A5  Is Every Christian Supposed to Make Disciples?

The Great Commission 

  • "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20).

Prayerful Observations:
Jesus told the apostles to make disciples and teach them to "observe all things that I commanded you". The first command in the verse was to "make disciples". The second command was to teach the new disciples to obey all of Jesus's commands. That would include teaching the new disciples to obey the first command (to make disciples). In other words, Jesus told the apostles to "make disciples" who will "make disciples". Yes, all disciples are to be disciple-makers. This is what the scriptures say. 

As you read on, you will see that the terms disciple and Christian mean the same thing. So, yes, all Christians are supposed to make disciples.

This will become clear as you prayerfully read on... At the bottom of this page I will present numerous other scriptures which also reveal that all Christians should be soul winners and disciple makers. I will also show you how to make disciples... according to the scriptures. It is easy if you do it the way scripture says to do it! Jesus said that it is easy. And it is! 

But first, lets explore the meaning of the word "disciple"...

What is a Disciple?

In general, a disciple is a follower, or student of another. But, are all Christians also disciples or is a disciple really an elite Christian? In other words, is discipleship a second step after conversion? 

First, lets consider a little human reasoning on this question...  The word disciple means student, adherent or follower. A disciple is a student of Christ. A disciple is one who learns from and follows Christ. That doesn't mean that disciples have it all together immediately at conversion. It doesn't mean that disciples never falter in their devotion, become lukewarm or sin. Even if disciples do falter in these ways, they are still disciples. The term Christian is the same way. Every time a Christian falters, becomes lukewarm or sins the Christian don't become a non-Christian. One who is an engineer can take a vacation from work, but that doesn't mean that he or she is no longer an engineer.

The above answer is helpful as far as human reasoning goes. But human reasoning is not authoritative. You may find other human reasonings that also sound good, but arrive at different conclusions. Human reasoning is not authoritative. Human reasoning is not flawless. But scripture is.

So, what does the word of God say about this question? Please prayerfully read on...

Can one be a Christian without being a disciple?

  • "The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" (Acts 11:26).

Prayerful Observations:
As you can see in the above verse, the term "disciple" and "Christian" appear to be synonymous. Christian was a new name for the disciples. The word disciple is used extensively from the beginning of the New Testament until Acts 21:16. The word "disciple" is never used again after Acts 21:16. But the term is used thirty times in those first twenty-one chapters of Acts. 

If you will read the book of Acts through chapter 21, it will be abundantly clear that all Christians are disciples and that all disciples are Christians. Discipleship is not a second step after converting to Christianity. The Bible never mentions discipleship as being a second step after conversion. The gospel is preached and the result is disciples

"And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied..." (Acts 5:42-6:1a).

So, Jesus Christ was preached over a prolonged period of time, "daily... in every house" and the result was "disciples". If there was such a thing as a convert who was not a disciple, the preaching of Jesus would certainly produce such converts. But converts are not mentioned. Jesus Christ is not preached to bring about converts who may become disciples. The result of preaching Jesus Christ is disciples.

  • 21 When they had preached the Good News to that city, and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many afflictions we must enter into God's Kingdom" (Acts 14:21-22).

The Good News was preached and the result was "disciples". To incorrectly understand a disciple to be an elite Christian in the above passage would incorrectly infer that the result of the preaching of the Gospel was elite Christians and that the apostles "strengthened the souls of the" elite Christians. If there was such a thing as a convert who was not a disciple, such a convert would certainly need to have been "strengthened". So, the concept of a disciple as an elite Christian is not scriptural. According to scripture, a disciple is a disciple whether weak or strong, limping, running the wrong way, pausing or sprinting. If there were converts who were not disciples, then the passage would have said that they "made many disciples and converts... strengthened the souls of the disciples and converts". No such distinction is in scripture. 

By the way, Peter was still a disciple after denying Christ (Matthew 26:69-75, 28:16). In Matthew 28:16, we see Peter as one of the eleven who were left out of the original twelve after the death of Judas. 

In Paul's third missionary journey he passed through Galatia and Phrygia "strengthening all the disciples":
  • "And after he had spent some time there, he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples" (Acts 18:23, KJV).

