There is a difference between a believer and a disciple.
A believer is a person who accepts that the Jesus is who he says he is. They believe that the message of Jesus has merit and that there is something of great value that is gained through faith in Jesus. They believe Jesus, when he says that he is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
It is easy to believe.
A disciple is a person who believes all of the above AND lives their life according to the reality of these truths.
We see in the Gospels that thousands of people follow Jesus, believing that he is a man of miracles and a great teacher, but not all of them are disciples.
It is far more challenging to be a disciple than it is to be a believer.
In the New Testament there is a Rich Young Man who comes to Jesus (Matt 19:16-22). He speaks to Jesus, declaring his belief that Jesus is a good teacher and asks how he might be assured of eternal life (salvation). Jesus tells him that he must live a life in service of God, following the commandments. The young man seems to be pleased with himself; “I do all of that”, he declares.
Jesus sees to the heart of things. He tells this young man to give up his money, which Jesus knows is the real thing that rules his life, and become a disciple. This breaks the young man’s heart, because he REALLY loves his money and all that it gives him. He walks away from Jesus.
Compare this rich young man with Matthew.
Jesus is walking along the street and he sees a typical booth within which the tax collectors work and take money (Matt 9:9-13). Matthew is a tax collector. This means he is well off and hated by most of the people of the town because he takes their money and works for the despised Romans who occupy the land. We see in Luke’s gospel (Luke 5:27-32) that whilst Matthew (who was also called Levi) had few friends, his money allowed him to throw parties and have powerful friends.
Jesus walks up to the booth and says, “Follow me”. Matthew simply gets up, leaves everything and follows. He leaves his comfort for salvation. As a disciple, he was trained by Jesus, was one of the twelve, built the Church, wrote a book of the Bible and, it is believed, died as a martyr.
Both of these men believed in Jesus, but Matthew was a disciple. The rich young ruler believed in Jesus, but, because he was unwilling to live the true reality of his belief he left Jesus’ side to follow his own path. Matthew put Jesus before everything else in his life and knew the Son of God because of it. He walked and talked with Jesus, every day. He was present at Pentecost when the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, filled him and gave him power. He lived each day close to Jesus, knowing the voice and closeness of God.
“…go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt 28:19)
Jesus’ mission for us is not to make believers who hold on to what they have already. It is to make disciples who gain what Jesus has for them by following and imitating.
People who see the changes in those who follow Jesus cannot help but believe that Jesus is something special. Our mission is to make is possible for them to turn their belief into life.
Making disciples is the goal of the Gospel lived and preached.
Disciples are so much more than converts.