I recently heard a sermon about the difference between identifying as a Christian and being a Disciple. It was one of those sermons that just sets a fire under you, and reignites that passion you had when you were young in the Lord and wanted everyone around you to know about the treasure you’d just found.
The preacher made some comparisons, including the following:
A Christian goes to church; A Disciple understands that he is the church. A Christian seeks to be encouraged; A Disciple seeks to encourage. A Christian reads the Bible; A Disciple teaches the Bible. For the Christian, Jesus is his savior; For the Disciple, Jesus is his savior – and Lord. A Christian gathers with other believers; A Disciple makes other disciples. A Christian’s goal is to go to heaven; A Disciple’s goal is to take others to heaven with him. A Christian surrenders part of his life; A Disciple surrenders himself completely to God.
For the Christian, Jesus is his savior; For the Disciple, Jesus is his savior – and Lord.
I learned that the word “Christian” is used only three times in the New Testament, while the word “Disciple” is used 281 times. Jesus never used the term Christian. In fact, the name was used by non-believers to describe followers of Christ. J.D. Greear writes: “The term was actually a derogatory term used by people outside the Jesus community. Acts 11:26 says, “In Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (ESV). Called—by others. It’s not the name they chose for themselves.”
Greear goes on to say, “Our use of ‘Christian’ today obscures the fact that a lot of people who call themselves Christians are not actually disciples“.
“A lot of people who call themselves Christians are not actually disciples.” J.D. Greear
For many Christians it is disquieting to read the biblical texts where Jesus clearly states what it means to follow him. In Matthew 16:24 and 25, Jesus says to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
John Piper wrote, “But the new, denying self says to the old world-loving self, ‘You are not in charge any longer. I love Jesus more than human approval, honor, comfort, and life. So, I am ready to endure opposition, shame, suffering, and death. There is more gain in following Jesus, even with suffering, than there is in walking away from him, even with ten thousand earthly benefits.’ That’s the way the new self talks.”
On the meaning of “take up their cross”, Piper says, “When Jesus said that the way to follow him was to take up our cross, he meant at least this: Be willing (without murmuring, or God-criticism, or cowardice) to be opposed, to be shamed, to suffer, and to die — all for your allegiance to him. Or, to go to the heart of the matter, to ‘take up your cross’ meant to treasure Jesus more than we treasure human approval, honor, comfort, and life. Our suffering is not a tribute to Jesus unless we endure it because we cherish Jesus. Taking up our cross means Jesus has become more precious to us than approval, honor, comfort, and life.”
“Taking up our cross means Jesus has become more precious to us than approval, honor, comfort, and life.” John Piper
Jesus goes as far as to say that anyone who wants to be his disciple must prefer Him over their own family members, according to Luke 14:26 and Matthew 10:37. All personal relationships must pale in comparison to the supremacy of Christ in the life if a true disciple.
John MacArthur spoke on the Cost of Discipleship and addressed this level of commitment: “You have to deny your natural human relationships that would constrain you and hold you back from Christ just like you have to deny yourself…just as you have to consider yourself dead, Romans 6. Just as you have to lay aside the old self, Ephesians 4:22, just as if you have to treat your flesh with human contempt, 1 Corinthians 9:27. So if your family holds you back, you have to treat them as dead.”
Strong words, I know. But, could it be the case that we’ve been taught a watered-down version of the Gospel all these years? I believe that it’s quite possible that some who call themselves Christians are actually true believers who’ve never been discipled. They’ve been left with this passion inside them and the fire of that passion was not nurtured through biblical teaching and discipleship.
“Why is Jesus so strong about [the cost of discipleship]?” MacArthur asks. “Because He wants to chase away the uncommitted. You understand that about Jesus? He wanted to drive away the false disciples. He didn’t want the tares. He didn’t want the false believers. He didn’t want them because He didn’t want them to be deceived and He didn’t want His church to be affected by them. So He chased them away by the strength of the call to commitment.”
“You have to deny your natural human relationships that would constrain you and hold you back from Christ just like you have to deny yourself…just as you have to consider yourself dead.” John McArthur
It just makes me wonder, you know? Each week churches are filled with people who are Christian in name only. They all seem to blend in together. The ones that stand out are the ones who radically live out the Gospel in their everyday lives. You know the ones. It shows in their actions, their habits and their joy – even when the storms come.
These people magnify Christ. It’s all about Him. They say, together with Paul the apostle, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”. Their lives are saturated with Christ – in their decisions, in their serving, in their giving and forgiving. They convey the attitude of John the Baptist, “He must become greater; I must become less”.
Do we live to make Christ famous? To make Him known?
Just recently I noticed an attitude in me that was far from Christ-like. It made me sick inside. I went before the throne of Grace and confessed my sin to God, knowing that he would be faithful and just to forgive. He cleansed me and renewed me.
I realized, once again, that the Gospel meets me in my most vulnerable moments. It’s why I strive to live as a true disciple. I owe Christ all that I am. It gives me the boldness to stand up and proclaim, “He set me free! Come, and let me tell you about this freedom!”
From time to time it is necessary for us to evaluate our lives as Christians. Have I merely believed the Gospel for salvation from the consequences of my sins? Or have I, in gratitude for that salvation, begun to follow Christ through all kinds of circumstances, clinging to Him by faith, with a committed and obedient heart?
Through the years I have sung this song in church and in my heart:
I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back. The world behind me, the cross before me; no turning back, no turning back. Though none go with me I still will follow, no turning back, no turning back.
To decide something is to back up your words with action. May we be the true disciples Christ has called us to be. May we live with passion and purpose, not for ourselves, our dreams or our careers – or even our families – but for our Savior and Lord.
Their lives are saturated with Christ – in their decisions, in their serving, in their giving and forgiving. They convey the attitude of John the Baptist, “He must become greater; I must become less”.
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