The Call to Discipleship is a Call to Salvation
Updated: Apr 20
When the Scriptures speak of denying self, losing ones life, taking up the cross, forsaking all, and following Christ, such as found in the four Gospels preached by Christ, notably: Matt. 10:32-39; 16:24-26; Mk. 8:34-38; 10:21; Lk. 9:23-26, 57-62; 14:25-15:32; Jn. 12:24-25, the subject is a call to salvation. The call to discipleship is a call to salvation. When Christ preached to the lost multitudes and professing believers and disciples that followed Him, He was always preaching His Gospel (the first four Books are rightly called The Gospels). That includes the above parallel passages. He wasn’t teaching lost people how to be better Christians or disciples.
A careful, and diligent study of these passages, interpreting them exegetically and in their context and grammatical sense and then comparing them with other similar Scripture (such as the rich young ruler and testimonies of salvation in scripture), reveals clearly and plainly these passages referring to salvation and not something post-salvation. Our appeal must always be to the Word of God alone for it stands on its own as our authority for all faith and practice. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15).
The following is a brief exposition on these passages, using Mark 8:34-38 as the basis.
“And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. 36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? 37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
1. The text in Mark teaches that one who does not become a disciple of Christ (a follower of Christ) will be eternally damned. In v. 34, denial of self and taking up the cross is a representation of the sinner coming to the point of saving repentance, with a resultant lifestyle of continued following of Christ. In this verse, the Lord addresses “the people . . . with his disciples also.” Jesus is teaching the unconverted multitudes, “the people,” because vv. 34-38 was a call for them to repent and receive salvation, not how lost people can be better Christians. He also addressed His professing disciples because not every disciple is a true believer (e.g. Judas, the “many of His disciples” in Jn 6:60-66, later on Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8, etc).
2. Christ’s call to sinners to “follow me” (v. 34) was a call to salvation, since the Lord’s “disciples follow him” (Mk 6:1; Matt 8:23; Lk 22:39; Jn 18:15; 21:20). Matthew the apostle was converted in this manner (Lk 5:27-28), as were the two sets of brothers (Mk 1:15-20; Lk 5:1-11) — according to the apostles themselves: Mk 10:26; Matt 19:27; Lk 18:28, and confirmed by the Lord Jesus Christ: Mk 10:27-31; Matt 19:28-30; Lk 18:29-30.
3. One who was bearing a cross in the land of Israel in Christ’s day was on his way to the shameful and extremely painful death of crucifixion (Jn. 19:17) — repentant faith in Christ involves losing one’s life, that is, turning from our own way of living and sinful ways, from exaltation of self and comfort, to surrender to Christ as unconditional Lord (Mk. 8:35). It’s an exchange of masters (Matt 6:24).
4. The person who wishes to continue to live his own way and life, to “save his life,” will eternally lose “both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28, 39), while one who turns from his own way, denying himself, taking up the cross, and losing his life for the sake of Christ and the gospel, will save his life or soul (same Greek word “pseuche”) by receiving eternal life. “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (Jn 12:25).
5. To encourage the lost to give up their own way and surrender to Christ’s Lordship for salvation, Christ reminds them it profits them nothing if they gain the whole world, but lose their souls (Mk 8:36-37).
6. Those who, rather than being ashamed of their sins (Rom. 6:21; cf. Rom. 1:16; 2 Tim. 1:8, 12, 16) are ashamed to follow Christ and His Words in this evil and adulterous world will have Christ be ashamed of them at His return and thus be eternally damned—for Christ is “not ashamed to call [true believers] brethren” (Heb 2:11), and “God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:16; Lk. 9:26). No text in Scripture indicates that God will be “ashamed” of His people—he is not ashamed of them (Heb. 11:16). Mk. 8:34-38 clearly teaches that all saved people are disciples, and that one who refuses to become Christ’s disciple will face an eternity in hell.
Other Illustrations from Scripture
The case of the rich and religious young ruler in Mk 10:17-31 (parallel Matt 19 and Lk 18) exemplifies the teaching of Mk 8:34-38. Christ told the rich ruler who wanted to “inherit eternal life” (v. 17) to forsake all “and come, take up the cross, and follow me” (v. 21). There were five commands given: “Sell, distribute, come, take up the cross and follow me.” What Jesus preached here in Mk 10:21 is the very same thing He preached in Mk 8:34-38; Lk 9:23-26 and Matt 16:24-26, what many would call “discipleship passages." Jesus is preaching to a lost Jew — why would He talk about discipleship with a lost person?! (hmmm, suspect indeed). This is the response that should be called for in order for someone to be saved. This is what is required to get into the kingdom, to have eternal life, according to God the Son. To turn this account into ‘discipleship” or “dedication” is to rip it from its context, to confuse what is required for salvation. It is a dastardly perversion of the gospel, diminishing saving faith to the intellect. Salvation does indeed come from believing in Jesus Christ. He must however be the Jesus of the Bible, Who is God and Lord. That is a clear implication of the young ruler passage. Non-lordship or anti-lordship people will shrink or depreciate the identity of Jesus. They make Him more palatable to a worldly audience. But in so doing, they make their hearers two-fold more the children of hell they once were. The rich young man refused to obey God the Son, for he was unwilling to forsake his riches, he was unwilling to repent of his covetousness, so he did not inherit the kingdom of God (vv. 22-24). Those who do leave and forsake all to follow Christ (vv. 28-29 — the apostles testimonies, which occurred in Mk 1:15-20; Lk 5:1-11, 27-28) become God’s “children” (v. 24) and will “receive . . . in the world to come eternal life” (v. 30), having submitted to Christ as Lord and Saviour with a contrite and broken spirit and the humble faith of a little child (vv. 13-16).
