48-49.
26 E.g., Boice, Discipleship, 35-44, 117;
Kenneth L. Gentry, "The Great Option: A Study of the Lordship Controversy," Baptist
Reformation Review 5 (Spring 1976), 73-75; John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the
Word of Truth (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1991), 253;
MacArthur, The Gospel, 196-202; J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of
God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 72-73; John R. W. Stott, "Must
Christ Be Lord to Be Savior?Yes," Eternity 10 (September 1959), 18.
27 See also the study of this term in my first
article, "Coming to Terms with Discipleship," Journal of the Grace
Evangelical Society 5 (Spring 1992), 39-41.
28 Cf. John 5:40;6:35, 37,44-45,65; 7:37.
29 See the discussions in Carson, John, 472-73, and
Morris, John, 752-53.
30 The Majority Text and the Nestle-Aland/United Bible
Societies Text support the reading "the other" (ho allos) in V 15 as well
as v 16, but with no consequence to our point.
31 B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981), 304.
32 Bill Hull, The Disciple Making Pastor (Old
Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1988), 55.