What are those who are born of God called most often in Acts? Does this correlate with what Jesus said in places like Mark 8:34-38? How does that apply to us today?

While today we most often call one another Christians or believers, in Acts those who were born of God were most often called disciples (Acts 6:1-2, 7; 9:1, 10, 19; 11:26, 29). The connotative difference between “believer” and “disciple” can be significant. For instance, the demons believe (Jam.2:19). Jesus once taught a crowd of listeners that He was the Son of God, and “many came to believe in Him” (John 8:30). “Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine'” (John 8:31). A disciple then is one who abides in His word. Jesus later said to these who had believed in Him, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). Jesus taught elsewhere what it meant to be His disciple. He said, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). Submitting to the ownership of Christ means the Master’s business takes priority over everything else, including family ties. Following Christ may result in being disowned by one’s family or even being turned over to governing authorities hostile to Christianity by one’s own family. Hating even your own life speaks of dying to yourself and living only for Christ. He says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23), and “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27). A disciple is the one who crucifies his own will, his own pride, his own concerns, his own comfort, and his own safety; a disciple is one who gives his life away in self-denial; a disciple is one who completely dies to self so that Christ can reign within him. Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal.2:20). A disciple of Jesus Christ abandons everything and dies to self. When he is mistreated, ridiculed, maligned, reproached, or made to suffer on account of Christ, the disciple’s heart is full of joy that he has been counted worthy to suffer shame for his association with Jesus (Acts 5:41). Genuine discipleship involves not only abandonment of self in service to Him daily but abandonment of everything. Jesus says, “No one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33). Your most intimate relationships, your entire life, and all of your possessions now belong to Christ if you are truly His disciple. That is why Jesus warns the hearers of the gospel to count the cost (Luke 14:28-32) before they set out to follow Him. The alter call of Christ is not an appeal to self; it is not a “come to Me to be blessed” kind of message but rather a “come to the alter to die, to pour out your life everyday for Me” message. He wants people to know from the very start that the cost of discipleship is death to self, total abandonment of everything in service to the Master. A disciple is not a subcategory of God’s redeemed. Only disciples of Jesus Christ are redeemed. If the Holy Spirit dwells in you then, sacred Scripture teaches, “you are not your own” (1Cor.6:18) but rather are the possessed slave of the Master Jesus Christ. “For you have been bought with a price” (1Cor.6:19). With the heresy of “easy believism”, which is basically old-fashioned antinomianism, encroaching deeply into the evangelical churches of America, the truth about what it means to be a disciple is more important now than ever.

Consider the following scenario: Mainstream Fellowship Church (MFC) of Anywhere, Texas, meets for worship at 9am and 11am on Sunday mornings. A worship service at MFC typically consists of a worship band playing everyone’s favorite contemporary tunes, followed by announcements, prayer, special music, and then a fifty-minute sermon consisting of a practical and relevant message interlaced with funny, interesting, and sad stories followed by an alter call, accompanied by dimmed lighting and soft music, consisting of an invitation to those who feel led to make a decision for Christ to please come forward to invite Jesus into their heart. As the music softly plays, the pastor of MFC asks that everyone remain with their heads bowed and their eyes closed as he offers suggestive commentary into his microphone to help convince the indecisive to respond. He asks that the congregation, with every head bowed and every eye closed, to sing along softly to the music, perhaps repeating a stanza or chorus to allow time for those in the back to make their way forward. Those who feel so led make their way down to the alter where they are met by a trained member of the MFC staff who, after determining that they have come down to make a decision for Christ, then leads them in a prayer to ask forgiveness for their sins and invite Jesus into their heart. Afterwards, these respondents are introduced to the MFC congregation as new members of the body of Christ and, after a follow-up by MFC staff to ensure they really understand the decision they are making, are then slated for baptism. Those who have thus understood their decision and have invited Jesus into their hearts are assured that they were saved by faith when they prayed the prayer, are given the great hope that they can never lose their salvation, and are told that that they should never question their salvation – to do so would be to succumb to the oppressive influence doubt.

There are several serious fallacies at work in this scenario. The first serious error is the pastor’s belief that it is partly his job rather than God’s word and Spirit alone to change the hearts of lost sinners. Hence, God’s word is repackaged and reduced to a relevant message that is mingled with funny and interesting stories to elicit the listener’s full attention; sad stories to tug at the listener’s heart-strings; and finally soft music, dimmed lighting, and suggestive phrases designed to manipulate an emotional response from the listener. This error is a result of the corrupting influence of the revivalist and heretic Charles Finney, who popularized the “alter call” during the nineteenth century.

The second serious error stems from the fact that neither the concept nor the example of “inviting Jesus into your heart”, “making a decision for Christ”, and coming forward to the altar to pray a “sinner’s prayer” are to be found in Scripture. That these phrases are an all too familiar part of church vernacular exposes just how highly we have elevated our view of man. God does the inviting (John 6:44,65, 15:4), makes the decisions (Rom.8:29-30, Eph.1:4-5), and even prays the prayer (John 14:16-17, 17:9-11). Walking a church aisle, getting on your knees, and inviting Jesus into your heart will not and cannot save you. It is not the efficacy of a prayer that saves; Christ alone saves. This error is the result of “easy-believism”, which teaches that all one must do to be saved is simply make a decision to believe in Jesus and accept Him as Savior, as if it were humanly possible for man to do something to be saved. Revelation 3:20 is often quoted out of context. The picture of Jesus standing at the door and knocking is given in the context of those at the lukewarm church at Laodicea who had entered their church and shut the door on Christ, altogether forgetting the Lord of the church.

The third serious error was the poor counsel that the MFC staff gave to the respondents; namely, assuring them of salvation and instructing them to never question their salvation. The Holy Spirit gives assurance (Rom.8:16), not the ministry staff. Quite the opposite from never questioning one’s salvation, Scripture commands all who profess Christ to question their salvation in order to make certain about it. Peter writes, “Brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you” (2 Pet.1:10). We are exhorted to make our calling and election sure. Likewise, Paul’s commandment to church members is as follows:

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you– unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5)

It’s healthy for all of us to run through the test from time to time. We have a national day of prayer, but we ought to have a national day of examination, where everyone who calls themselves a Christian examines themselves to see if they are really in the faith. Warning against such a test is an error resulting from the harmful influence of the “word of faith” and New Age gurus who falsely teach that to even entertain the possibility of negative realities bring about negative results. These common yet serious errors which seal the lost in deception can be rooted out by a proper opinion of God and a solid understanding of discipleship. As in the example of MFC, many evangelical churches today have sadly misunderstood or abandoned Christ’s command to “go therefore and make disciples” (Mat.28:19) and instead are recklessly baptizing the unregenerate and hopelessly attempting to moralize the unconverted.