This last weekend I had the privilege of being a chaperon for our youth group as we made our trek to the smoky mountains of Tennessee for what is notably the largest gathering of teens in the Churches of Christ: Winterfest. The theme was “Watch,” as in watch the Jesus of the gospels and watch your life together with other believers. I caught a glimpse of heaven as literally 14,000 teens praised God with all of their hearts. The time there was exhilarating.
I wish I could summarize all that we learned over the weekend. There were numerous speakers and other talent, all doing a superb job of expounding on the themes at hand. One speaker that really stood out to me was not a preacher per se. He was a poet by the name of David Bowden. Bowden’s gift is the ability to summarize in rhyme some of the deepest truths of the Bible. I watched as Bowden confidently mounted the stage and then for the next 10 minutes explained in poetry form what many theologians have spent volumes writing about over the last 2,000 years.
The title of the poem was simple: Are you a Christian or a Disciple? Some might see that as a false dichotomy. After all if we have faith in Jesus aren’t we Christians? It’s true, if you have given your life to Christ you are indeed a Christian. But that wasn’t was Bowden was getting at. The point Bowden was making is that there is a great difference between being a Christian (in name only) and being a disciple (a true follower and learner of Christ). And the more I think about it, I’d have to say I agree with him.
Interestingly the term “Christian” was never used by Jesus. The first instance of the word Christian is found in the book of Acts: “The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). The name “Christian,” meaning “belonging to Christ,” according to most scholars, was most likely invented by those outside of the church and meant as a derogatory term. Only two other times does the word appear in the New Testament (Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16), the latter of which seems to support the derogatory use of the word. The main word used for believers in the first century was indeed the word “disciple.” The words means to be a “student,” a “learner” or “follower” of Jesus. A disciple is a “follower,” in the sense of someone who adheres completely to the teachings of another, making them his rule of life and conduct.
The point that Bowden made I think was a good one. A true Christian is not a Christian in name only, he or she is also a disciple from the heart. A disciple doesn’t just come to church, they are the church. A disciple isn’t just concerned about a “worship service,” that are concerned about worshipful service to God on a daily basis. A true disciple doesn’t just read the Bible, they obey the Bible. A true disciple doesn’t just tell others what the Bible says and tell them how to live, they live the truths of the Bible themselves and live as an example for others to follow.
A true Christian (and not one in name only) will have counted the cost of following the Lord and will have totally committed his life to Jesus. He accepts the call to sacrifice and follows wherever the Lord leads. The disciple completely adheres to the teaching of Jesus, makes Christ his number-one priority and lives accordingly. He is actively involved in making other disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).
A true Christian is a believer in Christ and possesses new life through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Because he believes in Christ, a Christian will also be an obedient disciple. Paul describes the reality of taking up one’s cross and following the Lord: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
So it is a good question to ask. Are you a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, or are you just a Christian?
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:27