This was Paul's second trip through Phrygia and third journey through Galatia with many years passing from the beginning of his first journey to the end of his third. Paul covered "all the country of Galatia and Phrygia". If there was such a thing as a convert who was not a disciple, such a convert would certainly have been encountered and would certainly need to be "strengthened". If there was such a thing as a convert who was not a disciple, it is inconceivable that no such converts were present over such a long period and large area and also inconceivable that Paul would ignore such converts when he repeatedly and thoroughly ministered for long periods in these places. So, it is clear that there is no such thing as a convert who is not a disciple. Otherwise, Paul would have strengthened them. 

In Acts 11:22-26 Paul and Barnabas call the church members "disciples":  
  • "And it came to pass, that a whole year they (Paul and Barnabas) assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch" (Acts 11:26, KJV).

"The church" is synonymous with "disciples" and "Christians".  

In Acts 14:27-28 Paul and Barnabas again call the church members at Antioch "disciples":
  • "When they had arrived, and had gathered the assembly (church) together, they reported all the things that God had done with them, and that he had opened a door of faith to the nations. They stayed there with the disciples for a long time" (Acts 14:27-28).

Again, "the church" is synonymous with "disciples". If there was such a thing as a convert who was not a disciple, that disciples are actually elite Christians, then the passage would indicate that Paul and Barnabas only spent time with the elite Christians. No. "The church" is synonymous with "disciples". 

If there was such a group of people who converted but did not become disciples, the book of Acts ignores their existence. The apostles ignored their existence. That is evidence that discipleship is not a second step after conversion. All Christians are disciples. There is no verse in the Bible which speaks of Christians who are not disciples.

What about those who fall away? 

Are those who fall away to no longer be considered to be disciples? Well, Peter denied Christ (Matthew 26:75). But Peter was still called a disciple after this (John 21:1-2, Matthew 28:16). A disciple is one who follows or learns from another (Christ). Setbacks and discipline are part of this following or learning process. 

The Conversion of Paul
Scriptures in Acts present the conversion and early ministry of Paul. These scriptures show that "the disciples" are the same group of people as those who call upon the name of Jesus. In other words, disciples are Christians. Prayerfully consider the following...

  • "But Saul, still breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem" (Acts 9:1-2).

In the next seventeen verses, Paul was converted to Christ ( Acts 9:3-19). The next two verses read as follows:

  • "Immediately in the synagogues he (Paul) proclaimed the Christ, that he is the Son of God. 21 All who heard him were amazed, and said, "Isn't this he who in Jerusalem made havoc of those who called on this name? And he had come here intending to bring them bound before the chief priests!" (Acts 9:20-1).

Paul persecuted "the disciples" in verses 1and 2 but later was converted. After his conversion, he preached Jesus. Those who heard Paul preach Jesus said  that Paul was persecuting "those who called on this name", meaning those who called on Jesus's name. So, they perceived that "the disciples" and "those who called on this name" were the same group. They weren't saying that Paul was persecuting elite Christians. They were saying that Paul was persecuting Christians... disciples. 

I will present scriptural proof from one other text from the book of Acts. Then without a doubt, the issue will be settled. That text is regarding the decision made at the Council of Jerusalem as to whether Gentile Christians must follow the law of Moses or not. Please read on prayerfully.

The Jerusalem Council (roughly AD 50)
Paul, Barnabas, James, Peter, other apostles and the Elders of the church of Jerusalem assembled to decide a controversial and potentially divisive issue for the church at large: Must Gentiles believers follow the Old Testament law?  

The scriptures containing the debate and decision is in Acts 15:1-32 below. I will show from this scripture that the terms convert, brother, disciple and believer are all used interchangeably with respect to the group of people who were the subject of the debate (Gentile Christians). While the terms don't mean the same thing, they all describe the same group of people. Another description that is used interchangeably is people "who are are called by my name" (God's name). Still another description in this text is people "who turn to God". 

So, there are many different words and phrases used in this scripture which refer to the same group of people. The words and phrases don't mean the exact same thing, but they do refer to the same group of people. These words and phrases are used interchangeably in application to the people who are the subject of the debate.

