Here is an interesting fact. Christian is the idiom we use most frequently for Christ-followers, but that term ‘Christian’ occurs in Scripture only three times! (Acts 11:26; 26:28; I Peter 4:16) Only three times – and it is not a term of endearment, but of derision, the name no one wanted to be identified by, the name that led to persecution and cultural rejection. New Testament believers never called themselves Christians. The term used most commonly for the followers of Christ was disciple – it occurs 264 times. It meant student, follower, learner, imitator.
There is no specific criteria in the New Testament for the term Christian, but there is for the term disciple. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must…” do four things. They must, 1. Deny themselves; 2. Take up their cross; 3. Follow Christ; 4. Lose their life. “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24, 25; Mk. 8:35), Jesus declared. This is radical. Revolutionary. Measurable. Jolting.
- Forsake the conventional life – and family, at least in certain moments (8:21; Lk. 9:57f; 12:22; 14:26, 33).
- Experience risk in following Jesus, they do not always choose the safe and convenient life (8:25; Lk. 9:57f; 14:26, 33).
- Find themselves in mixed and questionable company as advocates and representatives of Christ (Mt. 9:10-11; Mk. 2:15).
- Are concerned about the harvest, the lost (Mt. 9:37).
- Find themselves in ministry situations that demand supernatural spiritual power (Mt. 10:1; Lk. 9:1).
- Have a teachable-servant spirit (Mt. 10:24; John 13:5).
- Are under some level of discipline – and willing to be sent (Mk. 14:13;
- Have a relationship with Christ and fellow-disciples is family-like (Mt. 12:49).
- Are willing to be placed between Christ and hungry-hurting people with resources that are inadequate and only faith in Christ, to sustain you (Mt. 14:19; Lk. 9:14).
- Prays with Jesus (Mk. 14:32; Lk. 11; Lk. 22:45), He in heaven, and we on the earth.
- Are not called to the work of Christ, nearly as much as to Christ Himself (Lk. 6:13).
- Love one another (John 13:35).
- Are under training to become more and more like Jesus (Lk. 6:40).
- Bear fruit (John 15:8).
And this list is only partial.
Here is another interesting fact. We speak endearingly of Jesus as our Savior. That He is – indeed, and undeniably so. You know the often used expression, “Have you received Christ as your personal Savior!” That idea is never expressed in the New Testament. The term “savior” occurs in the New Testament 27 times. But faith is never a quiet and little known private and personal matter. In the end, it is ultimately public. But that aside, while Jesus is clearly our “savior,” another more assertive term is ignored. That term, “Lord,” occurs more than 300 times!
America wants Jesus as Savior, but it does not seem to want a Lord. Can we really divide Christ in that way?
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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.