Mark 8:34-38[i] teaches that one who does not become a disciple of Christ will be eternally damned. In v. 34,[ii] denial of self and taking up the cross is a representation of the sinner’s coming to the point of saving repentance, with a resultant lifestyle of continued following of Christ.[iii] As already indicated above, Christ’s call to sinners to “follow me” (v. 34) was a call to discipleship, since the Lord’s “disciples follow him” (Mark 6:1; Matthew 8:23; Luke 22:39; John 18:15; 21:20).[iv] One who was bearing a cross in the land of Israel in Christ’s day was on his way to the shameful and extremely painful death of crucifixion (John 19:17); thus, repentant faith in Christ involved losing one’s life, that is, turning from his own way of living, exaltation of self and comfort, to surrender to Christ as unconditional Lord (Mark 8:35). The person who wishes to continue to live his own way, to “save his life,” will eternally lose “both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28, 39),[v] while one who turns from his own way, denying himself, taking up the cross, and losing his own life for the sake of Christ and the gospel, will save his life or soul (pseuche) by receiving eternal life. “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12:25). To encourage the lost to give up their own way and surrender to Christ’s Lordship for salvation, Christ reminds them that it profits them nothing if they would gain the whole world, but lose their souls (Mark 8:36-37). Those who, rather than being ashamed of their sins (Romans 6:21; contrast Romans 1:16; 2 Timothy 1:8, 12, 16) are ashamed to follow Christ and His Words in the evil and adulterous world will have Christ be ashamed of them at His return and be damned—for Christ is “not ashamed to call [true believers] brethren” (Hebrews 2:11), and “God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16; Luke 9:26). No text in Scripture indicates that God will be “ashamed” of His people—he is not ashamed of them (Hebrews 11:16). Mark 8:34-38 clearly teaches that all saved people are disciples, and that one who refuses to become Christ’s disciple will face an eternity in hell.
Mark 10:13-31 exemplifies the teaching of Mark 8:34-38. Christ told a man who wanted to “inherit eternal life” (10:17) to “take up the cross, and follow” Him (10:21). He refused to do so, because he was unwilling to forsake his riches, and so he did not inherit the kingdom of God (10:22-24). Indeed, the Lord Jesus taught that fallen man’s attachment to sin is so strong that nobody will come to repentance and be saved apart from God’s supernatural working (10:25-27). Those who do leave all to forsake all to follow Christ (10:28-29) become God’s “children” (10:24) and will “receive . . . in the world to come eternal life” (10:30), having come to Christ as Lord and Savior with the faith of a little child (10:13-16). Matthew 19:16-30 supplements the record in Mark, indicating “eternal life” (19:16) is promised to those who “come and follow” Christ (19:21). Those who forsake all “inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). Similarly, in Luke 14:15-35, Christ teaches that “whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath” (14:33, 26) to “bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (14:27, 33); those who refuse to put Christ before property (14:18-19) and people (14:20, 26) will not “eat bread in the kingdom of God” (14:15), but be “cast out” (14:35) of the eschatological feast of the saints (14:24) into hell,[vi] while God rejoices over the repentance and salvation of those who become disciples in the way people rejoice over the recovery of a lost sheep, coin, or son (Luke 15). Parallel passages confirm the plain teaching of Mark 8:34-38—disciples get eternal life, and those who do not become disciples are damned. This fact requires the identification of believers and disciples as a single class, the people of God.
Scripture is clear that all believers are disciples. The notion that, after regeneration, a smaller, elite group of believers choose to become disciples is entirely absent from Scripture. Disciples are regularly contrasted with the unregenerate, but never with an underclass of truly saved people who have not yet become disciples. When disciples sin or backslide, they are never said to lose their status as disciples and return to a supposed larger unconsecrated Christian underclass. The usage of the noun and verb forms for disciple make the equation of believers and disciples exceedingly plain. Indeed, the terms Christian and disciple are explicitly equated (Acts 11:26). Numerous passages of Scripture teach and affirm the truth that one becomes a disciple at the moment of saving faith, and that those who do not become disciples are unbelievers who will be damned. If only some Christians are disciples, then only some Christians get eternal life and escape hell, are adopted into the family of God, enter the kingdom of God, have faith in Christ, and have a new nature—in short, if only some Christians are disciples, only some Christians are Christians. The Bible is clear—a believer is a disciple, and a disciple is a believer.
