Sin, ultimately, is a matter of not loving God: Sin is the violation of the law of God (1 John 3:4). The law of God is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31). Paul explains that love fulfils the law (Romans 13:8). Thus, at its heart is the rejection of the love of God.
Paul refers to those who will perish in judgment as those who “refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). They are those “who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:8). Their judgment is “to suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
The Scripture certainly does require faith as a perquisite to salvation (Ephesians 2:8). But note that faith does not save – it is grace that saves. Faith is means by which one acquires and receives the grace of God. Grace is the saving love of God. It is the loyal love of God which the Bible so often commends:
He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! Psalm 57:3 (ESV)
Therefore, discipleship – following after Jesus – cannot begin until the problem of has been remedied. No amount of knowledge about Jesus can constitute actual discipleship, because it is not to know about Jesus but to know Jesus that matters. Those rejected by the Lord at judgment apparently know quite a bit about him, but he rejects them with the words, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23).
Thus, discipleship cannot begin until the relationship comes into existence. There can be no true saving relationship between Jesus and a potential disciple, until the Lord has removed the charge and brought reconciliation (Romans 5:1).
Discipleship must begin at the beginning. Jesus first lists baptism – the entrance into the Christian life – when commands discipleship.
One cannot begin to follow Jesus, until one renounces all to follow him. Jay Adams explains that biblical counselling must first confirm true saving faith:
The counselor will find it necessary not only to reassure Christians that the possibility of change is great, but also from time to time he may find it necessary to challenge the reality of the faith of a counselee who steadfastly denies such a possibility. Genuine Christians at length will recognize the possibilities for radical change in Christ; spurious Christians cannot.
Paul’s exhortations to be what you are have meaning and potential only to those who already are what they may be. Only those who legitimately can “consider” themselves dead to sin, alive to God, risen with Christ and “in Christ” know what they must become. Moreover, only such persons, who by virtue of their relationship to the living Christ (who in the person of the Holy Spirit indwells them), have the power to become what they are. That is why evangelism is a prerequisite to the counseling of unbeliever
Jay Edward Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), 163.
And thus it is here – at the beginning of the new life – that Morgan notes the first step of discipleship. Of particular importance is to note how Morgan distinguishes two aspects of the remedy: first, God removes the guilt. Second, he cleanses the soul from sin:
The first is the establishment of those relations which make it possible for Him to teach and for us to be taught. The question of sin must be dealt with, and that which results from sin—our inability to understand the teaching. Christ never becomes a teacher to those who are living in sin. Sin as actual transgression in the past, must be pardoned, and sin as a principle of revolution within must be cleansed. So before He unfolds one word of the Divine law of life, or reveals in any particular the line of progress, He deals with this twofold aspect of sin. To the soul judging past sin, by confessing it and turning from it, He dispenses forgiveness, pronouncing His priestly absolution by virtue of His own atonement on the Cross. To the soul yielded to Him absolutely and unreservedly, consenting to the death of self, He gives the blessing of cleansing from sin. This statement of His dealing with us is not intended to mark an order of procedure from pardon to cleansing. It is rather the declaration of the twofold aspect of the first work of Christ for His disciples, the bestowment of the initial blessing.
George Campbell Morgan. Discipleship.