What’s the difference between conversion and discipleship?

The Great Commission of our Lord is to go and make disciples, not converts.  The most important number in the Church today – the most critical statistic – is not the number of attendees attracted, or members enrolled, or even converts baptized.  The most vital barometer of the health, strength, and longevity of the Church is only this: the number of disciples made.

Conversion is merely the first step of discipleship.  Conversion is not the end goal.  “Becoming a Christian” or “getting saved” or “accepting Jesus” (or whatever phrase your faith tradition might use) is just the starting line!  Now run the marathon of discipleship that has been set before you and trod by Christ Himself!

Discipleship is the lifelong journey of learning to live like Christ and unto Christ.  This involves following two things:

  1. the earthly example Jesus recorded in the Gospels of the New Testament, and
  2. the ongoing leadership of His Spirit that resides in you every day.

For most Christians, conversion was a specific moment in time when they: (a) truly believed that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Son and is the Savior/Redeemer of all creation (themselves included, of course!), and (b) responded to that belief with a dedication of their lives to live and love like Jesus.

For some Christians, this conversion experience does not happen in a single “moment”, but over the course of a season of life where one grows into a place of faith in Christ from a place of unbelief (I’ll write more about this in my next post – my friend Will Faircloth calls this “dimmer switch conversion”).  In either case, conversion is temporary: it is either an instance or a season where a nonbeliever becomes a believer/follower.

Discipleship begins at this moment (or season) of conversion and continues on for the rest of your earthly life.  My conversion to belief occurred at age 9.  At age 89, I will still be learning and practicing how to live, speak, act, think, believe, love, see the world, interpret my circumstances, interact with others, and anticipate eternity like Jesus.

In the coming weeks, I will offer a series of five posts that will define the primary attributes of discipleship:

  1. Self-Sacrifice
  2. Apprenticing
  3. Imitation
  4. God-Confidence
  5. and one final attribute that I simply call “John 3:30”.

Richard Foster wrote, “perhaps the greatest malady in the Church today is converts to Christ who are not disciples of Christ – a clear contradiction in terms.”  To convert to Christianity is to willfully decide to dedicate the balance of your life to living and loving like Jesus.  True conversion results in a life of discipleship.

Quick self-examination time: based on this post, would you consider yourself to be a nonbeliever, a convert, or a disciple (or somewhere in between)?  Feel free to comment below, if you wish – you are always welcome to comment anonymously to any my posts, if it will help you to be more transparent.

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