Identifying as a disciple rather than a Christian (Part 2)

POST OVERVIEW. The second article 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.” Post #601 (12/18/2022) had discussed the strategic advantages of “disciple of Jesus” in evangelism. This post talks about its advantages in self-concept or self-identity.

In my previous post on this topic (Post #601 on 12/18/2022), I had argued that, for the follower of Jesus Christ, the identity of “disciple of Jesus” is preferable to the more common identity of “Christian” for the reason that “disciple of Jesus” has greater strategic value in evangelism. (See Post #601 for those comments.) In this post, I will consider how “disciple of Jesus” is preferable for strengthening the believer’s own self-concept and self-identity.

A DISCIPLE IS A STRONGER IDENTITY

There was a time in this country when identifying as a Christian carried weight. The Christian was a person of the Bible. He carried a Bible and he believed what it said. He went to church and he prayed. He lived a simple life and he had principles and strict moral guidelines in his life, and he did not mind if that drew ridicule or if that made him seem odd to others. “Christian” meant that this man was a follower of Jesus and he was serious about it. When someone was declared to be a “Christian,” there was a cultural understanding of what that meant. The word “Christian” had substance.

“CHRISTIAN” HAS BECOME VAGUE AND UNDEFINED

Needless to say, those days are no more. The identity of “Christian” has gradually lost its definition and the idea of a “Christian” in America has come to have a very broad range of meanings. More than that, the confusion of what is a “Christian” exists for those who hear the word and for those who use the word to describe themselves. The word carries ambiguity and subjectivity and finding a working definition for a “Christian” is hard to do.

This subjectivity and ambiguity creates an identity crisis for the follower of Jesus Christ, and can especially be a problem for the new believer. For example, when the new believer excitedly tells his parents or his fraternity buddies or a friend at the gym that he has become a Christian, he is likely to get a puzzled response or a response that reveals that the hearer is between unimpressed and bored with this news. The new believer has passed from death to life and has experienced the most profound change of life that is possible for a human being, but, because he uses the word “Christian,” his hearers are blasé. They have known others who claimed to be “Christians” and there was nothing different about their lives. “Oh, here we go again! Another phase or fad.” What is the one who has recently come to Christ to do? His life has been radically altered and he knows that he has been born again and has become a “Christian.” At least, that’s the word everyone at the church uses. “Praise God! I am now a Christian!” But no one else seems to be nearly as excited as he is.

Now, I am not going to suggest that simply changing a believer’s self-identity from “Christian” to “disciple of Jesus” is going to immediately remove all confusion and is going to force everyone else to see that a profound change has taken place, but it can be very helpful for the believer himself. If I think of myself as a “Christian,” then I have to explain to myself how I am different from those other “Christians” who are ignorant of the Scriptures and who openly question its truths, whose lives bear no fruit of repentance, who do not believe in the virgin birth or in the resurrection of Christ, who infrequently attend a dead, apostate church, and who have never told a single soul about their alleged faith in Jesus and about the coming judgment. Perhaps the truly born-again Christian can add adjectives to his identity, like a real “Christian” or a true “Christian” or a really true, sincere, born-again “Christian” to make a distinction between a genuine follower of Jesus and one of the counterfeits, but another solution might be to see yourself as a “disciple of Jesus.”

SELF-IDENTITY AS “DISCIPLE OF JESUS”

There are definite advantages to this identity of “disciple of Jesus” which help remove much of the ambiguity and subjectivity created by the identity of “Christian.”

First, there is the word “disciple” itself. The Greek word translated “disciple” means a learner who follows a particular teacher. Further, the life of a disciple is a life of discipline, an intentional way of behaving that learns from and imitates the master. The disciple is devoted to imitating the master to become like the master. This concept of disciple fits very well with the concept of a New Testament follower of Jesus.

THE DISCIPLE IN THE GREAT COMMISSION

Observe also that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) calls upon the church to “make disciples” of all nations. The one who identifies as a “disciple of Jesus” can immediately see themselves as a fulfillment of the Great Commission of our Lord. According to these two crucial verses, the church “makes disciples” (evangelism), the church baptizes disciples, and then the church teaches disciples to observe His commands, and the church does this until the end of the age. The follower of Jesus can see that the “disciple of Jesus” is the central player in the kingdom of God on earth. With this identity, ambiguity and subjectivity are removed.

We had mentioned before that any disciple is associated with a specific teacher or master. Thus, the key question for one who claims to be a disciple becomes, “Who is the master you are following and imitating?” The believer whose identity is “disciple of Jesus” directly associates himself with the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is none other than the King of kings and the Lord of lords. I am a disciple of Him who came from heaven to earth to be God in human flesh. I am a chosen and beloved disciple of the Prince of peace.

THE “DISCIPLE OF JESUS” HAS A PURPOSE AND A PATH

Finally, the identity of “disciple of Jesus” gives the follower of Christ a purpose for their life and a path to walk through life all the way to the end.

For the disciple of Jesus, every promise of God is Yes and Amen (2 Cor. 1:20). His purpose is to do all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). For the disciple of Jesus, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). The disciple takes up his cross daily and follows Jesus (Luke 9:23).

His path is to intentionally grow in holiness, in obedience, and in usefulness as long as the Lord gives him breath; to fight the good fight, to finish the course, to keep the faith (2 Tim. 4:7); to press toward the goal for the prize (Phil. 3:14).

These are the joys of the one who identifies as a disciple of Jesus.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/24/2022                 #603

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