Both discipleship and salvation are important facets to the Christian faith, spoken about widely throughout the church. As followers of Jesus, it’s crucial to be sure of our salvation and to be disciples. Sometimes it’s also easy to wonder if discipleship is a requirement to being saved.
So, is discipleship a requirement of salvation? According to God’s Word, salvation comes from faith in Jesus Christ from forgiveness of sins alone, it is a free gift of grace, by faith, and not of works. Discipleship is not a requirement for salvation by most definitions, but it is a requirement for growth and is a command given by Christ for Christians to obey.
I’ll go over exactly what this means throughout the rest of the post.
The Difference Between Salvation and Discipleship
Discipleship is growing in your faith in Jesus and helping others do the same after you’ve made the decision to trust Him with your life. Salvation is the state our souls are in through faith in Jesus. We have been saved from the grip of sin and shame in our lives and saved for eternal life with God.
As he was saying these things, many believed in him. Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you continue in my word, you really are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’John 8:30-32 CSB
From this verse, I believe we can see that belief and salvation come first, then the act of discipleship.
After the Jews had believed, Jesus told them to continue in His Word, which is a sign of being His disciple. When we read God’s Word, we are allowing the Holy Spirit to minister to us and to lead us, and we obey and follow that lead as we are discipled by Him.
Discipleship is also being in community with other believers and helping each other live lives worthy to the calling of God. It involves calling each other higher and helping people grow in their relationship with Jesus.
Look at what the disciples actually did. They followed Jesus and believed in Him, so how could we be expected to grow in belief and relationship with Jesus without even being saved? This is why discipleship is not a requirement of salvation, and though important, it is entirely different.
The Requirements of Salvation
For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.Ephesians 2:8-10 CSB
Salvation is a free gift. God sent Jesus to bear our sins on the cross, not because of our great qualities or because we’ve been such good people, but because He loves us.
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us, and for this reason, we get to rejoice in the free gift of salvation, but it is also our job to actually receive that gift.
From here, God gives us good works to do out of love for Him, not out of necessity for salvation. These works are not for ourselves, but for His glory.
Discipleship: A Requirement of Spiritual Maturity
Discipleship is not a requirement of salvation, but instead a requirement of spiritual maturity. Once we have been saved, it is the love of Jesus that motivates us to grow in spiritual maturity, to obey His Word, and to follow Him. Not the other way around.
We do not have to obey or be perfect Christians to be loved and saved. Jesus already loves us, even in the worst and hardest times of our lives. But in those hard times as Christians, we need people around us to minister to us and disciple us.
Discipleship within a tight community of believers is a sign of spiritual maturity.
Being spiritually mature means that we are continually growing in all areas of our walk with Jesus, including reading His Word, serving, and loving others.
The easiest way to grow in these things is to be surrounded by like-minded Christians who build you up in all the spiritual disciplines, and that is what discipleship is for.
Judas: The Unsaved Disciple
Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.Luke 22:3-6 NIV
Despite the fact that Judas knew Jesus, walked with Him in His ministry for three years, and saw Him perform miraculous signs and healings, he still betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Talk about the dumbest mistake of the millennium.
Judas, a disciple of Jesus himself, was not saved. The Bible prophesized that this would happen and even Jesus confirmed it in His prayer to the Father:
While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.John 17:12 ESV
Jesus is talking about Judas here, and He knew that Judas would allow Satan to enter his mind and heart. Yet Jesus still let this evil happen so that through His life, death, and resurrection, He could glorify the Father and save all of us.
The Man on the Cross: The Saved Criminal
Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other answered, rebuking him: ‘Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.‘ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’Luke 23:39-43 CSB
A perfect example of someone who has been saved but was never a part of discipleship is the man on the cross, a criminal who deserved punishment and death.
Who knows what this man’s life was like, what sins he had committed, or what opportunities for change he had previously rejected. But it doesn’t even matter, because he believed in Jesus, recognized that he was a sinner, and asked to be accepted into God’s kingdom. What was Jesus’ response? He forgave him.
Even as Jesus was suffering, as He was bearing all of our guilt including this very man’s sin, He forgave him.
How does that make any sense? How could He allow this man to join Him in paradise as He hung from that rugged cross, bearing every bit of the man’s sorrow that He did not deserve? It was because of Jesus’ sacrifice for sin.
Salvation Through Jesus’ Love
Jesus’ love is miraculous, full of grace and mercy, and there’s nothing we could do to deserve it. The criminal on the cross had never been in a discipleship group before, had never gone to church, and probably never realized the importance of following Jesus until that very moment he accepted Him.
Jesus has given us this beautiful gift of grace, and because we love Him we have been given the privilege of being His disciples and discipling others.
Now, we don’t have to wonder anymore if our salvation depends on discipleship or anything else, because we know that we don’t have to work to be loved by God. Ultimately, belief and acceptance of Jesus is the only requirement of salvation, and that is a beautiful truth to hold to.