Hull, Bill. Conversion and Discipleship: You Can’t Have One Without the Other. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 250 pp. $18.99.
Can we be Christians without living for Jesus? Is getting saved something different from being a disciple? Is discipleship a choice for the Christian, or a necessary part of being a Christian? As Christians we often use those terms, “Christian” and “disciple,” as if they meant different things. A Christian is something you are, a status or a belief that you hold, while a disciple is someone who does something, who follows and obeys Jesus. Unfortunately, this division of salvation from discipleship communicates that believing in Jesus is somehow different than living for Jesus, or that you can be saved without being a disciple.
Yet Jesus consistently taught that believing in him means living for him. He always linked repentance and discipleship, action and belief, whether that was in his preaching (Mark 1:14-15), calling the disciples (Matt 4:19), or in conversations (Luke 10:25-28). His disciples are those who hear and believe his word, and those who hear and believe his word are those who bear fruit, or live for him (Matt 13:18-23).
Other New Testament writers consistently teach this truth as well. John tells us that believers in Jesus obey God and love, serve, and help one another, or they’re not really believers (1 John 2:3-4, 9; 3:17). James tells us that faith without works is dead, that such a faith is not saving faith (Jas 2:14-17). Paul, who learned the gospel from Jesus himself (Gal 1:12), emphasizes that salvation is by grace through faith and always leads to the good works of discipleship (Rom 12:1-2; Eph 2:8-10).
Bill Hull served as a pastor for over twenty years and now leads the Bonhoeffer Project, an organization dedicated to helping Christians be disciples who make disciples. He wrote this book not only to help us understand the inseparable connection between conversion and discipleship, but to help us live this way and help others live this way. His goal is that Christians and churches would really consider what the Bible says about being saved, and then do the hard, but necessary, work of modifying their lives and practices to follow Jesus.
The first half of the book focuses on a biblical understanding of the gospel, Jesus’s call on our lives, salvation, and how the Holy Spirit works to change us. One of the most helpful sections of the book examines how the gospel we believe and preach will always determine the disciples we become and produce. For example, if we believe that the gospel is primarily a message about Jesus meeting our needs, we will live as if God is simply there to meet our needs. If we believe that the gospel is primarily a matter of having right doctrine, we will live as if all that matters to God is that we are right. If we believe that the gospel is all about following Jesus, however, we will live as he lived and pour the gospel into others.
The second half of the book focuses on putting this understanding into practice, explaining what we must do to experience the Holy Spirit’s change in our lives, produce disciples, live as the church, and be ministers of the gospel. Hull clarifies in detail what this should look like in our lives as individuals, families, and churches. The last chapter calls us to consider Jesus’ promise that our efforts to share the gospel and make disciples will lead to his return. God’s plan is to change the world through his disciples. Is this our plan? Who are we living for? If we claim the name of Jesus, are we actually following Jesus?