With this post I wanted to write something that corresponds to my most recent podcast episode, which was titled, “This Is What It Means To Be A Christian”. Check it out!
I’d like to elaborate on something I mentioned in the podcast, and that being the original meaning of the word, “Christian”. Before Christians were ever given that title, “disciple” was the term that was used to identify us. You can see this all over the book of Acts. “Disciple” was used to identify a Christian, because it clearly conveyed a message that needed to be heard: that a “disciple” is a follower of Jesus…not just someone who confessed a belief in Jesus. In fact, “disciple” is as straightforward as can be; there’s no misinterpreting that title. If you were a “disciple” during the time of the early church, that meant you had surrendered everything to follow Jesus — you were His disciple, His student, His servant, His representative.
Because of a strict, religious culture in Judaism and an intensifying persecution against Christians, to embrace the controversial and seemingly bigoted teachings of Jesus was basically a death-sentence. There was no such thing as just “believing in Jesus”. It was either, “give your life to Christ and expect to die as a martyr” or “disown Christ and be safely accepted by the world”. It is during this time in church history, that the word, “Christian” began to be used. And it had one, simple meaning: “follower of Jesus”.
In the world today, being a “Christian” has an ambiguous and debased meaning. Most people think that “Christian” simply means someone who believes in Jesus or identifies/agrees with Christianity culturally. But the word “Christian” was never meant to indicate such a watered-down identity. It was meant to indicate a full surrender of one’s life to Jesus, in full acceptance of the resulting persecution. To be a Christian, doesn’t mean to believe in Jesus…it means to give your life to Him — to give everything you are to become who He says you were made to be. To become “like Christ” is precisely why Jesus died for us (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
Every day, we who have confessed faith in Jesus, have to make a decision. Are we going to be true Christians? or are we going to be just believers? Yes, we believe in Jesus Christ, but have we answered the call to become Christians — His loyal ambassadors and mirrors of His nature? How we bear the name of Christ — the lifestyle that we attach to Christianity — greatly affects the reputation of Jesus in the world. If we only believe that Christianity is about “accepting Jesus in your heart”, without the need to surrender your life, then we are saying something about Christ that actually repels the world…that Jesus is an idea, but not reality — that He’s an emotional band-aid, but not the only way to be saved.
We must be very careful about what we believe and tell the world when it comes to defining Christianity. Otherwise, we may only contribute to the problem of Christianity being thrown under the bus with all the powerless religions of the world. Christianity is not another religion…it’s the truth. But if the world is ever going to realize that, we must be “disciples” and not just converts. Be deliberate in choosing how you’re going to represent Christ today. Remember, if you’re going to identify as a “Christian” then make sure you know the calling you have answered and the mission you have accepted.
“But God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: ‘The LORD knows those who are his,’ and ‘All who belong to the LORD must turn away from evil.’ ” — 2 Timothy 2:19 NLT.