Similarly, in Luke 14:15-35, to the “great multitudes” Christ preached that “whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath” (vv. 33, 26) to “bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (vv. 27, 33); those who refuse to put Christ before self (v. 26), before property (vv. 18-19) and before family and other people (vv. 20, 26) will not “eat bread in the kingdom of God” (v. 15), but be “cast out” (v. 35) of the eschatological feast of the saints (v. 24) into hell, while God rejoices over the repentance and salvation of those who become disciples in the way people rejoice over the recovery of a lost sheep, coin, or son (Lk 15 — the entire sermon of Christ goes from Lk 14:15–15:32).
The verb “cast out” in Lk 14:35, out of 125 instances in the NT, is never employed for a judgment where believers are cast out by God, but the lost are, over and over again, said to be cast into the fires of hell (e.g. Matt 3:10; 5:13, 25, 29-30; 7:19; 13:42, 48; 18:8-9; Mk 9:42 [cf. vv. 41-48], 45, 47; Lk 3:9; 12:58; 14:35; Rev 2:22; 12:4, 9, 13; 14:19; 18:21; 19:20; 20:3, 10, 14-15). Note as well the texts Matt 5:13; 13:48; Lk 14:35; Jn 15:6, where the lost are those who are cast out each time (the only remaining text, 1 Jn 4:18, does not speak of anything eschatological, whether judgment or deliverance).
When Jesus stated in Luke 14:26-35 that lest you meet His requirements and criteria to be His disciple, He was declaring to his mostly unsaved audience that you cannot be His disciple. In other words, Jesus was saying that you cannot be saved. Jesus is not teaching lost people how to be better Christians and disciples. We know that among “the great multitudes” (v. 25), most were unsaved, noted in the very context (15:1-2), and further in Jn 6:2, 60-66 where the same people are referenced, “many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” Jesus never had more than just “a little flock” (Lk 12:32).
Parallel passages confirm the plain teaching of Mk 8:34-38—disciples get eternal life, the call to discipleship is a call to salvation, and those who do not become disciples are damned. The act of making disciples is expressed with the Greek verb “matheteuo.” Making disciples (Matt 28:19) takes place by preaching the gospel and having people come to repent (Lk 24:47) and believe (Mk 16:15-16), and thus receive the remission of sins (Lk 24:47; Mk 16:16; Jn 20:23), after which the believers/disciples should be baptized (Matt 28:19; Mk 16:16). The response to the preaching of the gospel is people becoming disciples by the new birth (Ac 14:21), for one is discipled or instructed “unto the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 13:52) by the “foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (1 Cor 1:21).
As with the noun “mathetes,” the verb “matheteuo” indicates one becomes a disciple by becoming a believer. No text teaches or implies that disciples are an elite subcategory within a larger group of Christians. Disciples are regularly contrasted with the unregenerate, but never with an underclass of truly saved people who have not yet become disciples. The usage of the noun and verb forms for disciple make the equation of believers and disciples exceedingly plain. Indeed, the terms Christian and disciple are explicitly equated (Ac 11:26). Scripture teaches and affirms the truth that one becomes a disciple at the moment of saving faith, and that those who do not are unbelievers who will be damned.
When Paul preached the gospel message that “by [Christ] all that believe are justified from all things, from which [they] could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Ac 13:39), those who “believed” received “eternal life” (Ac 13:48) and thus became “disciples” (Ac 13:52; cf. 14:1, 21-23). When people heard the gospel, they either became “disciples” or they rejected the Lord and “believed not” (Ac 19:9). Scripture clearly and regularly equates the categories of believer and disciple, and promises those who are in these categories the same eternal felicity, and warns of eternal damnation for all who do not become disciples or believers.
Jesus shows us in the parable of the sower (Matt 13) who is a true disciple. Their, out of the four soils, only one is saved, the good ground. It is the only ground that is fruitful and with understanding, the only one that is a true disciple of Jesus Christ. The stony soil gets offended over the truth, over the cost, over some hard reproof or teaching like I’m presenting here. The offence in the heart, maybe in your heart, reveals that they are yet unsaved. Jesus is only an ornament in their heart, having receiving a false Jesus and a false gospel. The thorny soil also professes to believe, attending church and pretending to be a Christian, but has never turned from his love of the world and riches. 1 Jn 2:15 warns, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” If you don’t “have . . . the love of God in you” (Jn 5:42), then you are unsaved like the Jews Jesus was addressing in Jn 5:38-42. The thorny soil continues to be obsessed with “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things” (Mk 4:19) including the “pleasures of this life” (Lk 8:14). They never exchanged masters from mammon to God (Matt 6:24), thus continue to the serve the evil task master of money and the world.
