Were Jesus’ disciples Christian? Before answering that question, I would venture to say that most would agree that the disciples were not true believers until they were endued with power from on high. ”And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:49 Restated, the disciples may have been followers of Christ, lovers of Christ, and ministering in His name, but they were not believers as one would be considered a believer today until they received the Holy Spirit, the Helper, whom the Father would send in Jesus name, the one who would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all that he had said to them. John 14:26
Certainly there are two aspects of a disciple being considered here. A disciple in the sense of a student-learner, and the sense in which at a later time when disciple, believer, and Christian were considered synonymous. I think for the most part the church is either afraid to acknowledge that distinction, or is just willingly ignorant of it. Some of Jesus’ disciples were called disciples before they had any real clue as to what they would become. This is evident by the “oh yea of little faith” statements and actions. There is sufficient evidence from scripture to say that there were disciples of Jesus who were not yet believers in Him.
I believe this happens today as well. There are those who have an interest in the things of God and who make a conscious decision to follow (become a student-learner) of Christ, but who have not yet been born again. They are technically disciples, but not yet believers or Christian. Like the early disciples, the 70, or the 120, they lacked the key component of their beleivership. That being the Holy Spirit.
I am not speaking of a “second work,” of the Spirit here, as I doubt its biblicity, but that time when one receives Christ, receives the Spirit, and is born again. When one is translated from the Kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of light: ”He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” Colossians 1:13 That moment in time when we were “on the Damascus road,” and had an encounter with Jesus. Called it a salvation experience or whatever you wish, you know what I am referring to.
Some would say that, “everything that happens in the way of instruction prior to salvation is evangelism and not discipleship,” but I am not comfortable with such a rigid distinction. A few questions:
1. Can a person be a disciple and not yet a believer in Jesus, a “Christian.”
2. Can you disciple an unbeliever?
3. When someone becomes a believer or Christian, can we consider them as a “disciple made?”