The answer to the question “What is a Christian?” varies greatly depending on who you ask.
To some, it’s a political-affiliation term that perhaps aligns you to a particular group.
To some, it means you were born in a “Christian” nation or you come from a “Christian” family.
To others it means you believe in Jesus or the religion that is based on Jesus’ teachings.
Still others use the word Christian to speak of a deep personal relationship between Jesus Christ and an individual.
The word itself is only used three times in the New Testament and in each instance it refers to the first “Christians” of the early church:
“ . . . So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26).
“Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’” (Acts 26:28).
“However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:16).
Yep, those are the only three references. Here’s the really telling thing, though: The term discipleship and its various forms, however, is mentioned 294 times. Hmm . . .
These early Christians earned the term because their behavior, activity, and speech were like Christ Jesus. The word Christian means, “follower of Christ.” So besides those qualifications, what else made them part of this group called “Christians”?
What is a Christian’s identity and why does it matter? Well, when we know WHOSE we are, we know WHAT to do. If we haven’t reconciled WHO we are, it will be very difficult to maintain what we do, and our DO overflows from our WHO.
Translation: When we understand that our identity is in Christ, we know what to do: Bring glory to God, not to ourselves. Furthermore, our DO-ing is the natural outflow of a heart that yearns to know God and make him known. It’s the purpose of a Christian’s life, their identity, and the beginning of discipleship.
So now we’ve gone from one term – Christian – to another – discipleship – but the Bible makes no such distinction between the two. A Christian is a disciple, plain and simple, and there are certain requirements and expectations for such a one:
Because of the belief in and full surrender to Jesus, plus the decision to obey him, a new believer has accepted the free gift of grace and is qualified to be a disciple. The Holy Spirit has already played a role in the believer’s salvation as he guides, convicts, and enables Christians. The Holy Spirit continues the same during discipleship.
Here is a great definition of discipleship from Jim Putman and discipleship.org:
“In Matthew 4:19 Jesus says, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” In this relatively short sentence, we see the three essential elements of a disciple:
1. Come follow me
First, a disciple is someone who follows Jesus. In order to follow Him, we must put aside our agenda. Just as the disciples set aside their lives to follow Him, so do we. To follow Him means to submit to Him.
2. I will make you
Second, a disciple is someone being changed by Jesus. As we follow Jesus and submit to Jesus we are changed by Jesus. Not only is our direction changed, but so are our actions and beliefs. When we follow we act, but here Jesus is active in changing us. Transformation is a cooperative work when we are disciples of Christ.
3. Fishers of men
Third, a disciple is engaged in the mission of Jesus. We aren’t being transformed to embark on a mission of our choosing. We are changed to join Jesus in His mission. A disciple becomes like the teacher (Luke 6:40), not just in morals, but also in mission and methods.”
A Christian IS a disciple of Jesus. Let us engage in the mission Jesus gave us and be involved in discipleship and disciple-making.