Disciple versus Christian: What we are
When we talk about the people who have God’s favor and the people God wants, a lot of times we use the word “Christians”. If asked to talk about who we are, we might say, “I am a Christian”. But the term “Christian” has become kind of vague today. A recent Gallup poll said that 75% of Americans identify themselves as a Christian. It’s a word that’s applied to about anyone who professes some belief in Jesus whether that faith is central and transformational in their life, or it’s just a peripheral kind of belief to them that hasn’t really had any effect on their life at all.
Perhaps a better word to describe what God wants people to be and for those that have His favor is: “disciple”. You find this word a lot more in the NT. The word “Christian” is only used 3 times. But the word “disciple” is used almost 270 times. Both terms describe the same people. Acts 11:26 says “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch”. In Matthew 28:18, Jesus told His disciples to “Go and make disciples of all the nations“. God wants disciples of Jesus Christ. “Disciple” brings to my mind a clearer picture of what God wants us to be than the word “Christian” does.
A disciple means a learner and follower of another, a student and adherent of another. Another word that comes pretty close to the meaning is “apprentice”. In ancient Greece, when somebody was learning to play the flute from a flute player, they were called a disciple of that flute player. A person who was being trained by a doctor to be a physician was called a disciple of that doctor. Luke 6:40 says, “A pupil [or disciple; it’s the word in the Greek for disciple] is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher“. So a disciple of Jesus is like an apprentice, a trainee, of Jesus. It is someone training to be just like Him. It is someone who studies Jesus, listens to Jesus, learns from Jesus, strives to gain His perspective and understanding of things, to develop His character, to emulate His conduct, His treatment of people, His prayer life, and to adopt His goals and His priorities. It is one who is on purpose in the process of becoming like Jesus.
We’ve talked recently about different aspects of being a disciple of Jesus, like learning to be selfless servants and trusting God, being kind and honest, and so forth. But I’d like us to notice something that was at the very center of the heart of Jesus, His main focus and concern, what He was all about. Luke 19:10 Jesus said, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost“. At the very center of the heart of our Savior was the salvation of souls. That’s what He was all about. He did not come to cure all sickness. He did not come to alleviate poverty in the world. He did not come to relieve people of their emotional or physical problems. Now He did a lot of that, He did help and serve people, but the reason Jesus came and the purpose of all He did, was to reconcile people to their Maker; to bring man and God together in friendship that they might be with one another for eternity. His quest was a quest for souls. If we’re disciples of Jesus, if we are in training to become like Him, then we are becoming less and less focused on and concerned with the temporary things of this world and more and more focused on and concerned with the salvation of souls.
In Matthew 28:18-20 just before Jesus ascended to heaven He said to His disciples, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”. In other words, Jesus told those disciples, “I want you to be about making more disciples. Baptize those who want to be disciples into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And teach those disciples to do all that I’ve commanded you. You teach them to treat people the same way they want to be treated, you teach them to love their enemies, you teach them to always be honest, to let their yes be yes and their no, no, and so forth.” And certainly I think it would include what Jesus just commanded them, “You teach them to also be about making more disciples”. And the Lord promises to always be with His disciples in this work. Notice the last phrase, “even to the end of the age“, which in Matthew refers to the end of the world. It appears that’s how long the Lord wants His disciples making more disciples and He will be with them in that, to the end the of the world. So as disciples of Jesus this is our commission, to make more of ourselves.
Now we’re not all preachers, we’re not all missionaries. Let’s just admit that. We’re not all ready right now to sit down with somebody and share the gospel of Christ. We’re not all evangelists. Romans 12:6 says “we have gifts differing according to the grace given to us”. We all have different gifts. But we can (even though we might not be an evangelist) be evangelistic. Meaning we can be conscious of souls. We can be alert to opportunities to influence others positively for the Lord. We can be part of the process of making more disciples, even if we are not the one that actually sits down and teaches them the gospel.
