Are You a Christian or a Disciple?

Let’s do a little word association.

What kind of person do you picture when you hear the word “Crossfit”? What about “vegan”? “Nascar fan”? “Patriots fan”? “Academy Award winner”?

(For that last one, the only correct answer was Nicolas Cage.)

Now, what comes to your mind when I say the word “Christian”?

If you stop people on the street and ask them, “Are you a Christian?” Some people would say, “Yes.” Others would say, “What do you mean?” Some would tell you, “Yes, but …” or “No, but …” or “Yes, but I’m not like …” And some would flat out say, “No, I’m definitely not a Christian.”

Here’s a strange fact: The first followers of Jesus didn’t call themselves “Christians.” The term was actually a derogatory term used by people outside the Jesus community. Acts 11:26 says, “In Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (ESV). Called—by others. It’s not the name they chose for themselves.

So, if the first Christians didn’t call themselves Christians, what did they call themselves? You see the answer right there in the same verse: disciples. The word “Christian” is only used three times in the whole Bible; “disciple” is used 281 times in the New Testament.

Yet today, we more often describe ourselves and others as Christians rather than disciples. And in changing the word that we use to describe ourselves, we have lost the clarity the word “disciple” conveyed about what a follower of Jesus actually is. Our use of “Christian” today obscures the fact that a lot of people who call themselves Christians are not actually disciples.

“Disciple” is much clearer—terrifyingly clear, in fact—about what you actually become when you believe in Jesus.

1. Disciples leave it all behind to follow him.

The Apostle Matthew writes that Jesus’ disciples “immediately left their boat and their father” (Matthew 4:22). Why identify these two things? Because these are usually the two most significant things in our lives: for a fisherman, the boat represents career; and “father” represents our most important relationships.

To be a true disciple, Jesus has to take precedence over your career and your relationships.

For most, it won’t be as dramatic as literally losing your father and mother or having to give up your career. But all of us will have moments where we decide what holds greatest sway over our lives.

College students may be told by their parents that they can’t pursue missions over the summer. A high school student may be the only one who chooses to follow Jesus out of his friends and gets labeled “that religious guy” and has to decide if he’ll sit back and be quiet and intimidated. Some business people will have to decide whether to cut some corners or be patient and do things in ways that honor God. For others, it’s simply what you do with your income and whether or not you give your first and your best back to God.

To follow Jesus means you subject everything in your life to his lordship. You forsake all that he has forbidden and pursue all that he has prescribed. It’s not always easy, but it’s the true mark of a disciple.

2. Disciples reproduce.

There is no such thing as a non-reproducing Christian. John 15:8 says, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

How do you prove you are a disciple? By bearing fruit.

The Great Commission Jesus gave to us was this: “Go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19).

In Greek, the words “go,” “baptize,” and “teach” are all participles which derive their force from one controlling verb: “make disciples.” This means that everything we do grows out of the call to make disciples.

Yes, we love to show kindness and meet needs wherever we see them. But the greatest of all needs is the need for people to hear about Jesus. We may be moved by people’s suffering, but we know the greatest suffering is eternal suffering, which happens to those who die without Jesus.

Jesus summarized his ministry by saying, “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). If we are his disciples, that’s how we’ll summarize our lives, too.

Disciples’ lives are marked by complete surrender and reproduction. Are you a Christian or a disciple?


For more, be sure to listen to the entire message here.