What is a Disciple?
In John chapter 6, after Jesus finishes saying some difficult things, we read in verse 66, "After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him."
Some of his disciples turned back. Does that seem odd?
After all, just prior this in the Gospel according to John, we read of Jesus saying that He never loses any that His Father gives Him (6:39) and, additionally, that He will never cast them out (6:37).
So when John writes in verse 66 that some of Jesus' disciples turned back, it is odd. It's odd, at least, until we understand that disciple is not used synonymously with believer - at least not here.
Disciple = Learner
In its most basic form, "disciple" simply means "learner." These people who had been following Jesus were learners. They were interested in what Jesus was up to, they were following him, learning what He had to say… but some didn't really believe.
Our definition of disciple must include people like this. And when it does, we come to a sobering reality.
Evangelism, Conversion, then Discipleship?
Discipleship isn't something that happens once you become a Christian, it's always going on, even before the point of conversion. We tend to think in terms of evangelism, conversion, then discipleship but that's not how the Bible talks of discipleship here.
This passage in John 6 indicates that discipleship is something that happens on both sides of conversion - on both sides of becoming a Christian.
The implication of that is a little freeing and a little scary because the implication is that you're always making disciples. You are.
You Are Making Disciples
If you are a Christian, the non-Christians around you -- and the Christians around you -- you're discipling them. You might be doing a horrible job of it, but you're doing it. You might not be doing it with any intentionality, but you're doing it.
How you live your life, how people see you living your life, what they hear come out of your mouth, how you respond to stress or suffering or joy and providence - it says something about the God you serve.
You're making disciples. You're teaching them - with your words and actions… they're learning.
A disciple is simply a learner and we are all learning all the time.
Just like we see in John 6, just like Jesus, we're all always making disciples - the people around you are being discipled.
Some believe in Jesus and some don't.