Becoming a Christian involves receiving a free gift; becoming a disciple involves paying a daily cost.
The gospel as defined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 can be stated in 10 words: Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead. Romans 1:17 explains that the gospel is “the power of God to salvation.” Considering the above verses, one has to come to God as a sinner, recognize Christ died for him and rose again, and place his trust in Christ alone as his only way to heaven in order to become a Christian. Christ promised in John 6:47, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.” Repeatedly in Scripture eternal life is spoken of as a free gift with no strings attached. Romans 6:23 further confirms, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
A disciple, though, is a learner, a Christian wanting to follow after Christ. Eternal life is completely free, but discipleship costs. Discipleship is defined in Luke 14:26-27: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brother and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” By Christ’s own definition, discipleship means that loyalty to Christ must come before loyalty to anyone else. One must be willing to bear humiliation and hardship for His sake. It may even involve surrendering one’s own life.
Please know, though, that there is also a rich reward. Discipleship and reward are consistently connected in Scripture. For example, in Matthew 10:41- 42 Christ said, “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whosoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.” Even in the last chapter of the Bible, Christ said, “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Revelation 22:12).
When one understands the difference between salvation and discipleship, one understands how God is both loving and fair. He is loving because whosoever will can come and receive His free gift of eternal life. But He is also fair because it’s those who follow after Him as His disciples are those who receive a great reward.