Who Are We? [The Re-branding of Discipleship] A

“And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” [a]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 11:26). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

We call ourselves “Christians.” Yet, it is a word that is cited only three times in the entire Bible. [b]Χριστιανός – Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; 1st Peter 4:16.

The word “disciple” is used 267 times in the New Testament, a significantly more frequent usage than the three uses of the word “Christian.”

One verse uses both words, “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” A new word was created at Antioch as a label for those who were disciples. The label identified a person who was united with Christ. Christians are disciples.

The label stuck. We are still calling each other Christians. However, eventually we expanded the label to include not only disciples, but to include those persons who want the name of Christian without any of the demands of discipleship. I maintain that this was not the original intent.

Many of us have defined a Christian as someone who has accepted Christ. We have practically reinterpreted the Great Commission to say, “Go and make converts to Christianity.” We may have mistakenly thought that the main mission of the Church is to convince people to invite Jesus into their hearts and to say the sinner’s prayer.
In some countries, the name Christian is so firmly attached to political ideas or earthly governments that it has nothing familiar to the original use of the word. In some places, if you say that you are a Christian, it identifies you with a lifestyle that is not based upon following Jesus at all. I propose that it might even be detrimental to the cause of Christ for His disciples to call themselves Christians. Since the word has been so corrupted, some believers do not call themselves Christians. I remember the sixties when some believers took the name of Jesus’ People to demonstrate their identity with the person of Jesus and not with the organized religion of Christianity. Personally, I often call myself a follower of Jesus instead of a Christian.

As you look around, you may notice a large number of people who have adopted the name of Christian but do not sense any obligation to behave as disciples.[c]When I “got saved,” I was still behaving sinfully, living in rebellion against God, disobedient to the teachings of the New Testament. I was told that I had accepted Jesus as my Savior, but had … Continue reading

Only disciples are Christians.

In the early church only the disciples in the narrow sense and their ‘following’ Jesus were the models for being a Christian. It is basically wrong to think of the ‘disciples’ as models for some special or ‘higher quality’ Christians among other Christians.[d]Hans Kvalbein, “Go Therefore and Make Disciples … The Concept of Discipleship in the New Testament,” Themelios 13, no. 2 (1988): 51.

The true mission of the Church is to be disciples and to disciple. A true disciple is one that disciples another disciple. Conversion to Christ is certainly an important starting point for discipleship. The modern church enjoys counting up the numbers of every signer-upper who raises a hand. What did Jesus say?

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”[e]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 9:23–26.

A disciple is someone who has given up everything to follow Jesus. A Christians is a disciple. A disciple is devoted followers of Jesus. A follower of Jesus denies self, lives a daily crucified life, loses his life for the cause of Jesus, denies desires of worldly gain, and is never ashamed of Jesus and His Word.

One of those three New Testament usages of the word Χριστιανός, a Christian, indicates that we can glorify God through suffering for identifying with Christ.

John Stott says that “disciple” is a stronger title than “Christian.”

Then the apostle Peter, whose first letter was written against the background of growing persecution, found it necessary to distinguish between those who suffered ‘as a criminal’ and those who suffered ‘as a Christian’ (1 Peter 4:16); that is, because they belonged to Christ. Both words (Christian and disciple) imply a relationship with Jesus, although perhaps ‘disciple’ is the stronger of the two because it inevitably implies the relationship of pupil to teacher.[f]John Stott, The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2012).

The English word “disciple” can be either a noun or a verb. The original language of the Great Commission employs a verb, μαθητεύσατε, that was translated as a combined verb+noun: make disciples.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.[g]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 28:19–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Eugene Peterson reduces it back down to a one-word verb, “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life.[h]The Message. (1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002). Eugene H. Peterson by NavPress Publishing. Training merges knowledge and behavior. Training goes far beyond signing people up or counting how many hands were raised at the end of an emotional Sunday Service.

References

References
a The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 11:26). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
b Χριστιανός – Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; 1st Peter 4:16.
c

When I “got saved,” I was still behaving sinfully, living in rebellion against God, disobedient to the teachings of the New Testament. I was told that I had accepted Jesus as my Savior, but had not made Him my Lord. The truth was that there is only one Lord Jesus Christ, and I had stopped following Him. 

Paul warned the churches of Galatia not to leave the grace of God and go back to reliance upon the Law of Moses, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” [Galatians 5:4] I had left the grace of God. Paul had also instructed those Galatian disciples against thwarting the efficacy of grace and emptying Christ’s death of its saving power.

“But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” [Galatians 2:17-21]

I had nullified God’s grace by continuing in sin. Re-branding myself as a Christian did not result in a miraculous change of character. I had fallen from grace. Simeon Peter confirms Paul’s warning. He instructs disciples on how to prevent falling from grace through an ever-increasing fellowship with God and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” [2 Peter 1:8-11]

d Hans Kvalbein, “Go Therefore and Make Disciples … The Concept of Discipleship in the New Testament,” Themelios 13, no. 2 (1988): 51.
e The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 9:23–26.
f John Stott, The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2012).
g The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 28:19–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
h The Message. (1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002). Eugene H. Peterson by NavPress Publishing.