Now let’s talk about some very simple evangelistic habits that Jesus taught His disciples to have that we can all have.
Jesus taught His disciples: Be evangelistic in your prayers.
What do you pray about every day? Many would say, “Well, I pray about my wife. I pray about my kids. I pray about my finances. I pray for the sick to get better. I pray about safety for people traveling”. That’s great, all those things are good. But do you ever pray for open hearts to the gospel and doors of opportunity for the gospel to reach open hearts. Do you ever pray for the lost souls that you know? Do you pray like the song we sing in worship: “Lead me to some soul today. Teach me Lord just what to say. Friends of mine are lost in sin, and cannot find their way”.
When Jesus gave a model prayer to His disciples, do you remember how that prayer began? “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven”. Those seem to be evangelistic requests. “Hallowed be Your name”; that means may people revere You and treat You as holy, may people come to realize that You really are Thine and see Your unfathomable power, Your wisdom and goodness and purity and greatness and how worthy You are of our trust and love and worship and obedience and all that we have to give. That’s what you’re praying for when you say, “Hallowed be Your name”. People will think great thoughts about God and be in awe of God and humble before God. “Your kingdom come”: the kingdom of God prophesied about in the OT, is the kingdom of the Messiah. And the citizens of that kingdom are those who let King Jesus rule their lives. When people set Christ on the throne of their hearts and submit to Him as their Lord, the kingdom has come there, the kingdom has been extended to include that person. So I think praying “your kingdom come” is praying that the rule of the King Jesus will come into the lives of people. “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”: that’s what happens when people hallow His name and submit to the Lordship of Jesus; they do the will of God on earth as His holy angels do in heaven. Jesus has said to be praying about these things.
Matthew 9:36-38 says, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful [there are all these souls that can saved like a field full of ripe wheat that can be gathered into the barn before it spoils], but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.’“. He’s saying pray for more workers for souls. Pray for more evangelistically active people. Pray that God will help you be more soul focused and effective at influencing souls to seek and follow the Lord.
Listen to a couple of the apostle Paul’s prayer requests while he was in prison in Rome. Ephesians 6:19-20, “and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.“. Colossians 4:3-4, “Pray… for us… that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.”. Isn’t that amazing! He’s in prison and his prayer request is not pray I get out of here. He’s not too concerned about his own welfare. He’s saying, “Please pray that I have an opportunity to preach the gospel to more lost people. And pray that I will preach it boldly; that I won’t water down the message or not speak certain things people need to hear because I’m afraid that people may not like it and mistreat me because of it. And pray that I will make the message clear, that those who hear me will undoubtedly understand it”. Who do you know can effectively teach the gospel to people? Pray for them that God opens doors of opportunity to teach more people and to teach more boldly and clearly.
The Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul thought the prayers of God’s children were about the most powerful thing in the world; they move the God of heaven and earth to action. They taught us to be regularly evangelistic in our prayers. We can all do that, can’t we? Let’s trust the promises of God as His children, for He hears us and prayer makes a difference. Let’s be praying persistently for progress of the gospel and salvation of souls.
Be always alert for the opportunities that God brings you to influence souls for Him.
Many of us are always on the lookout for certain things. Particular things often make some of us like the dog in the Pixar movie “UP”. Doug the dog had a collar that enabled him to speak and when he met some new people, he’s talking away, introducing himself and saying, “I have just met you and I love you,” and explaining his collar, and as he’s talking, all of the sudden he goes, “Squirrel!”. Doug the dog had such a fascination with squirrels that he would become completely distracted by them whenever there was a chance they might be around. Ladies are that way to bargains at times too, even when they’re not shopping, big yellow or red signs, that say “Sale” or “Half Off” catch their attention. Or some when they’re on the computer they can’t help but check certain emails or certain sites for any deals going on they wouldn’t want to miss. Some of us who like to hunt, especially this time of year, are that way with critters: “driving around the outskirts of town you’re constantly looking out the sides of the car through the woods for animals and you might be driving along talking and suddenly you hit the brake, “Whoa, deer! Is it a buck?”. My mom growing up was always alert to neat looking rocks. We’d do a lot of hiking and she would often stop somewhere along the trial and pick up a rock to take home that caught her attention.
