A Christian is one who follows Christ – a professed believer in His life and works. A disciple is an adherent to Christ’s life and teachings. One who has dedicated their life – as an apprentice to a Master – to becoming like Him. So is there a difference between the two?
To believe in Christ means to believe in every aspect of the work that He did out of love for our sake. If we genuinely believe that, then we know that the only way to truly reciprocate that love is in the way that He Himself taught us. “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” John 14:15.
Christianity should be much more than placing one’s faith entirely in the finished work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. It goes much further than that. The Apostle Paul’s exhortation is to “… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you, both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13. Christianity should be an active life that is practiced every waking moment, wherein sin is destroyed, so that the life of Jesus can be made manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:10-11) From the moment we accept Jesus into our heart we should be seeking out how to serve Him and how to keep His commandments so that this work can take place in us. That is how a disciple lives.
The true answer is that there is no difference at all between a true Christian and a disciple. However, not all those who profess to be Christians actually live the life of a disciple.
All things should become new
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish – lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” Luke 14:28-29.
This is the way it goes for thousands of professing Christians. They may begin by confessing Christ and accepting Him into their heart with rejoicing, but when it comes to their daily life, nothing changes. The works of the flesh are still evident. They lie, they backbite, they pilfer, etc. They have not, in fact, become a true disciple!
This is not the way it should be. When one becomes a true Christian, one gets a new mind. A change of heart, so to speak.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgements and do them.” Ezekiel 36:26-27.
Christianity is warfare
God is sufficiently rich for everyone who calls on Him. He saves people who are in need; He does not reject them. Then they taste that God is good. However, we are wrong if we believe that that is Christianity. Being a Christian should mean being His disciple – living according to His commandments and teachings. Being an adherent to them – learning what they are, and how to follow His way and His will.
Confessing Christ and asking Him to come into your heart is of course the first step. But it is far from being the last step. Christianity is warfare. Jesus did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34) He conquered sin, Satan, and all the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. So whoever does not do the same, cannot be His disciple.