In Acts 15:1-32, legalists claimed that Gentile converts must be circumcised (v3&5). In that debate, Peter states that the objects of the decision are Gentiles ("from the nations") who hear and believe (v 7). Peter referred to the converts as "disciples" (v10). In verse 11 Peter said that the disciples were "saved by grace".  So, their discussion pertains to those who are "saved by grace".  

In verse 13 James begins speaking. In verse 17 James says that the discussion pertains to "all the Gentiles who are called by my name" (God's name). In verse 19 James refers to them as "Gentiles who turn to God". In verse 23 we see that the letter containing the council's decision is addressed to the "brothers who are of the Gentiles. 

So, the group of whom the Jerusalem council rendered judgment were referred to as Gentile converts (v 3), believers (v 7), disciples (v 10), saved by grace (v 11), Gentiles called by God's name (v 17), Gentiles who turn to God (v 19) and Gentile brothers (v 23, 32). It is clear that they are discussing all gentile Christians, whom Peter called disciples

Below is Peter's speech at the Jerusalem council. Instead of the phrase, "the disciples", I will use the phrase "those who have taken a second step after conversion into discipleship", in bold print, to show that the second step version of discipleship doesn't make sense:
  • "When there had been much discussion, Peter rose up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that a good while ago God made a choice among you that by my mouth the nations should hear the word of the Good News and believeGod, who knows the heart, testified about them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just like he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith10 Now therefore why do you tempt God, that you should put a yoke on the neck of those who have taken a second step after conversion into discipleship which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesusjust as they are" (Acts 15:7-11).

A second step after conversion into discipleship just doesn't fit with:
  • hear the word of the Good News and believe
  • giving them the Holy Spirit
  • cleansing their heart by faith
  • saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus

These four are all phrases related to conversion. A second step after conversion, is not.

If we define the word disciple incorrectly, as one who takes a second step into discipleship after conversion (an elite Christian), the decision of the Council of Jerusalem would only apply to elite Christians (v 10). It is clear from the account that the council was not debating about elite Christians. It is clear that they were debating about all Gentiles who became Christians. 

By the way, in the progressive revelation of later books of the New Testament it will become clear that neither Gentile or Jewish Christians need to keep the law of Moses. For a full explanation, see subchapter A3 in the appendix, "After Pentecost: From the Law to the Spirit". In New Testament books after Acts, the word disciple ceased to be used. Instead we see words like saints (Romans 1:7), bond-servants (Revelation 1:1), church (Galatians 1:2), brethren (2 Thessalonians 1:3), aliens (1 Peter 1:1), little children (1 John 2:1) the called (Jude 1:1).

According to scripture, all Christians are disciples. All disciples are Christians. All disciples are to make disciples. In other words, all Christians are to make disciples.

Some Christian writers, preachers and some traditions incorrectly define a disciple as an elite Christian. They believe that there are converts and some of those converts mature into disciples (elite Christians). I have been told "You can't tell if a person is a Christian or not. But scripture says otherwise: 

"In this the children of God are revealed, and the children of the devil. Whoever doesn't do righteousness is not of God, neither is he who doesn't love his brother" (1 John 3:10).

One may claim to be a Christian (a disciple) but if he doesn't do righteousness, he is not a child of God.  A disciple is a Christian. And one of the things that disciples are to do is make disciples who make disciples.

In summary, all converts are disciples and therefore should be disciple makers. 

Training may be necessary, but all converts should become disciple makers.

