March 26, 2019

Dr. John Van Gelderen: Q&A Saints & Disciples

One of the most egregious errors from the advocates of Lordship Salvation (LS) is confusing the distinct doctrines of salvation and discipleship.   

“Those who hold to Lordship Salvation blur the biblical distinction between salvation and discipleship by interpreting the following passages as though they are the evangelistic blue print for salvation: Luke 9:23-24; Luke 14:26-27; Mark 8:34,” (In Defense of the Gospel: Revised & Expanded Edition, p. 78).

Dr. John Van Gelderen hosts a Q&A forum at his Revival Focus website. Earlier this month he addressed a question that addresses the doctrine of discipleship.
Dear Dr. Van Gelderen,

John 8:30-31 As he spake these words, many believed on him. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
Can one be a saint, but not a disciple? It seems there are at least a couple passages (John 8:30-32, John 15:7-8) that indicate being a disciple is tied to works (the verses about taking one’s cross could also be included). Given “salvation by grace alone through faith alone”, it seems we are forced to conclude either (a) one can be a saint without being a disciple, or (b) works/obedience/discipleship are to be considered an *evidence* of true faith.
In typing this question, I decided to look up the words in the NT, and it appears that “disciple/mathetes” appears in the Gospels & Acts 268 times, and 0 times after Acts. While the term “saint/hagios” (when used to refer to believers) appears 60 times after Acts, and only 1 time in Matthew, and 4 times in Acts. If they are distinct terms, it seems odd that “disciple” doesn’t appear after Acts.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks and God Bless.
Dr. Van Gelderen’s Answer,
Thank you for your perceptive question and thoughts. They open the door to a wonderful truth. The New Testament includes several usages of the word disciple, indicating various “levels” of discipleship. The broadest usage of the word refers to all believers in Jesus—all saints. But in the passage you mentioned in John 8, Jesus challenged those who had believed in Him to deeper discipleship.
According to Jesus, the way to become a “disciple indeed” is to “continue in my word.” The word continue is the same term translated abide in John 15, and abide is the picturesque term for dependence (John 15:4-5). Therefore, when you become a believer/disciple though faith, you can become a deeper disciple or a “disciple indeed” through continuous steps of faith. When you walk by faith you grow in grace.
The issue is not the evidences of true faith, as if you inevitably do works fitting for a believer. The challenge Paul gives in (Colossians 2:6) is that as you received Christ (by faith), now walk in Him (in the same manner—by faith). The works that evidence deeper discipleship are by faith. However, they are not automatic, otherwise Jesus would not challenge us to continue/abide in His word and Paul would not insist that we walk in Him by faith.

John Van Gelderen
Site Publisher Addendum:
“Salvation and discipleship are two separate and distinct issues. Salvation is the gift of God to an undeserving Hellbound sinner. Discipleship is what ought to flow from the man or woman who through the shed blood of Jesus Christ has been redeemed from sin, death and Hell. Confusing the cost of discipleship for the believer with the gospel of grace through faith is one of the most disconcerting errors of Lordship Salvation,” (In Defense of the Gospel: Revised & Expanded Edition, p. 85).

“When a man tries to carefully introduce verses about discipleship as though they are strictly evangelistic, remember that the Bible teaches that the lost must come to Christ for salvation and then follow after Him in discipleship. Salvation and discipleship are two very different things. We must not use verses intended to teach discipleship to try to lead a man to Christ. To do so creates confusion and frustration. The message becomes a gospel of faith, plus works,” (In Defense of the Gospel: Revised & Expanded Edition, p. 93).

Yours faithfully,

Lou Martuneac