What’s in a Name? Christian vs. Disciple

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Think about all the titles and identifiers you would use in an introduction. A father, a soldier, a husband, a Christian? It can help another person quickly identify who and what you are about. These names and titles we give ourselves are important because they help to identify our identity, not just for others but also for ourselves. 

That said, I think we can do better as followers of Jesus. Let's get in the habit of calling ourselves disciples rather than a Christian. Now some may say it doesn't matter, we can be known as both or either. But I believe it does matter, and especially it matters in light of how we think of ourselves. Here's why: 

 

New Identity: Disciple of Jesus

With that many definitions flying around, if you're not actively learning from Jesus or living for him, you can still call yourself a Christian and most people won't bat an eye. But if you call yourself a disciple it gives you an opportunity to live into something more than yourselves. 

By definition a disciple is someone who is actively learning and living as a follower of someone else or of some set of teachings. By calling yourself a disciple of Jesus you are stating clearly that you're living for someone else. However, this comes with a caveat:

If you're living for yourself and not living for Christ all while calling yourself a disciple it's obvious to everyone that you're either dishonest or delusional. Imagine going to a restaurant with a self-proclaimed vegetarian and having them order a steak! We would know immediately that they weren't legit. 

 

The Problem with "Christians"

First off, Jesus never called his followers Christians. He called them disciples and the emphasis was always on beliefs that led to action. One of my favorite examples of this is one of the first times the word disciple comes up. Its when Jesus climbs into a boat and it says his disciples followed him. 1 Disciple meant action. It meant following. And the word disciple is continually used throughout the New Testament to describe those who followed Jesus. 

On the flip-side the word Christian is used only 3 times in the Bible. 2 And it was not a name the disciples of Jesus gave themselves. Originally, it was an insult used by non-believers to make fun of believers who were trying to be “little Christs” because they were infatuated with this guy called the Christ. It was more like when we call someone who is a fan of Star Trek a "Trekkie" or someone who likes Justin Beiber, a "Belieber." 

The word had a rough origin, but things haven't gotten better for the term. Today "Christian" has become far more ambiguous , it has more meanings than we can count. For some Christian just means "not Muslim" or "not Jewish or not Hindu." In the United States it has become a term for a conservative or someone with conservative morals or political views. The bottomline is that the word doesn't necessarily mean what we think it means.  

 

Who are you?

So, while calling yourself a disciple might be more in line with what Jesus' first followers called themselves, it also comes with a higher cost. What do you think?  Does it matter what you call yourself as a believer?  Is there an advantage to being a disciple of Jesus versus being a Christian? And most importantly, are you ready to live up to His name? 

Founder | Into the Harvest

Andrew has helped launch and lead disciple-making churches across the United States and has trained leaders for the kingdom who are operating as missionaries around the world. He and his family live in San Diego, CA.

  1. Matthew 8:23
  2. Acts 11.26, 26.28, 1 P 4.16