And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples, he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all. (Acts 19:1-7)
Disciples But Not Christians
A disciple is someone who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another. He is a convinced adherent of an individual. In the New Testament, a disciple is a learner who follows a teaching such as those who were disciples of Jesus. They believed in His doctrine and sought to imitate His example. Luke writes in the Acts that Paul came to Ephesus and found some disciples of Jesus in the city. Paul was constantly seeking out those in the community who exemplified the characteristics of the disciples of Jesus. Luke does not tell how Paul made that distinction. He may have gone to the marketplace as a commonplace to meet and discuss issues. Often, the apostle would go to the local synagogue where many devout people were found. The city of Ephesus was no small city. It bore the title of “The first and greatest metropolis of Asia.” How Paul found disciples in such a large and bustling city is unknown.
There was something that set a group of men apart from others in Ephesus. Whatever the distinction noted by Paul, the apostle concluded the twelve men were Christians. He was excited to find these devout men and asked them if they had received any special manifestations of the Holy Spirit. To the astonishment of Paul, the men were unaware of any blessings from the Holy Spirit and did not know who the Holy Spirit was. Puzzled, Paul asked them into what they were baptized. The answer cleared up the apparent confusion. When Paul found the twelve men who acted like disciples or followers of Jesus Christ, he assumed they were Christians, members of the kingdom of God. Actually, they were adherents of John the Baptist and had only known the baptism of John. Paul’s visit to Ephesus was a little over 25 years after the death of John and Jesus. Men like Apollos were still teaching the baptism of John.
When Paul realized the twelve men were disciples of John, he told them they needed to be baptized into Christ. And when they heard this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Now they were Christians. Paul laid his hands on them and gave them the gifts of tongues and prophecy. The men the apostle thought were Christians were disciples, but being a disciple of Jesus did not make one a Christian. Everything the twelve men were doing and saying sounded and looked much like what a true Christian would do and speak. It was not that dishonest men fooled Paul. Rather, from outward appearances, the spiritual dozen acted much like those in the body of Christ, but they were not Christians. They had not been baptized for the remission of their sins. There is no salvation in acting like a Christian, looking like a Christian, and talking like a Christian, if, in fact, one is not a Christian.
If Paul were preaching in America today, he might think a lot of people are Christians. He would see many adherents to Jesus Christ, disciples of the Son of God, and churches filling the landscape of those who love and adore the Son of God. His impression of so many people would be they must be Christians, but like in Ephesus, he would find they had not received the remission of their sins. Most religious groups (Protestant churches) deny the essentiality of baptism, accepting a faith-only doctrine of salvation. Paul would recognize them as disciples but not Christians. Denying the New Testament plan of salvation, the work of the church, organization of the kingdom of God, and the teaching of the Bible is what separates those who call themselves followers of Jesus and those who do the will of the Father. Being a disciple of Jesus does not make one a Christian. Acting like a Christian does not make one a child of God. A Christian is someone who has been baptized for the remission of sins in the blood of Jesus Christ. They have obeyed the will of the Father. Anything else is falling short of salvation. Are you a disciple only, or have you put on Christ in obedience in the waters of baptism? It makes a difference. Just ask Paul.