Somebody asked me the question, "What is the difference between a normal Christian and a normal disciple?" It sounded like either a trick question or an exercise in semantics. I set out to answer the question the way people these days learn things -- the Internet. (And like most people these days) I do not really expect to find answers to my deep questions of life on the Internet, but that's where I start. Right or wrong, here is what Google says when I type "What does it mean to be a Christian?"
The first site on the list is the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. It sounds like some heavy-hitting doctrinal watchdog. But you never know, as these days anyone can make an impressive website. Let's see what they say:
Some people think that to be a Christian means you can't see movies, that you can't dance, can't have a drink, or that you can't have any more fun. That isn't true. Christianity isn't about rules and regulations to follow. It is about a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ...
Being a Christian means that you are changed on the inside, not controlled from the outside. It means that your heart has been changed by the presence of God. It does not mean that you are required to go to church, required to pay tithes, required to be good, required to do anything in order to stay a Christian. It means you desire to do those things because you've been changed.1
I get the idea, although I'd say the net effect is the same either way. Whether externally required or internally changed, it is saying that a Christian is not going to see movies, dance, drink, and is going to go to church, pay tithes, and be a good person. But the personal relationship with Jesus is the key. More:
Theologically speaking, a Christian is someone who has received the Lord Jesus as Savior, trusts Him alone for the forgiveness of sins, has put no trust in his own efforts to please God, and repented from his/her sins... Additionally, being a Christian means that you are serving the true Jesus, not a false one. In order for a person to follow Jesus, he must first accurately understand who He is. If someone called their pet iguana Jesus, even though he had great faith in Jesus the iguana, his faith is useless. Faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed.
So receiving the Lord Jesus as Savior is a the principle mark of a Christian. I like what he said about serving the true Jesus, not a false one, though I didn't care for his iguana analogy. But hey, I don't even know if these CARM people are a real, bona-fide Christian church with steeple, pastor, and organ.
I go to another site: the Olive Baptist Church,2 which was kind enough to post a physical address as well as an answer to my question on their website. Baptist churches are somewhat independent of each other, so I know they can't speak for all Baptists (nor can anyone), but here's what they say a Christian is:
There are three things you must do:
1. Admit you are a sinner and have done wrong things
2. Believe that Jesus died and rose again for your sins
3. Confess (acknowledge) Jesus as your Lord and Savior
I like lists. Nice and simple.
Moving on, I'll check a big denomination that boasts some real numbers of members and years under their belt. Here's the Lutheran Church of the USA under the section called The Basics:
Because of Jesus Christ, we believe that Christians are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live our lives in service to the world. Through acts of love and justice, worship and witness, we share God's boundless love with the world.3
So the Lutherans say that Christians serve the world through acts of love and justice. These are the kind of people I'd expect to run orphanages or soup kitchens, and sure enough, with a few mouse-clicks, I found places to volunteer my time serving others.
Finally, I went to the biggest church, back to the mother of all, the Roman Catholic Church. Although I couldn't find my exact question, I did find the Pope on Facebook. His info page declares the mission of the church (and presumably of its members):
Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering its sacraments and exercising charity.4
With samples from four ends of Christendom, I summarize my results as fairly as I can. Here's what I came up with -- a bare-bones, baseline description of a normal Christian:
To contrast a normal Christian with a normal disciple, I asked the a similar question --"What is a normal disciple?" -- but Google didn't find anything useful. No reputable church websites had these words. The word "disciple" doesn't appear to be in their vocabulary.
I searched my on-line Bible for the words "Christian" and "disciple" to see how the Bible used the terms. The word "Christian" appears only three times, none of which offers a real, nuts-and-bolts description about their daily life. However, the word "disciple" occurs 256 times.
According to the Bible, what does a normal disciple do? Is it different from a normal Christian? Is it a higher standard, the same standard, or a different standard? Many of the verses I find are narrative descriptions of the disciples' lives. All the stories have something in common: the disciples were with their Teacher daily, learning his teachings, spending their days with him, and going out to tell others of the message. There were specific things that disciples were commanded to do:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)
"Losing one's life" meant giving up everything in normal society. It meant abandoning all family relationships that would hinder one from living as a disciple.
If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters -- yes, even his own life -- such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27)
"Carrying one's cross" meant a life of self-denial. The cross is used to kill the flesh, which is something a disciple must do every day. It meant no longer holding a regular job for income to pay for the expenses of one's own family -- not just avoiding the greed of having too much (materialism), but actually not even worrying these personal needs.
Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. (Luke 12:22)
And if a person did own any assets, he would not keep these assets as personal property, but share all things in common.5
In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Luke 14:33)
The rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-22 was such a man who was told to give up all his possessions, but he would not do it. He obviously was called to be a disciple, not a Christian. But he did not obey this call. Why did he go away sad?
Sharing everything is the inevitable outcome of loving your brothers in the same way that Messiah loves you. Loving your brothers as He loved you is the new commandment that every normal disciple will do daily.
And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. (1 John 3:23)
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)
One thing that the Master often said to people wanting to become disciples is "Follow Me!" If they did, they became His disciples and traveled around with Him and His other disciples. If they did not follow Him, they stayed where they were -- same house, job, daily activities, and same old life. To serve Him meant to follow Him. If you loved your life in the world, then you simply wouldn't follow Him.
Anyone who loves his life will lose it, while anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (John 12:25-26)
And then finally, the apostle Paul described a normal disciple to Timothy. He told him to reflect on these examples. Really, if anyone reflects on the examples, you get the picture -- a disciple is someone who is completely devoted in his occupation.
No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor's crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. (2 Timothy 2:4-7)
With all this research, I had enough information to make some observations, at least on the externals. A normal Christian had to believe in the real Jesus, had to live a Christian lifestyle, participate in church weekly, and evangelize somehow. (The details are still hard to nail down with 100% agreement.) A normal disciple had to give up everything -- family, possessions, job, old life -- and follow the Son of God and be with other disciples on a daily basis. A normal disciple is completely devoted, shares all things in common, and loves his brothers and sisters as Messiah loved him, every single day.
All the disciples were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44-47)
I thought back to the first writer who mentioned believing in an iguana. He said it was so important to believe in the right Jesus, not the wrong one. He said you have to believe in the right gospel and not the wrong one. I think he's totally right about that. But I'm still not sure whether he believes in the right Jesus, or whether an iguana is the right reptile to represent the false one.