If you would like to see the full text of Acts 15:1-32, I have shown it below with the critical text in bold font. If you need no additional proof from this passage from Acts, skip to the next paragraph titled "Priesthood of All Believers".
  • "1 Some men came down from Judea and taught the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised after the custom of Moses, you can't be saved." 2 Therefore when Paul and Barnabas had no small discord and discussion with them, they appointed Paul and Barnabas, and some others of them, to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question. 3 They, being sent on their way by the assembly, passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles. They caused great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the assembly and the apostles and the elders, and they reported everything that God had done with them. 5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses." 6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to see about this matter. 7 When there had been much discussion, Peter rose up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that a good while ago God made a choice among you that by my mouth the nations should hear the word of the Good News and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, testified about them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just like he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why do you tempt God, that you should put a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?"  11 But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they are." 12 All the multitude kept silence, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul reporting what signs and wonders God had done among the nations through them. 13 After they were silent, James answered, "Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has reported how God first visited the nations to take out of them a people for his name. 15 This agrees with the words of the prophets. As it is written, 16 'After these things I will return. I will again build the tabernacle of David, which has fallen. I will again build its ruins. I will set it up 17 that the rest of men may seek after the Lord; all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who does all these things.' Amos 9:11-12 18 "All of God's works are known to him from eternity. 19 Therefore my judgment is that we don't trouble those from among the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but that we write to them that they abstain from the pollution of idols, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood. 21 For Moses from generations of old has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath." 22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole assembly, to choose men out of their company, and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, chief men among the brothers. 23 They wrote these things by their hand: "The apostles, the elders, and the brothers, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: greetings. 24 Because we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, 'You must be circumcised and keep the law,' to whom we gave no commandment; 25 it seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose out men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who themselves will also tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay no greater burden on you than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality, from which if you keep yourselves, it will be well with you. Farewell." 30 So, when they were sent off, they came to Antioch. Having gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. 31 When they had read it, they rejoiced over the encouragement. 32 Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged the brothers with many words and strengthened them. (Acts 15:1-32).

As you can see, the terms convert, brother, disciple and believer are all used interchangeably with respect to the group of people who were the subject of the debate (Gentile Christians). So, the word disciple applies to all Christians.

All disciples are to make disciples. All Christians are disciples. So, yes, all Christians are to make disciples. More proof of this is presented below for your prayerful consideration.

Priesthood of All Believers

  • "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

Prayerful Observation:
The book of 1 Peter was written to the church at large, so it applies to the church at large. All believers are priests, in the present tense, to proclaim the excellence of God. Talk about who He is and what He has done.

Here is how Peter addressed his letter:
"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the chosen ones who are living as foreigners in the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with his blood: Grace to you and peace be multiplied." 1 Peter 1:1-2

Follow Me

  • "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27). 
  • "He said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers for men" (Matthew 4:19).

Prayerful Observations:
Fishing for men was Jesus' objective (1 Timothy 1:15, John 10:10). So, how can anyone follow Him without being a fisher of men? Here are the passages which indicate Jesus' objectives: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). "I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly" (John 10:10).

His sheep follow Him. So they must be doing what He is doing. That is what His sheep do. We are not following Him if we are not doing what He is doing.

Paul's Command to Imitate

  • "... even as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1).

Prayerful Observations:
Paul writes to the Corinthian church of his efforts to save others and then tells them to imitate him. "Saved" is more than conversion. It includes growth in in the faith after conversion. "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).

The Thessalonian Example of Imitation

  • "You became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all who believer in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For from you the word of the Lord has been declared, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone out" (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8).

Prayerful Observations:
The Thessalonian's were an example "to all the believers". What did they do? They repeated the words of God with faith.

The Yoke of Christ

  • "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29). (Jesus is speaking)

Prayerful Observations:
The yoke of Christ is to make disciples. Those who bear His yoke receive rest in this life. We work to rest. The subchapter titled "The Easy Yoke of Christ" reveals more on this subject.

How Do We Make Disciples?

We have fellowship with the Holy Spirit through the scriptures and prayer. Then we repeat the words of our Father and pray the Endorsed Prayers for Making Disciples (subchapter 4.4). Subchapter 4.9, titled "PASS the Faith -- Jesus said Its Easy!" also explains how to make disciples.

Learn four verses to start making disciples:

  • "Now I declare to you, brothers, the Good News... Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). This is the Gospel or "Good News" according to the WEB translation.1
  • "For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
  • "for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).
  • "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer" (Acts 2:42).

The first three are conversion scriptures. The last is for maturing disciples. It contains the three critical elements of growth: Pray, meditate on scripture and fellowship with believers. This is explained in the devotional called, "The Three Legged Stool". Click here to read.

1) I omitted verse 2 because it raises a question that is not pertinent to this page. Should you read it, the difficulty is explained in the section titled "Faith Without Root" in subchapter 2.6.

"For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Matthew 11:30

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