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What is a Christian? No Longer #1 in Life

March 30, 2011

Back in March 2004, the church where I served was conducting a search for our next youth pastor.  We had a man from Dallas Seminary come and look us over at Bethel and we would be doing the same of him.  He was about to finish his Master of Theology degree (Th.M.), a rigorous four-year program of study.  He no doubt would have a good handle on the Scriptures, right from the moment of graduating from school.

His stay with us was unremarkable in most ways.  He was a pleasant person and seemed to relate to people fine.  We had a good Q&A session with him as a committee.  Again, nothing was showing up on anyone’s radar screen that looked out-of-place or peculiar.

On our guest’s final day, I drove with him to Des Moines to watch the State quarterfinal BB game.  It was then that God in his sovereignty surprised us all.  As we talked, I learned that our candidate had a different view of the gospel and the Christian walk which follows salvation.  In summary, his view was that a person can receive Christ as Savior while rejecting him as Lord, that a person can having saving faith while never repenting of sin, and that a person can be a Christian without becoming a disciple of Jesus.  It is an increasingly popular view in too many church-circles.

That was the bad news for that weekend visit.  The good news was that it put me at that time to thinking about what a Christian truly is. Today we look again at what is involved in being a follower of Jesus Christ, namely, being a disciple.

We begin by noting that the term disciple is found 282 times in the NT, most of these being in the Gospels.  28 occurrences of the term are found in the book of Acts.

What is most illuminating and important is that Luke uses the term disciple as a synonym for being a Christian:

. . .For a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church [in Antioch] and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch (Acts 11:26).

They preached the good news in that city (Derbe) and won a large number of disciples (Ac 14:21).

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith (Ac 6:7).

In it most fundamental sense, a disciple is one who follows another so as to learn from a Master-teacher. So, being a follower and a learner are at the heart of being a disciple.

Matthew 16:24-27 records some of the clearest words on what it involves to be a Christian disciple:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

A distinguishing mark of a follower of Jesus is self-denial. He/She can no longer be #1 in life. It is likened unto dying, for “tak[ing] up his cross” is not a call to bear some irritants and even hard difficulties in life, but rather to die to self and live for the Master. And this is prerequisite to the “follow me” command which then follows, a command which is in the present tense denoting a continual, lifetime act.

As Dr. Craig Keener well notes, “Although genuine Christians may fall short on their commitment at times, those who wish to follow Christ should understand from the start that they are surrendering their lives to Christ. Those who do not acknowledge Jesus as

Lord—as having the right to demand of them anything, including their lives— have yet to be truly converted.”

To be a disciple of Jesus is “a lifelong commitment.  It means taking up the cross daily, giving all for Christ each day. It means no reservations, no uncertainty, no hesitation.  It means nothing is knowingly held back, nothing purposely shielded from his lordship, nothing stubbornly kept from his control” (John MacArthur).

“Yet how few disciples we have [today]; except for going to church and paying tithes, many [most—Pastor] Christians today do with their time and money much the same as what morally upright non-Christians do.” (Dr. Keener)

The claim to be a Christian and the banking on the promises of eternal life are only the possession of His disciples who have heard the call of Jesus in John 12:24-26—

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

Is that how someone would look at your life and know that you are a Christian, a disciple of Jesus?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Brian permalink
    March 30, 2011 3:58 PM

    A Pastor I know is ‘young’,this is his first church though he is in his 40’s,he went in front of the council for this area to be evaluated,nothing happened, I understand it’s a meeting that happens every so often.The meeting began with his statement of faith and he stated the youth,public ministries he was involved in,and how that when he first got there the church was in danger of closing due to finances,but it was stable now.One of the council members interrupted him, “Do you still love God?” we know what you are doing,but are you still a Disciple of Christ.He based his sermon on that question.This reminded me of that.

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