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A follower of Jesus Christ in the first century church was called a Christian because they identified with Jesus Christ and were seeking to live their life following His pattern.
They had experienced forgiveness of sin with their shame and guilt thoroughly removed. They had received deliverance from condemnation and judgment because Heavenly Father had declared them to be just-as-if-they-had-never-sinned (justified).
Holy Spirit gave them a new heart and imparted the righteousness of Jesus to their life.
To the first century church, being a Christian wasn’t a fad, fashion, or a label they wore. It was an identifying mark that distinguished them as one whose life had dramatically changed, and they were seeking to live in the pattern of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The meaning of Christian has taken a dramatic turn.
This postmodern, deconstructionist culture identifies most anyone and anything as Christian.
They may not believe the Holy Bible to be the infallible Word of God or follow the biblical pattern of experiencing Jesus Christ as Savior but they claim to be Christian.
They may actively participate in those things Almighty God calls an abomination, yet they choose to identify as Christian.
There are “Christian” churches performing same-sex marriages, and ordaining men and women who identify as LGBTQ+. “Christian” has become a huge marketing tool with clothing, clubs, dating sites, tattoos, and “Christian events, all of which may or may not honor the Lord Jesus Christ.
Look with me at the original Christian labeling.
“Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Acts 11:25-26 NKJV)
“…the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”
They had been called disciples, now they were being called “Christians.” The new label had two purposes; distinguish the Gentile disciples from the Jewish community and mock them for passionately seeking to be like Jesus.
Disciple is the Greek word mathātēs, meaning someone who is a learner or a pupil.
It is more than mere intellectual learning. Yes, it carries that meaning, but more. It is relationship between the “pupil” and their “master.”
A mathātēs is also a disciplined person, seeking to be as much like their master as possible. Mathātēs is the root of the Greek word mathēmatike (mathematics).
That fits perfectly with the description Jesus gives of His followers. They are disciplined ones; learning his ways, gaining his knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Following his pattern of life and behavior.
A true follower of Jesus Christ, a disciple, has experienced authentic salvation and their name is written in the Book of Life (Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:11-15) Authentic salvation means one has become a mathātēs (disciple) because they have:
- Acknowledge they are a sinner by admitting to God He is right about their behavior and its consequences.
- Believed God’s provision for salvation in Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
- Confessed their sins to God.
- Asked His forgiveness.
- Believes He has forgiven them their sins.
- Asked Jesus Christ to come into their heart.
- Yielded their whole life to Him as Lord.
A mathātēs (disciple) chooses to live their life as a learner/pupil of Jesus Christ.
- They understand their place as a disciple of Jesus Christ – Matthew 10:24-42; Luke 6:40.
- They choose to have the heart of a servant – Mark 9:31; Mark 10:32-44.
- They choose to yield and obey their master – John 14:21-25; John 15:12-15.
- They choose to love one another as the Lord loves each one – John 13:34-35.
- They will hear and obey even the hard sayings of Jesus – John 6: 50-69.
- They will not be understood or accepted by the world – John 15:18-19.
- They will consistently be a witness of Jesus Christ – John 15:26-27; Matthew 10:32.
- Their life will bear much fruit of the Holy Spirit – John 15:8.
- They do not live with a cultural world view or world’s pleasures – John 17:12-17; 1John 2:15-17.
- They love the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with all their heart, all they soul, and all their strength – Matthew 22:34-40.
A mathātēs counts the cost of discipleship and willingly chooses to pay the cost.
- A mathātēs takes up his cross and follows Jesus giving up his own desires and life goals for those of the master – Matthew 16:24-25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24.
- A mathātēs chooses to forsake all that was of his former life to follow Jesus – Matthew 19:16-30.
- A mathātēs accepts and surrenders to the truth and principles of God’s Word no matter what it costs him – John 6:38-66.
- A mathātēs surrenders his will to the will of Heavenly Father as Jesus surrendered His will to the Father – Matthew 7:21; Matthew 12:50
A mathātēs (disciples) has a clear life goal and they passionately seek it with all their heart.
- Their life goal is to fulfill the purpose for which Heavenly Father created them and set them on the earth – John 17:4. 18; John 20:21
- They seek to impact their workplace, neighborhood, and community with the love, mercy, and grace of the Father and the Gospel of Jesus Christ – Matthew 5:5-15; Luke 10:1-11.
- They seek to make disciples of new followers of Jesus Christ – Matthew 28:19.
This is who the disciples were in Antioch when the community and culture began calling them Christianos (Christians). That concept of being a Christian is almost totally foreign to what is labeled Christian in the world today.
While there is a remnant of Christians who live as disciples, it is the exception and not the rule.
Second Millennial Christians far more identify with the culture and fashion of the world than they do with the life and character of Jesus Christ.
I, for one, believe it is time to distinguish the disciple from the modern term Christian.
It is time for followers of Jesus Christ to be who and what He has called them to be. Choose to be an authentic learner/pupil of Jesus Christ and follow Him as a mathātēs.
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