Friday, May 27, 2011


Bob said in a comment on THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, 21:

Bill, I understand that, "Once a person comes to Christ by faith, that person enters the road of discipleship, whether or not that person desires to travel that road." But can a person be a disciple (e.g., Judas) and not be born again at all?

It's clear that in our Christian lives, we sometimes travel well and sometimes travel poorly. I wonder if you might add a few words about why we do this and about how we can maximize the former and minimize the latter.

Best as always,

You asked two questions.  I’ll attempt to answer them both.

First, can a person be a disciple and not be born again at all?  Well, yes and no.  Let me try to explain.

The word “disciple” is a translation of the Greek word mathetes.  This word is used 257 times in the New Testament (by my count).  The related word mathetria, meaning “female disciple” is used once (Acts 9:36).  The verb form matheteuo, meaning “be a disciple” or “make disciples” is used 4 times.  These words are only found in the Gospels and the Acts.  They are not found anywhere else in the New Testament.

The word is related to the word manthano which usually is translated “learn,” hence, a disciple in the broadest meaning of the term is a “learner” or “pupil,” even “apprentice.”  It is an ancient Greek word going back to the time of Homer.  The Greek philosophers had disciples and one could be a disciple of a long deceased philosopher or a philosophical school.

The word is found with the same broad usage in the New Testament.  Jesus was not the only one who had disciples.  John the Baptist did (Matthew 9:14; 11:2); the Pharisees did (Matthew 22:15, 16); and, Paul did (Acts 9:24, 25).

So when we see the terms, “His disciples” or “the disciples” In the Gospels, it may refer to any of a number of groups.  It could refer to the 12, including Judas, who were also known as apostles (apostoloi – “sent ones”; Matthew 10:1, 2; 11:1).  This is its usual usage.  However, in Luke 6:13, we read that the 12 were selected from a larger group of disciples.  Verse 17 tells us that there was “a great multitude of His disciples,” though usually the disciples  and the multitudes are distinguished from each other.  In Luke 14:25ff, Jesus addresses the multitudes and gives them the requirements for discipleship.  John 4:1 says that Jesus was “making disciples.”

In John 6:66, though, we find that at least once, “many of His disciples went back and were no longer walking with Him.”  In the context, they appear to be turning their backs on eternal life (verses 67-69).  And yet in John 8:30-31, He tells those who “believed Him” that there were further qualifications for discipleship.

In Acts 11:26, we are told that “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”

So what do we do with all this data, some of which seems contradictory?  I believe we have to recognize that, like the word “Christian” as we use it today, the word “disciple” can have different meanings in different contexts.  It can broadly refer to simply those who followed without saving faith and it even can refer to those who have saving faith but did not follow (John 12:42; 19:38).

Another problem is, as previously mentioned, that we do not find any use of the word “disciple” after the Book of Acts.  In fact, the word “Christian” is only found once after this (1 Peter 4:16).

So the answer to your first question is, yes one can be a disciple (in that broad sense) who has never been born again.  As today, many – the majority of Americans – are labeled Christian, yet many of these lack saving faith in Christ.

However, as I implied in the post referred to above, I do not believe one can be born again (the narrow gate) without becoming a disciple (the narrow road).

I realize that evangelicals are divided on this matter.  There are those in the “Lordship Salvation” camp who say that one cannot really be saved without a commitment to the Lordship of Christ.  I believe these folks, while sincere, are mistaken.

There are those in the “Free Grace” camp who see our salvation as totally free, because it is paid for by the work of Christ.  They recognize that commitment to Christ’s Lordship is a matter for those who have already been born again.  I confess that my sympathies lie with this group – with a few caveats.

We come to Christ simply by faith.  The object of our faith is Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, our Savior and the Lord, and in His sacrifice for us (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

At that moment of faith we enter a new sphere:  born again; dead to sin and the Law; in Christ; indwelt with and empowered by the Holy Spirit; under the Lordship of Christ, our new Master.  At this point we become disciples and begin the process of sanctification.

As those who are saved or justified, we are urged to commit our lives totally to Him, to live a life free of sin, to give up all for Him and to “be” disciples.  See Romans 6:1, 12-15; 7:6; 12:1, 2 and compare this with Jesus’ calls to discipleship in Luke 14:25-35 and elsewhere.

As far as the second question about why “we sometimes travel well and sometimes travel poorly,” I can’t answer that one in “a few words.”  (I didn’t answer the first in that way), other than to say that this seems to be what the Epistles are about – that day to day “walk” (as Paul calls it).  Like most others, my own walk along this road has at time been erratic, and I’ve been walking for 56+ years.

I have tried to deal with this in a number of previous posts, but see especially COMMITMENT TO CHRIST.

Hope this helps.


Judy said...

Hi Bill,

Thanks for your time and thoughtfulness in answering my two questions. Helpful and appreciated.

Re: your assessment of the "Free Grace" camp, I reread your thoughts several times and came to the conclusion that no one (that I'm aware of) in the free grace movement would quarrel with any one of your "caveats." Of course these things are true following salvation. How could they not be? I would suspect that all who believe that eternal life is an absolutely free gift with no strings attached would subscribe to what you outlined.

Incidentally, I also have trouble with the redundant phrase "free grace," though I use it since I can't think of anything better.

New subject: Keith and Lina's Georgetown story. Was there a reason why you didn't tell us what's written on Keith's tombstone? Can't read that story without tearing up. Thought at first it was because it was so remarkable. But on reflection, I think it's because Keith's redemption is so unremarkable. It's our story--maybe with a few sharper edges. We're all without Christ, hope, or eternal life, and God reaches down to redeem each one of us, just as he did for Keith. When I get to heaven, I'm going to find Keith and buy him a Starbucks.

Kind regards,

Bill Ball said...

Bob: My disagreement with the "Free Grace" folks is that some (not all) of them seem to imply that discipleship is optional. I don't believe it is, as the last two posts assert.

A Child of God said...

Thanks Bill for the teaching on false prophets. In this day in time, Matthew 24, it is needed. I was lead to your page today. Please visit my blog site at: and share a testimony with the world.

God Bless