Jesus taught His disciples to be that way toward opportunities that God brings them to influence souls for the kingdom.
Did you know the Lord doesn’t work according to our schedule? God is working to open doors for us (open hearts for us) and produce opportunities, but God doesn’t work on our schedule. He doesn’t look at our schedule and say, “okay you don’t have anything going on Tuesday or Wednesday evening and you have free time Sunday afternoon, so I’ll present some opportunities at the house in the evenings on Tuesday and Wednesday”. I think most often, God will bring us opportunities at times when we have something else on the schedule and on our mind. He may bring us opportunities when we’re standing on the sidelines next to other parents watching our kids play. He may bring us opportunities at the health club with someone we regularly see when we just came there to exercise. Or with the barber when we just came there to get our hair cut.
Jesus was trying to teach His disciples a similar notion in John 4. Jesus had been visiting with this Samaritan woman at a well while His disciples had gone into the village to get some lunch. And in His conversation with this woman, He had so touched her heart that she wanted to go tell other people: “Look, you’ve got to come see this guy named Jesus”. By the way she wasn’t an evangelist but she did a great evangelistic work by going to the people of her village and saying, “Come see this man that told me all this stuff that I’ve done in my life. Could He be the promised one?”. And so the disciples come back with their lunch and because of her invitation, people started pouring out of the village to come and see and listen to Jesus. The disciples eyes were looking down at their lunch, they were looking at their fish and their bread. But Jesus wasn’t focused on lunch at the moment, and they were saying, “Come on, Jesus, let’s eat. We brought lunch”. And Jesus said to them (John 4:35) “Do you not say, ‘There are still 4 months and then comes the harvest?’ [as in you think it’s 4 months away until the time for harvest work] Lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest“. He was saying, “Take your eyes off your lunch and look at the opportunity that God has given us. Lunch will have to wait. Taking advantage of this opportunity is far more important”.
I think of the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19 as well. It says that Jesus was passing through Jericho. He was going from point A to point B, and Zaccheus was not the stop. Jesus did not come to Jericho specifically to find Zaccheus (Zaccheus was not on the schedule). But as Jesus was walking through Jericho, there were all these people around Him and Zaccheus caught His attention. It appears Jesus somehow knew a little about him because He called him by name. He was a short, rich tax collector; most of his kind were dishonest and cheated people in that day. That’s how tax collectors got rich: by charging people more than what they actually owed in taxes and keeping the extra for themselves. Most everybody in town hated the guy. So chances are, this was a man that was fully aware He was a sinner and in need of a lot of grace. Jesus knew these kind of people tend to be more receptive to His message than those who think they’re already righteous and fine with God. This guy appears to have really had a desire to know Jesus, to know God, and to have God in His life because he’s climbed up in a tree so he could get a look at Jesus. So Jesus stopped and said, “Zacchues… Yeah, you up there in the tree. Come on down. I’m going home with you today”. Well, the community couldn’t believe it. They couldn’t believe it, because Jesus was a spiritual leader, a teacher of God, and yet He picked one of the people with the worst reputations in town to spend time with. So they began to grumble about that. But that one act of kindness by Jesus reaching out to him, was all it took for Zaccheus to change his life. As they walked to Zaccheus’ house, Zaccheus said, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything I will give back four times as much”. And Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house…”. And that’s when Jesus said, explaining why He did that, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost“. Jesus was on the lookout for lost people that had open hearts and could be saved.
