Are You a Christian?
Discover What Label Best Describes Our Faith
Are you a Christian? Be careful before you answer. By definition I am a Christian, though I seldom use the Christian label. Why?
In my book How Big is Your Tent?, I write: “Christian is a loaded term. It means many things to different people. To some, Christian implies narrow-minded. To others, Christian means hateful. Still others think Christian is a political party or secular movement. And what about mean, militant, murdering, manipulative, and money-mongering?” (page 32).
This explains why I don’t like the Christian label. Most non-Christians think negatively towards Christians. Though Jesus has a different goal in mind, that our love for others will create a positive impression, we’ve given the world many reasons to conclude the opposite.
Christian in the Bible
It’s interesting that the word Christian only appears three times in the Bible (four more if you count subheadings that aren’t part of the original text). The most notable is in Acts when Luke introduces the term as a new name for Jesus’s squad (Acts 11:26). However, after what seems to emerge as a significant development, Luke only uses the term one more time, as does Peter. The word Christian doesn’t catch on in the Bible.
Obviously, Scripture doesn’t favor the Christian label. So what does it use?
Followers in the Bible
Instead of using the Christian label, I often say, “I’m a follower of Jesus.” One of the most common instructions Jesus gives people is to follow him. That’s what I’m doing. That’s why I’m a follower of Jesus. The word follower appears twenty-four times in both the Old and New Testaments, but most references are to following someone else, such as Korah, Abimelek, David, and Omri in the Old Testament, as well as Paul and Judas (not the disciple) in the New Testament. And, of course, we can follow Jesus.
The Way in the Bible
The Way is another label the Bible uses to refer to the group of people who align with Jesus. Though intriguing, it only occurs twice in the Bible, both in the book of Acts.
Believers in the Bible
Making one appearance in the Old Testament, the word believer occurs fifty-nine times in the New Testament, half of them in the book of Acts, but it only shows up three times in the Gospels, all in the book of John.
Though I’m tempted to call myself a believer, I shy away from this label because of what James writes. He says that even the demons believe in God—and shutter (James 2:19). This tells me that believing isn’t enough.
Disciples in the Bible
Another intriguing label is disciple. With the exception of twice in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, the word disciple pops up almost 300 times in the New Testament, all in the biographies of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and the book of Acts. Some references specifically address the twelve disciples and a few others to John the Baptist’s disciples, but most are to the larger group of Jesus’s disciples.
It’s one thing to follow Jesus: to make a U-turn in our life and go all in for him. However, being his disciple implies an even greater level of commitment. Though I like to think of myself as a disciple of Jesus, it’s a weighty claim. I question if I live up to it, despite striving to do that exact thing.If we say we’re with Jesus, we need to start acting like it. Click To Tweet
But the Label Doesn’t Matter
However, whether we call ourselves a Christian, a follower of Jesus, a follower of The Way, a believer in Jesus, or a disciple of Jesus, it doesn’t matter. Because until we change our behavior and love others as Jesus tells us to, the world will still think less of us and have a negative impression of our faith, along with the God we claim to serve.
If we say we’re with Jesus, we need to start acting like it. Then our faith label won’t so much matter.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.