In the past hundred years or so, it has become popular to speak of discipleship as a higher level of Christian experience. In the new terminology, a person becomes a believer at salvation; he becomes a disciple later, when he moves past faith to obedience.
Such a view conveniently relegates the difficult demands of Jesus to a post-salvation experience. It maintains that when He challenged the multitudes to deny self, to take up a cross and follow Him (Mark 8:34); to forsake all (Luke 14:33); and to leave father and mother (Matthew 19:29), He was simply asking believers to step up to the second level and become disciples.
But how does that square with Jesus' own words, "I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matt 9:13)? The heart of His ministry was evangelism, and those difficult demands are evangelistic appeals.
Every believer is a disciple and vice versa. A careful reading of Acts shows that the word disciple has been a synonym for Christian from the earliest days of the church (cf. 6:1-2, 7; 11:26; 14:20, 22; 15:10).
Answer excerpted from Getting the Gospel Right by John MacArthur. © Copyright 2006 by Grace to You. All rights reserved. Click here to see the article in its entirety.