Christian. If I were to go downtown Portland and ask a few folks how THEY would define ‘Christian’ I would get as many different responses as those I asked (*See additional stats below). Did you know Christian is NOT defined in the New Testament, and it is only mentioned 3 times (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). It was those outside the Jesus community that gave the name or label ‘Christian’ to the Jesus followers. These followers did not refer to themselves in this way. The nickname was motivated by sarcasm and mockery, much like our ‘Jesus Freak’ today. Remember, these Greek-speaking Romans citizens were not looking for the Messiah (Christ) and found these ‘Followers of the Way’ quite odd, and thinking, they associate with this ‘Christ’ – so they must be ‘Christ-ians’.
If I were to ask a Jesus believer of Peter’s day – of the early church, how they would define their life, they would answer in a very convicting, a very pointed way… “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.” Disciple is not a word commonly used these days, (although mentioned numerous times in the Bible) due primarily to the whole “I am my own person, and no one tells me what to do” mentality. A disciple is a learner, follower, an apprentice; it is someone who seeks to know and gives full life attention to their Rabbi (Teacher/Mentor). Within the Jewish culture in Jesus day, (and some aspects continue today) there was a whole process of life discipleship.
Hang with me, God has something for us.
Discipleship (in general) was designed in such a way that the student (or ‘disciple-wanna-be’) would seek out the Rabbi (Teacher) and make a formal request to be their disciple. If the Rabbi agreed to the request, (finding them worthy: family, status and education) allowing them to become his disciple, they were now chosen (hold on to that word). The ‘disciple’ was then required (not optional) to totally submit to the Rabbi’s authority in all areas of his life. The Rabbi’s teaching was therefore binding, everything the disciple did or how he viewed things were all filtered through the Rabbi. There was no curriculum or agenda, it was a continual daily relational living experience, that took YEARS in the making.
The Rabbi would ask questions of the disciple as he closely observed him. ANY life experience was open for an opportunity for the Rabbi to speak truth into the disciple. The Rabbi was persistent in his questioning, “Why did you do that?” In context to what the disciple did, what he said, what was the motive. The emphasis was always on forming Godly behavior responses, not just the imparting of wisdom – the Rabbi was concentrating on developing discernment in the mind of the disciple, instructing him how to process in the best manner of honoring his God.
The disciple would initiate a discussion by asking questions. BUT, (here’s the KEY) the mindset – the heart condition of the disciple as he asked questions was this – Before you answer, before you tell me what to do, or point me in any direction, my answer is “Yes.” The response of a disciple is Yes! It was a radical life of submission.
THEN… Jesus comes on the scene, turning everything upside down. There was no time for discipleship applications to be submitted in triplicate form – time was short. The traditional format: Disciple sought out the Rabbi… Jesus sought out the disciple. Jesus, The Rabbi, called out not the well educated or those of high status – to fishermen He said, “Follow Me.” These two words were discipleship terminology. They were CHOSEN. Could this be folded into the context of why Jesus said: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit...” (John 15:16) What a most wonderful reality. Chosen. (Read that until it truly sinks in)
Jesus spent intense training time with His disciples. His last night with the disciples He says: “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for Me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:33-35, NIV, emphasis mine) If we want to know what Jesus meant by what He said – watch what He did. He LOVED! His love is filled with acceptance, forgiveness, restoration, compassion, mercy, grace, truth… (and…) …Love. Following Jesus does not mean following His ‘followers’ (although helpful, Godly influence is vital – again… vital) but we are to follow HIM (See discipleship above). I don’t think the ‘WWJD’ from years past is too far off… it really is “What would Jesus do.”
Beloved, YOU are chosen, YOU are deemed worthy! YOU are His. This ‘Christian’ walk… is a walk of discipleship. Follower of Jesus.
*The above I was privileged to share with our women’s Bible study group this last week.
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another towards love & good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)
*Stats: The Barna Group research found in 2016 that 73% of Americans say they are Christians. However, only a minority are “practicing Christians” who attend church at least once a month, of these, 35% are professing Born-Again Christian, 23% are ‘Bible-minded. And only 34% claim to read the Bible in their spare time at home. (Christianity Today – September 2016)
Resources: Andy Stanley’s sermon ‘Christian’; Christianity Today; ‘First-Century Disciple’ (Article: Bible.org 2007 written by Doug Greenwold); The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament; Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words; Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon; Expository Dictionary of Bible Words; Strong’s Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. Bible Translations referenced: NIV, NASB, Interlinear, ESV, NLT, KJV, NKJV. (And any other place I stopped and passionately read about this and forgot to document).