When there are people around us, at the gym, at work, sitting by us on an airplane, who are reading a Bible or ask questions about God or spiritual matters or even people who express some interest in spiritual matters or they’re saying they feel like something is missing in their life or that all is hopeless: those should be “Squirrel!” moments for us, where our focus turns from whatever we’re doing to “What can I do, what can I say at this moment to draw them to the Lord, to help them understand the Lord, or to draw them closer to me and the church, or to get them in contact with someone or with a resource that can help them?”.
Take every opportunity for good deeds.
Jesus modeled this for them: Acts 10:38 summarizing the earthly ministry of Jesus, Peter said, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him“.
In Matthew 5:14 Jesus said to His disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. [in other words, as a light you’re supposed to be shinning, you supposed to be emitting the understanding and the faith and the character God has worked to bring about within you] 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Acts 2:46-47 describing the newborn church, “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved“. Notice a couple of things there. One, these people were joyful. They were glad to be Christians. They had smiles on their faces and attitudes and friendliness that made it really look like they actually believed they had found the truth and their sins were forgiven and the Lord was with them and they had eternal life. That attracts people. And notice it says here that they were “having favor with all the people”. I don’t think that was an accident. I think these Christians were looking for ways to help and serve and be a blessing in the lives of other people. They were doing good things for other people on purpose. And because they were always doing good things for other people, other people who didn’t know the Lord liked them and respected them, and because they liked them and respected them, they wanted to be around them and doors were opened for the word. That’s who we must be. We must lift our eyes from our lunch, from our work, from our errands, from our personal concerns, and see the ways we can bless the lives of those around us.
Be about confessing Him before men.
Luke 12:4-9, “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. [Consider the worst they could do to you, He’s saying. Well, they could kill you; big deal. These bodies are going to die soon away. They can’t touch our spirits, which is what really matters in the grand scheme of things.] But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him! Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. [Realize that God’s watching over you, He sees all that happens to you. He’ll make sure you’re taken care of. Don’t be afraid of what people might think of you or say about you or do to you.] And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God“. We know this passage is not really about what somebody is supposed to do before they’re baptized (that’s how I’ve often heard it used). We talk about the steps of salvation and we say we must hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized. To substantiate the confession step we use this passage a lot of times. But Jesus is not talking here about a step we take and we’re done with it. He is talking about a way of life, a habit of life. He’s talking about being unashamed of Him as we go about life interacting with people. He’s talking about not hiding our faith and allegiance to Him when we’re among unbelievers. He’s talking about always being very open about our commitment to Him; that way when we’ve been doing good things for people, people know to whom to give the credit, to the Lord. Our good deeds probably aren’t going to help people come closer to the Lord unless people know that it’s the Lord who has motivated us to do those things.
There’s lots of casual ways you can confess your faith before people. If someone is sharing with you a problem in their life or struggle they’re having, you can just say to them sincerely, “I will keep you in my prayers”. In conversation with friends you can mention on occasion something you learned and liked from a sermon or a Bible class or from your own study. When you make plans with people, you can say, “Lord willing I’ll be there” or “Lord willing we’ll do that”. When you talk about good things that have happened in your life you can say, “The Lord has blessed me with this or that”. When someone asks you how you’re doing, you can say like Leo, “You know, the Lord is good to me despite myself”. You can bow your head before you eat in the break room or at school, like you normally do at home. You can have a Bible at your work place or in your car when you give people rides in case you need it to share a Scripture with somebody (and don’t hide it). Leave it for people to see.
Be a people pleaser.
And you might say “What, people pleaser? I don’t want to be a people pleaser, I want to be a God pleaser. A lot of people don’t like the idea of being a “people pleaser”. It doesn’t mean to please people to the point of hiding your faith in Christ or compromising what you know is right. What I mean is this:
Jesus often offended the Scribes and Pharisees and the Jewish leaders by doing the right thing. He offended them when He pointed out their hypocrisy, but it was for the salvation of their souls. He offended them when He pointed out their false teaching, but that was for the salvation of their souls and the souls of those who listened to them. But Jesus taught His disciples to try not to be offensive to people over matters that aren’t crucial. Rather try to please them; conform to their preferences.
