I don’t know when this distinction was first made, but for some reason, many Christians draw a line between being a Christian and being a disciple. It seems that the distinction is more a matter of degree, that being a Christian is a kind of “entry level” faith and that being a disciple is more advanced.
The Bible doesn’t make such a distinction. In fact, it seems that the early church were called “disciples” long before they were called Christians. Acts 11:26 tells us that “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” The prevailing characteristic of the early church was that they were disciples of Jesus; they were followers of Christ. To be honest, even the name Christian ought to reflect that characteristic; to be a Christian is to be like Jesus Christ, to speak and act in the manner of Christ. Jesus himself told his first disciples to go and make more disciples in Matthew 28:19, 20; that ought to tell us the importance of being disciples of Christ.
Yet today, many Christians seem to be content to be called “Christians” without much thought about following Jesus, much less making more followers of Jesus. For many it’s more than enough just to “get saved,” to claim the name of Jesus and sit tight waiting for Jesus to return and take them to heaven. And that seems to be the key to the distinction: getting saved so you can go to heaven. For many Christians, all it means to be a Christian is to have a ticket to heaven. So living as a Christian goes only as far as professing certain beliefs and doing certain actions, but only what it takes to get saved and get into heaven.
Being a Christian is more than being saved, and salvation is more than going to heaven. Certainly, at the heart of the gospel is the Good News that God sent Jesus to forgive our sins and raised Jesus from the dead to rescue us from this present evil age (Galatians 1:1, 4), but that rescue is more than forgiveness and a future in heaven. There’s also freedom and righteousness in this life, and that comes through the gospel message and following Jesus to the point of dying to ourselves and being raised to live like Jesus in the here and now (Galatians 2:20, 21).
Unfortunately, living like Jesus, even today, can be difficult, if not outright painful. That being true, many people give up on living like Jesus, even though they wear the name of Christ. But 1 Peter 4:16, 17 warns us, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Peter tells those who wear the name of Jesus – Christians – that if times are tough for those who wear Christ’s name, imagine what it will be like for those who do not obey the gospel.
Don’t give up on living as a disciple of Christ just because it might lead to suffering as Christ suffered. Instead, praise God when the world recognizes you as a disciple of Jesus and then continue to live as a disciple who makes more disciples who make more disciples.