According to the latest statistics, Christianity is the largest religion on earth, with more than two billion people identifying themselves as believers in Jesus. But according to the Bible, there is a big difference between someone who calls themselves a believer and someone who understands what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
What’s the Difference?
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul described two important elements needed to enter into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ: believing and making Jesus the Lord of your life.
“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your
heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with
the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth
he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:9-10 NASB).
As you can see from this passage, it’s not enough just to believe. The apostle James explains:
“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons
believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19 NIV).
In addition to belief, there must be a surrender of your will to God’s will. This is the way to make Jesus the Lord of your life. It means making a decision to live the Christian lifestyle by following the principles of the Bible and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
God and His Word are inseparable. The apostle John identified Jesus as the Word of God.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1 NASB).
There are some who believe the Bible is an ancient book, out-of-date, and not to be taken seriously. But John says the Bible is Jesus—in other words, we know God by knowing His Word.
God gave us the Bible to show us how to live according to His plan—because He loves us and He wants us to have the abundant life that we talked about in chapter 1.
Many people have read the Bible or heard Christian sermons, but they have not allowed the principles to get into their heart and change their lives. They are merely “hearers” of the Word and not “doers” of the principles. The apostle James says hearing is not enough:
“But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise,
you are only fooling yourselves. But if you look carefully into the perfect
law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what
you heard, then God will bless you for doing it” (James 1:22, 25 NLT).
You may have friends who tell you about their latest exercise regimen or weight loss program. You hear what they are saying, but until you go to the gym or change your eating habits, you will never reap the benefits of what they are telling you about how to lose weight.
It’s the same with God’s Word. Faith without corresponding action is dead (James 2:17). Christianity is more than just a religion—it’s a relationship with God through Jesus that requires a changed lifestyle.
Remember, God designed us to have fellowship with Him and to live according to His ways. If we embrace this relationship and this new way of living, we will experience abundant life. This life in Christ is like a fine sports car that requires ongoing maintenance and just the right kind of fuel and oil in order to have it run at peak performance to win races. To have peak performance in life, you need to live it according to God’s design.
Believer or Disciple?
As we said, there is a difference between a believer and a disciple.
The word “disciple” is the root of the word “discipline.” Discipline is required in any relationship in order for it to be fruitful and meaningful. Discipline is also required in any healthy lifestyle in order to achieve that peak performance.
Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom of God in His teaching. He taught His disciples to make the Kingdom of God a priority in life.
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 NASB).
The word “kingdom” comes from the Greek word basileia, which means “sovereignty, royal power, or dominion.” Jesus uses this same word in the famous “Lord’s Prayer” when He says: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 NASB).
Jesus once again is teaching us to make the Kingdom of God a priority in our lives (more on this in chapter 6, “A Life of Prayer”).
The apostle Paul also speaks of the reality of God’s Kingdom in the life of a believer:
“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living
a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17 NLT).
We are made in God’s image, and we have been given delegated “dominion” over the earth, with God ruling as King.
John the Baptist understood the Kingdom of God. He also knew that Jesus was the Promised One of God. When asked about Jesus, John answered, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30 NASB). He put the Kingdom ahead of himself.
Jesus made it clear that we are dependent on God for everything in life.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NLT).
I’m Not Strong Enough
You may desire to follow Christ, but perhaps you are fearful that you are too weak to obey God’s Word. The truth is, no human being is strong enough to fully obey the principles of Scripture. That is why we need the help of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God in our lives.
The Bible calls the Holy Spirit our helper—in the Greek, the word is Paraclete, which means Comforter or Advocate. It can also mean someone “called to one’s side.” So the Holy Spirit comes alongside of us as our helper, comforter, and advocate. He gives us the strength and courage to do the things the Bible calls us to do.
One of the ways you can tell whether you have surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and are beginning the life of a disciple is when your desires shift from being selfish to selfless, from me-focused to God-focused and people focused. This is the work of the Holy Spirit breathing life into the Word of God.
In the beginning, God spoke the world into existence. His revealed Word, the Bible, has the same life-giving, life-changing power to recreate you into the image and likeness (remember those words from Genesis 1:26) of His son, Jesus.
And that is the goal—to become like Christ.
Becoming Like Jesus
In fact, that is what the name “Christian” means—it is literally “Christ Ones” or “those who are like Christ.” So our prayer should continually be, “Lord, make me more like Jesus.”
The apostle Paul clarifies that this work of God in our lives will not cease until we are mature in Christ:
“This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and
knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring
up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT).
Measuring up to the standard of Jesus is our lifelong goal. He is our ideal. Becoming more like Jesus is the spiritual bullseye we should be aiming for.
Jesus made it clear that in order to be His disciple (disciplined follower), we have to live our lives according the principles of His Word. Yet He promises that if we fulfill this condition, He will give us freedom like we’ve never experienced.
“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 NLT).
We find true freedom in this life by obeying Jesus’ teachings and walking in His ways. Jesus came to this earth to restore our relationship with God, and this brings to us so many of the things people are searching for—love, peace, joy, fulfillment, and much more.
You may sense that peace and warmth in your heart as you read these words. That is the Holy Spirit working in your life. The peace you are feeling is God’s way of confirming to you that these things are true and that following Jesus with all of your heart is the wisest decision you will ever make.
The Father sent His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. The Holy Spirit always glorifies Jesus and confirms His words and His work. Jesus always gives glory to the Father. So God is One, but He manifests Himself in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We call this the Trinity, three persons in one.
If you want to know God, seek to know Jesus. The concept of God is beyond our human capacity to understand. One of the reasons Jesus came to earth as a human being was so that we could truly grasp the love, compassion, wisdom, and power of Almighty God by seeing the works Jesus did during his life.
When we learned to walk as a child, we didn’t begin by running a marathon. As a baby, we learned to rock on our knees, then crawl, and then we took our first halting steps. It took time as a toddler before we were truly confident enough to walk and then finally to run. It’s the same in our relationship with Christ. It takes time to learn the Christian lifestyle—and there will be slips and tumbles along the way. And that’s OK.
This course is a way for you to take your first steps into the exciting adventure of life with Jesus. In the rest of this course, we will be learning the basics of the Christian lifestyle—as we have already said, how to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Each lesson will build on the previous lessons, and in the end, you will not only walk, but you will begin to run the race that God has designed for your life (Hebrews 12:1).
You’ve probably heard the word baptism. Now learn how it can change your life in chapter 3!