POST OVERVIEW. The third in a series of posts talking about the advantages of identifying as a “disciple of Jesus” instead of as a “Christian.” This post is about the association of “Christian” with religions.
We have been exploring reasons why it is preferable for the follower of Jesus Christ to identify as a “disciple of Jesus” rather than as a “Christian.” Our first consideration was that it is more strategic and more effective for the believer to identify as a “disciple of Jesus” in the task of evangelism (Post #601, 12/18/2022). The second post (#603, 12/24/2022) looked at how it is more empowering for the believer’s own self-identity and self-concept to see himself as a “disciple of Jesus” rather than as the more ambiguous name of “Christian.” Now this third post will show that the identity of “Christian” carries with it religious baggage that clouds the real nature of being a true “disciple of Jesus.”
Before we dig deeper into this subject, I want to again make very clear that I am a Christian. I am a heaven-bound, Bible-believing, born-again, water-baptized, church-going, Holy Spirit-sealed, blood-washed disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. In short, I am a Christian. It is not the word “Christian” that creates obstacles, but it is the use of the word and the ambiguity of the word and the over-familiarity of the world in our culture that causes the problems, and these problems become especially sticky when we consider the “religious use” of “Christian.”
RELIGIOUS USE OF “CHRISTIAN”
What do I mean by the “religious use” of the word “Christian?” First, we need to define a religion. Since mankind has invented many and varied religions, one comprehensive definition of the word is very difficult to establish. Nevertheless, I would suggest that:
RELIGION. A religion is a named set of man-made rituals and practices which are performed from time to time by the adherents of the religion to achieve some subjective “spiritual” benefit. Religious adherents typically hope for 1) some imagined relief from the guilt they experience as a result of their sin; and 2) some hoped for calming of their terror of death. Religions also commonly, but not necessarily, involve trying to appease some deity.
In religion, the emphasis is on the performance of the same rituals and practices over and over again. There is no expectation by the religious adherent that these external rituals will produce any internal or personal change or growth. Again, the emphasis is on the external forms and the performance. If the performance is good enough, then the religionist can hope to have merited some reward.
Some well-known religions are Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Judaism, and Sikhism, but there are many other forms of religion that are practiced across the globe.
Having defined what we mean by “religion,” we can say that the “religious use” of the word “Christian” is when the word refers to an adherent of the “Christian religion.” For, unlike religions, Christianity does have a living, life-changing genuine article. The genuine follower of Jesus, the one who has repented of his sin and has trusted Christ for salvation, has been born again (John 3:3, 5) and has passed from death to life (John 5:24) and has become a living “Christian.” But the word “Christian” is more commonly used as a religious term to describe one who, to some degree or other, identifies with the Christian religion without any reference to Jesus or the Bible or having been born again. This latter is the “religious use” of “Christian.”
THE BAGGAGE CARRIED BY THE WORD “CHRISTIAN”
After this necessary aside to talk about religions, we remember that the point of this article is to show that “disciple of Jesus” is preferred to the identity “Christian” because of the religious baggage carried by “Christian.” In our American culture, when the word “Christian” comes up in a conversation, either in the public forum or among unbelievers or among “religious Christians,” it is these false “baggage” images that are almost certainly in their mind. Here are some examples of this baggage.
A “religious Christian” is a person who identifies as a Christian but there is nothing distinctly Christian about their words or their behavior that would mark them as followers of Jesus Christ. Their life is no different than a person who does not identify as a “Christian.”
A “religious Christian” (RC) typically has vague ideas about the basic tenets of biblical Christianity, like beliefs about God, Jesus, the Bible, the Holy Spirit, the local church, salvation, sin, or the condemnation that abides on the sinner, to name a few. There are no convictions.
For the RC, “Christian” is just one of the roles he plays in life. He may occasionally go to church on Sunday (or he may not), but “Christian” is just a Sunday role for him.
For the RC, “Christian” is his religious label, like Buddhist or Muslim. He received the label at some point in the past (at birth or at his baptism or at confirmation or at a revival event), but there is no current, living experience with God or evidence of a vital, living faith.
A RELIGIOUS LABEL CONVEYS A FIXED STATE OF BEING
When an RC uses “Christian” as a religious label, he is conveying a fixed state of being. This is because the declaration of one’s religion implies that a destination has been reached and is now unchangeable. Religious positions intentionally give this impression. Religion is presented as a fixed characteristic of a person, like gender or ethnicity. In fact,
Whether it is “Catholic” or “Hindu” or “Muslim” or “Christian,” the declaration of one’s religion implies that a destination has been reached and is now unchangeable. Religious labels intentionally communicate a fixed characteristic of a person, like gender or ethnicity. This is as true of the label “Christian” as it is of any other religion. Thus, when a genuine follower of Jesus declares he is a Christian, it is very likely that his hearers assume this is a religious label.
RELIGION IS DEAD BUT “DISCIPLE OF JESUS” IS ALIVE
One other comment should be made about religions. In religion, there is no growth because lifeless things do not grow. Religion is dead and cannot offer growth. That means that, when used as a religious term, a “Christian” is also not growing.
All of this baggage is possible when a follower of the Lord Jesus identifies themselves as a “Christian.” But now consider what happens if instead the follower of Jesus identifies themselves as a “disciple of Jesus.” As we have said before in these posts, the environment is materially changed. A disciple is a learner which conveys the idea of growth. A disciple is learning about the Bible and about how to pray and learning how to share their faith. One who is a disciple has begun a journey and he is moving toward a destination. There is motion and growth and life.
And he is a disciple of Jesus. Whether you love Him or hate Him, Jesus is the most interesting, compelling, controversial, fascinating person who has ever walked this planet. No dusty, dull religion here when we are walking with Jesus! The disciple of Jesus has a personal relationship with the great one, the Lord Jesus, so the disciple has a living relationship, not a dead religion.
For these reasons, a “disciple of Jesus” is a more powerful identity than “Christian” with none of the religious baggage.
Soli Deo gloria rmb 12/30/2022 #606