Identifying as a disciple rather than a Christian (Part 1)

POST OVERVIEW. The first of a couple of articles about why it is preferable for the follower of Jesus Christ to think of themselves and to identify themselves as a “disciple of Jesus” rather than as a “Christian.”

The basic idea of the next several posts is this: in my opinion, it is preferable for the follower of Jesus Christ to identify to the outside world as a “disciple of Jesus” rather than as a “Christian.”

Now, before I begin to justify this statement, I need to make perfectly clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the appellation of “Christian.” It is without question that I am a Christian. I am a born-again, water-baptized, Bible-carrying, church-attending, Holy Spirit-filled, heaven-bound Christian. For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. I will declare “Jesus Christ is Lord” in any circumstance regardless of the consequences. Even the New Testament three times uses the word “Christian,” so there is nothing wrong with the word. Certainly, it is completely legitimate to call yourself a Christian.

But, while it is legitimate to identify as a Christian, it is not the most strategic or helpful way for the follower of Jesus Christ to identify themselves. There are three reasons that I will present for why the identity “disciple of Jesus” is preferable to “Christian.”

  1. “Disciple of Jesus” is more useful for evangelism.
  2. “Disciple of Jesus” is more helpful for my own concept of myself
  3. “Disciple of Jesus” distinguishes our faith from the religious use of “Christian”

“DISCIPLE” MORE USEFUL FOR EVANGELISM

The great task of the church of Jesus Christ is to introduce Jesus to those who are outside the church, to those who have never heard the good news or perhaps have never even heard the name of Jesus. To accomplish this Great Commission of making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20) requires that we first establish meaningful contact with the people we are trying to tell about Jesus. In America, making meaningful contact with unbelievers is increasingly difficult because our modern culture has widened the gap between those who hold to a moral standard and those who do not. What was a gap has become a huge chasm. The days when most Americans respected biblical morals are long gone, as everyone can attest. My observation is that most unbelievers under the age of thirty-five or so seem to think that there is no right or wrong about anything. This moral collapse has had an impact on the way that the word “Christian” is perceived.

“CHRISTIAN” IDENTITY IS NOT AS STRATEGIC

To an American unbeliever, “Christian” generally has no definite or predictable meaning and is more likely to communicate a political agenda than it is to communicate something about Jesus. My impression is that most of those in America who fall outside the reach of the evangelical church, which is an increasing majority of people, make no connection between “Christian” and the Bible or Jesus. I would say that most people under the age of thirty-five know as much about “Muslim” as they know about “Christian.”

What this means is that, if I identify or present myself to those I am trying to influence for Christ as a “Christian,” at best I have communicated nothing meaningful and I may have instead prematurely exposed my position and thus raised the other person’s defenses. “Oh! This guy is a ‘Christian.’ Take evasive maneuvers!” In my evangelism strategy, I want to introduce Jesus or the Bible or some aspect of my testimony to the unbeliever long before and rather than present myself as a “Christian.” In America, among unbelievers the word “Christian” rarely opens doors and potentially creates barriers to the gospel, and so is an unwise identity when we consider those whom we hope to reach.

The point is that, when the disciple of Jesus is considering how to impact his sphere of influence for the glory of Jesus, identifying as a “Christian” is a weak strategy. And we must think strategically! Jesus has sent us out as sheep in the midst of wolves and we are therefore to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16). A wise sheep thinks strategically.

“DISCIPLE OF JESUS” IDENTITY

On the other hand, the identity “disciple of Jesus” is an uncommon and unexpected expression. Since that is the case, this identity has much less baggage with it and most unbelievers do not automatically have a negative response. That is one advantage of “disciple of Jesus.” But another advantage is that, with this identity, the name of Jesus has entered the dialog. In evangelism, one of the key objectives is to guide the dialog such that Jesus enters the discussion and, with “disciple of Jesus,” there He is! If the unbeliever is now antagonistic, he is antagonistic because of Jesus. If he is indifferent, he is indifferent to Jesus. This idea of a response to Jesus carries more weight than a response to the name “Christian.” Also, any discussion that includes Jesus is automatically of more substance and is more serious. When Jesus “enters the room,” so to speak, trivial banter quickly subsides. The King is here, and we must deal with Him. If I present myself as a “disciple of Jesus,” my King has entered the room. Now, since His name has already been mentioned, it can be mentioned again and we can talk about who He is and what He has accomplished. Thus, the identity of “disciple of Jesus” has many advantages over the identity “Christian.”

Having considered the advantages of the identity “disciple of Jesus” in our evangelism in this post, in our next post we will think about why “disciple of Jesus” is preferred over “Christian” first, in our own self-concept and second, in distinguishing our faith in Jesus from religions.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/18/2022                 #601

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s