Matthew 17:24, “When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?’” [It was this tax that was commanded in the Law of Moses to support the work at the temple.] “He [Peter] said, ‘Yes’ [Yeah, He pays the tax.] And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?’ 26 When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are exempt.’” Jesus is explaining that as the Son of God He’s actually exempt from having to pay the tax. The command to give that tax doesn’t apply to Him. v27, “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.” So Jesus pays the tax even though He’s not obligated to, and He wanted Peter to understand why: so that we do not offend. When you offend people, you lose credibility and influence with those people.
I Corinthians 9:19-22, “19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew [when he is with the jews, he conforms to their preferences; he’s not going to eat a pork chop in front of them] , so that I might win Jews; … 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.[he will conform to the customs and culture of the Gentiles too] 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak [they may have conscience issues with matters, not knowing what’s really right and wrong in the matter. He’s not going to make them uncomfortable by doing things they’re not sure is right.]; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some[so he can be closer with them, have more influence with them]”.
I Corinthians 10:32-33, “31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.”.
II Corinthians 6:3, “3 giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited”.
II Corinthians 8:21, talking about why he’s taking representatives of all the churches to bring their financial contributions down to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. And it’s so that nobody is suspicious he was collecting this money for himself, he says, “for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” Don’t ruffle feathers over unimportant things. Be concerned about what people think of you; and please people.
There are a lot of things that we might want to do or not want to do for which there is no explicit commandment from God in the Scriptures. But that doesn’t mean we should just do what we want in the matter. We need to consider what other people will think about us when do or don’t do it, how it will affect our credibility and influence with people. For example, if people you’re going interacting with people who like you to dress a certain way, dress that way. And if people in your neighborhood would rather that you not let your yard be overrun with weeds and junk and trash and be an eyesore in the neighborhood, then maintain your yard for them even if you don’t care about it. Or else it’s going to damage your credibility and influence with your neighbors. I think we could even apply this to personal hygiene. There’s no specific statement that I know of in the NT that you shall comb your hair and shower if you smell and not look like you just rolled out of bed. I you’re just staying home by yourself that’s probably alright. But if you’re going to be interacting with people you probably need to look respectable.
Let me say something else. Some of us feel like we ought to be able to say whatever we want to say on social media and that’s okay. “It’s my spot and I ought to be able to say what I want.” No. Wrong. We can do more damage getting into controversial stuff that doesn’t matter and putting out inflammatory statements on social media than we can in about any other way. We can do great damage to the kingdom of God with just a click. Our words are vitally important whether we speak them out of our mouth or whether we speak them on Facebook, Instagram, or wherever. Those words are powerful for good or for destruction. Read James 3. The tongue can both set on fire or it can open doors and do good things for the Lord. So let’s not speak inflammatory words. Let’s not speak unnecessarily challenging or controversial words. Let’s don’t speak statements of anger or resentment or jealousy. Let’s speak words of grace.
There’s also nothing in the scripture about the political opinion you have to have in order to be saved, and we can do a lot of damage to ourselves and our relationship with people and their relationship with the kingdom of God with our harsh judgement on their political opinions. We can have our own opinions and vote accordingly, but we need to be primarily concerned about peoples’ souls. And we don’t want to create divisions in the body of Christ.
So… Remember at the very center of the mind and heart of Jesus was the salvation of souls, and disciples of Jesus are those who are ever more becoming like Him. So we are called to be evangelistic as He was. And we can be so without being evangelists. These evangelistic habits we can all have: Pray persistently for progress of the gospel and salvation of souls. Be always alert for the opportunities that God brings you to influence souls for Him. Take every opportunity for good deeds. Be confessing your faith before unbelievers. And try dress, talk and act in ways that the people around you find pleasing and honorable.