Very strong exegetical evidence from many Scripture passages establish that one becomes a true disciple of Christ at the same moment that one becomes a true believer, so that discipleship begins at regeneration, and all the people of God, not some elite minority (as Keswick-Second Blessing-Victorious Life-Higher Life theology teaches), are identified as disciples in Scripture. No verse in Scripture teaches that believers become disciples at a post-conversion crisis or that only some of the regenerate are disciples. Rather, it was the “disciples [who] were called Christians” (Ac 11:26). While not all disciples are true Christians (e.g. Jn 6:60-66), all true Christians are disciples — they are a single class, the redeemed people of God. Discipleship begins with the new birth.
John 8:30-32 indicates that disciples are those who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, for Christ’s true “disciples follow him” (Mk 6:1; Matt 8:23; Lk 22:39; Jn 18:15; 21:20). The NT call to discipleship is call to salvation, not a call to post-salvation discipleship as frequently interpreted. Clearly Mk 8:34-38 and parallel passages (Matt 10:32-39; 16:24-26; Mk 10:21; Lk 9:23-26, 57-62; 14:25-35; Jn 12:24-25) are referring to salvation. They teach that saving conversion involves giving up one's own way for Christ's way and surrendering to Him as Lord. Through that response of saving faith, the true child of God will bring forth spiritual fruit, a holy life and good works by the grace of God (Ti 2:11-14).
Turning these Passages into Sanctification is Corrupting the Scriptures
We don’t become disciples of Christ at some point after we are converted. That is heretical two-tiered Keswick “Christianity.” People want salvation without paying the cost. Without turning from their sinful and wicked ways. Without having to give up the world and all the evil it comes with. People want Jesus and Heaven while loving the world and their lives and their families and everything else. That is the state of Christianity in our day, as it has been for a century. But it’s false and heretical, inoculating unsaved false professing believers to the truth and making them two-fold children of hell.
Today and about the last century, many men have been corrupting these passages by reading into the Bible a new doctrine, a new “salvation,” using these passages especially (and others like it such as Mk 1:18-20; Lk 5:1-11) as proof texts. Proof texts for a Lordless and repentant-less and non-changing gospel of easy believism. This false interpretation methodology is called eisegesis, and it derives from Rome. A subjective approach, eisegesis allows someone to make a text mean whatever he wants. He might start with what he'd like the Bible to say or perhaps defend his own thinking by finding a passage to say it. This changes God's Word as much as adding or taking away from the words, maybe worse.
Subjectively, the eisegetical interpreter introduces his own opinions as opposed to expounding literally, in context, giving careful attention to the God-inspired words employed (1 Jn 2:20-21, 27), comparing scripture with scripture (1 Cor 2:13-16) and rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15), expositing what the text actually says which is exegesis. Rather, they eisegete. They put in rather than pull out. They force ideas and views into the text that aren’t there. In this case it’s turning Christ’ salvation message into practical sanctification, which then dramatically changes the Gospel message, denies salvation and produces false pretending “believers” as two fold children of hell.
On top of this often exists a corrupted view of pastoral authority that says the critic is "touching God's anointed" or usurping authority. This has it's parallels with Catholicism too, the preacher behaving like a little pope in his given situation. When you question the wrong preaching, you're causing division and sowing discord and maybe even trying to split the church. If you question it from afar, you are intervening in matters that are solely for that church, undermining its authority and preacher. Surely you've got sinister motives too—you couldn't be doing it because you love them, even though nothing is more dastardly than what is happening to them. Your love is called hatred, so love too is a casualty.
All this lends itself toward the worst kind of preaching. But I won’t play the game. I can’t sit by while people who pose as though they respect the Word of God treat the scriptures like tomatoes falling of the back of a produce truck. Twisting these passages into something post-salvation is a form of wresting scripture (2 Pet 3:16-17) and those who are guiltily cannot escape the judgment of God. For the truly regenerated believer God’s Word is perspicuous, that is plain (Pr 8:8-9; 22:20-21), and he knows the truth and is taught the truth by the indwelling Spirit of truth (Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn 2:20-21, 27).
If someone really loves the KJV, then he should be careful with it and preach what it says, instead of perverting it. The power of God is in the message of a passage, not in the formulation of a sermon that doesn't communicate what a passage says. All of Gods words (Pr 8:8) are “plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge.” (Pr 8:9). They “know the certainty of the words of truth;” (Pr 22:21a). They know and love the truth (1 Jn 2:20-21; Ps 119:127) and “hate every false way.” (Ps 119:128).