Make Disciples, Not Converts? Really?

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Cliches are normal in any language. Sometimes they are able to capture a snippet of thought accurately, other times they muddy the waters of theological judgment. Of course, the impact of any cliche is purely subjective, but it seems that western Christianity is full of cliches that are just not biblically supported. Obviously from the title, you know which one I have in mind so I won’t waste time getting to the point.

Where in the bible do we even find a hint that a convert of Jesus Christ IS NOT a disciple? For the most part, I get it. I get that the idea here is that we focus on making true disciples rather than just a mere decision to follow Christ. However, the reality of the matter is, when a person repents of their sin and trusts in Jesus’ finished work to save them from their sin, if their regeneration is from the Holy Spirit and they exhibit a life that bears fruit and perseverance in Christian character and godliness, that person is not only a convert, but a disciple of Jesus Christ. The moment anyone is saved from their sin, they become a disciple. A follower of Jesus. A convert of Christ. The idea that we can gain a convert but not a disciple is not only unbiblical, but absurd.

One of the ways this cliche gains ground is from the Carnal Christian doctrine and Decisionism. Although they are distinct in some ways, both feed off each other. They propose that a person can become a Christian, yet still live carnally. Also, they teach that a person can have Jesus as Savior, but not as Lord. Furthermore, you can make a decision to follow Christ, but still be a babe or carnal for most, if not all, of your christian life. If such a thing is believed and taught in your church, run.

For the most part, a person may have good intentions when stating this cliche, or they are ignorant of its presupposition. That happens. We want to try and provide someone with the benefit of the doubt as much as possible. Also, not everyone that states this cliche may come from a Carnal Christian perspective (at least not knowingly). But the main thrust here is to challenge even the possibility that someone can become a true convert to Christ, but not be a disciple. They may be a young disciple, a new disciple, or even a false disciple if they fall away. But, in the mean time, they are disciple nevertheless until proven otherwise. The same goes for the word convert. They are semanitcally interchangeable.

In Acts 3:19 Peter preached repentance and conversion. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas described to the Phoenicians and Syrians the conversion of the Gentiles. In Psalm 51, David mentioned teaching transgressor God’s ways and converting them (sounds like the Great Commission in a nutshell). In Acts 6:1 it mentions how disciples were multiplying. Acts 14 also mentions making many disciples, and they just started in the faith. And even verses that don’t use the words translated as “convert” or “disciple” in both old and new testaments still semantically explain what conversion and being a follower of Jesus/God is, and are an inclusive list which helps us to systematically understand that to turn from sin and turn to God is conversion and discipleship. Sure, it involves lifetime dedication, devotion, repeated repentance, and obedience to the one you profess to know and love. But it is still conversion and discipleship nevertheless. And to throw a wrench in this whole matter, even Judas was called a disciple when, in reality, he was not.

It would necessitate a bible study of multiple passages and words that would help illustrate my point further. Nevertheless, it is my hope that we grasp that this cliche doesn’t really demonstrate a biblical understanding of a follower of Christ. No matter how you slice it, a disciple is a convert and a convert is a disciple. They can be used interchangeably. And that is the beauty of language and words within language. There may be times when using the word “convert” describes an entry level understanding of just coming to faith in Christ, and other times when someone calls you a convert of Christ and you have been in the faith for years. The same goes for disciple. Some can call you a disciple of Christ and you just got saved yesterday, and you can be called a disciple after years of obedience to Him. It depends on the context and how the word is used. And Scripture illustrates this fact.

Therefore, if the Holy Spirit has indeed saved you, regenerated you, called you out of darkness into light, and you drop your nets, repent, and follow Christ, from that point forward you are a disciple and a convert to Christianity. However, remember that you can be a professing disciple/convert, but not truly be one. I pray the Lord opens our eyes to this truth.

-Until we go home