[i] 34 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. 36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? 37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. 34 kai« proskalesa¿menoß to\n o¡clon su\n toi√ß maqhtai√ß aujtouv, ei•pen aujtoi√ß, ›Ostiß qe÷lei ojpi÷sw mou e˙lqei√n, aÓparnhsa¿sqw e˚auto/n, kai« aÓra¿tw to\n stauro\n aujtouv, kai« aÓkolouqei÷tw moi. 35 o§ß ga»r a·n qe÷lhØ th\n yuch\n aujtouv sw◊sai, aÓpole÷sei aujth/n: o§ß d∆ a·n aÓpole÷shØ th\n yuch\n aujtouv eºneken e˙mouv kai« touv eujaggeli÷ou, ou∞toß sw¿sei aujth/n. 36 ti÷ ga»r wÓfelh/sei a‡nqrwpon, e˙a»n kerdh/shØ to\n ko/smon o¢lon, kai« zhmiwqhØv th\n yuch\n aujtouv; 37 h£ ti÷ dw¿sei a‡nqrwpoß aÓnta¿llagma thvß yuchvß aujtouv; 38 o§ß ga»r a·n e˙paiscunqhØv me kai« tou\ß e˙mou\ß lo/gouß e˙n thØv geneaˆ◊ tau/thØ thØv moicali÷di kai« aJmartwlwˆ◊, kai« oJ ui˚o\ß touv aÓnqrw¿pou e˙paiscunqh/setai aujto/n, o¢tan e¶lqhØ e˙n thØv do/xhØ touv patro\ß aujtouv meta» tw◊n aÓgge÷lwn tw◊n aJgi÷wn.
[ii] The Lord addresses “the people . . . with his disciples also” in v. 34. He teaches the unconverted multitudes, the “people” (o¡cloß), because v. 34-38 was a call for them to repent and receive salvation. He also addressed His disciples because believers should be reminded about the comittment to follow the Lord they made when they repented and believed the gospel, and because not only at the moment of conversion and regeneration, but “daily” believers are to take up the cross and follow Christ (Luke 9:23).
[iii] Note the aorists aÓparnhsa¿sqw and aÓra¿tw, in contrast with the present imperative aÓkolouqei÷tw. Self-denial and cross-bearing certainly continues after the moment of saving faith, as the aorists are reasonably seen as ingressive (cf. Luke 9:23), but they nonetheless emphasize the point of the sinner’s “turn[ing] to God from idols” (1 Thessalonians 1:9) as the command to “follow” in Mark 8 parallels the result of regeneration, “serv[ing] the living and true God; and . . . wait[ing] for his Son from heaven” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; note that the turning is similarly aorist, while serving and waiting are present tense forms).
[iv] Further texts that connect those who “follow” (aÓkolouqe÷w) Christ with the status of a disciple or of one who will have eternal life rather than eternal death are: Matthew 4:20, 22; 8:19, 22; 9:9; 10:38; 16:24; 19:21, 27–28; 20:34; Mark 1:18; 2:14; 9:38; 10:21, 28, 32, 52; 15:41; Luke 5:11, 27–28; 9:23, 49, 57, 59, 61; 18:22, 28, 43; John 1:37–38, 40, 43; 8:12; 10:4, 27; 12:26; 13:36–37; 21:19–20, 22; Revelation 14:4; 19:14. Many of the remaining texts, which speak of multitudes following Christ, including among them what was certainly a substantial number of unconverted persons (cf. Mark 2:15; Matthew 12:15; 19:2), describe those “disciples” (John 6:60, 66) who followed Christ for the wrong reasons (John 6:60-68) and thus were professedly His followers, although they “walked . . . with him” only for a time (John 6:66).
[v] Compare the uses of aÓpo/llumi in Matthew 10:28; Luke 13:3, 5; John 3:15-16; 10:28; 11:50; 17:12; Romans 2:12; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15; 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:10; 2 Peter 3:9; Jude 5, 11. Note the following texts which, as in Mark 8:35, employ both aÓpo/llumi and yuch/: Matthew 10:28, 39; 16:25; Luke 17:33; John 12:25. While the aÓpo/llumi and yuch/ combination does not of itself absolutely require a reference to eternal damnation (cf. Luke 6:9), the saying of Mark 8:35 is specifically tied to losing one’s life in hell in Matthew 10:28, 39, and to gaining eternal life in heaven in John 12:25, so Mark 8:35 necessarily refers to eternal bliss or woe.
[vi] The verb “cast out” (ba¿llw) in Luke 14:35, out of 125 instances in the New Testament, is never employed for a judgment where believers are cast out by God, but the lost are, over and over again, said to be cast (ba¿llw) into the fires of hell (note Matthew 3:10; 5:13, 25, 29-30; 7:19; 13:42, 48; 18:8-9; Mark 9:42 (cf. vv. 41-48), 45, 47; Luke 3:9; 12:58; 14:35; Revelation 2:22; 12:4, 9, 13; 14:19; 18:21; 19:20; 20:3, 10, 14-15). Note as well the ba¿llw & e¶xw texts Matthew 5:13; 13:48; Luke 14:35; John 15:6, where the lost are those who are cast out each time (the only remaining text with ba¿llw & e¶xw, 1 John 4:18, does not speak of anything eschatological, whether judgment or deliverance).