January 31, 2012

Salvation and Discipleship by Dr. Rick Flanders, Part 3

Dear Guests of IDOTG:

We are continuing with the series by Dr. Rick Flanders. If you are new to this series you might begin with Part One and then Part 2 for the groundwork.

One of the most hotly debated issues in the Lordship Salvation (LS) controversy revolves around the doctrines of salvation and discipleship. Most LS advocates see these as one and the same. LS advocates blur the lines of distinction, which creates an evangelistic message that conditions the reception of eternal life on a lost man’s upfront commitment to what should be the results of a genuine conversion in discipleship.

Dr. Rick Flanders wrote an article in 2007 titled, Salvation and Discipleship that addresses this vital issue in the Lordship Salvation controversy. The article first appeared at the Baptist College of Ministry website and with the author’s permission it is being reproduced here as a multi-part series. I am hopeful every guest will read this series with discernment and prayerfully consider the plain teaching of Scripture as Dr. Flanders presents it now in this third of five installments.

As we have seen in the book of John, disciples of Jesus are not necessarily believers in Him. In chapter 2, His disciples are recorded as coming to believe in Him, and in chapter 6 many of His disciples are said not to believe in Him. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be committed to follow Him. To believe in Him is to trust Him for one’s eternal salvation. There is clearly a difference between the two, but it is also clear in the Bible that discipleship and salvation are not disconnected. First of all, those who follow Jesus as Master and Teacher ought at some point to believe on Him as their Savior. If one is truly committed to follow the leading, the teaching, and the will of Jesus Christ, he will be brought to the place where he sees his need to believe on Him.

Today there are many who seek to follow Jesus, but have not yet trusted Him completely for their own salvation. We should not think that there are no real disciples of Christ among those who have joined sacramental churches or affiliated with monastic orders or entered the Christian ministry, while not understanding the glorious truth of justification by faith in Christ alone. Many sincere religionists are disciples but not believers. However Christian discipleship was planned to lead to saving faith.

The men whom Jesus chose to be His apostles found that if they would follow the teaching of their Master they must recognize that His central teaching had to do with Who He is. “I am,” He said again and again, “the Bread of Life” (John 6), “the Light of the World” (John 8), “the Good Shepherd” (John 10), “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11). He did not say that He gave them the bread of life; He said he was that Bread which satisfies fully and forever. He did not say that He was a light in the world; rather He claimed to be the Light of the World. He said He was the Shepherd of the psalm, Whom David had identified as Jehovah Himself. He taught that He Himself is Eternal Life. When the unbelievers asked in John 8:25, “Who art thou?”, certainly His disciples must have asked themselves the same question. The answer, of course, is that Jesus said He is God and the only Way of salvation. Those who were really following Him must accept these claims, and trust Him for their own salvation. They will either do this or forsake their discipleship.

This is what happened with Judas. He followed Jesus until he realized that following Him would mean worshipping Him as God and believing in Him for salvation. Although he probably did call Him Lord (as many vainly do who have never been saved—remember Matthew 7:21) in the three years he followed Him, the Bible never records Judas calling Jesus “Lord.” He is recorded only calling Him, “Master” (as in Matthew 26:25 and 49), which means Teacher. Judas was a disciple, but he never came to believe on Jesus as Savior, and eventually he betrayed Him. Discipleship should lead to saving faith, and refusing to believe on Christ requires the abandonment of discipleship.

Even though the definitions of a believer in Jesus and a disciple of Jesus are very different, it does not follow that individuals have a legitimate choice about which one they will be. People who have salvation in Christ have a moral obligation to follow Christ in discipleship. One of the most important calls to discipleship in the Bible is Romans 12:1, which shows us this truth very clearly. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Notice that the call is addressed to believers (“brethren”). Saved people are called to discipleship in this verse. Notice further that the discipleship decision of dedication is voluntary even for believers (“I beseech you”). It is not automatic that a believer will follow discipleship. But then every saved person is morally obligated to give the Lord his total dedication (“by the mercies of God”).

All of Romans before chapter 12 is about the mercies of God by which we are saved. Now, because of them, we who have been saved are urged to live entirely for the One Who died for us. It is our “reasonable service.”

There is a sense in which a saved person (a believer) has a choice whether or not to live as a dedicated Christian (a disciple), and yet there is a sense in which he has no such choice. A Christian is morally obligated to follow Jesus all the way. Dr. John R. Rice used to preach about “What It Costs to Be a Good Christian.” This sermon was about discipleship. When a believer is not living for the One Who died for him, he is not a good Christian.

Living right is not an automatic result of being saved, although it is the duty of every saved person.

Salvation is the most important issue of life, but it is not the only issue. If it were, why would we need the epistles? Without questioning the genuineness of their salvation, Paul in his inspired epistles admonished believers to “Flee fornication” (1 Corinthians 6:18), “idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14), “the love of money” (1 Timothy 6:7-11), and “youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22). The writers of the New Testament constantly call on the saved to repent of their sins, to be good Christians, to behave as disciples. Failure to live the Christian life does not prove that a person is not a Christian. Salvation does not settle all the issues of the Christian life, and wrong choices concerning other issues do not prove that the right choice has not been made about salvation. Surrender to God, love for others, honesty, purity, self-denial, submission to authority, and prayer are all issues true believers are to handle as disciples. When a believer is told that failure in discipleship proves that he isn’t saved, and that he needs to get “really saved” so that he will start doing right, the implication is that salvation is the only issue. If you are saved you will do right, some seem to say, and if you won’t do right you must not be saved. Misleading counsel like this can cause believers to neglect dealing with a sin problem while it confuses them about the plan of salvation! Believers must face the issues of discipleship without reverting to the issue of salvation if it has already been settled by faith in Christ.

In the book of the Acts, people became members of the church when they were baptized as believers (see 2:41-44). As the church grew, the membership was called “the multitude of them that believed” (4:32, 5:14). But these believers were also called “disciples” (6:1, 6:7, 9:1, 9:26, 9:36-38, 11:26). The reason is that when a person believes on the Lord Jesus and affiliates with His church (which every believer is supposed to do), he is “signed up,” so to speak, to be a disciple of Jesus. Will he succeed in this discipleship? We do not know for sure, but we know that discipleship is the only right life for a believer in Jesus Christ. Therefore church-members are called disciples, learners committed to following Christ.

Dr. Rick Flanders has an itinerant preaching ministry for revival. He can be contacted at drrickflanders@gmail.com. Dr. Rick Flanders Revival Ministries

See- John MacArthur’s Discipleship Gospel and Summary of Lordship Salvation From a Single Page for related reading.

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