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“Christian”

First Baptist Church https://fbcbartow.org

1. What is a Christian?  What makes you Christian?

Do you think if we all divided up into sections with the people around you and were asked to define, “What is a Christian?” we would all come up with the same answer?  We might come close, since most of us have been here hearing the same messages together.  Outside of us, here are some common answers:

  • Someone who goes to church every Sunday, or regularly
  • Someone who believes in one God who created the heavens and the earth
  • Someone who was born into a Christian family
  • Someone who believes Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead three days later
  • Someone who celebrates Christmas and Easter
  • Someone who doesn’t drink, smoke, or use profanity

If you were asked out in public if you are a Christian (which is not very likely), answers from those of us in this group might range from:  Yes; what do you mean by that?; yes, but who’s asking?; I am, but I’m not like (fill in the blank with whatever particular group you don’t want to be associated with).

Many of us became a “Christian” – and we believe that happed because we prayed a prayer.  Some mistakenly believe that happened because you were baptized; some because you completed a class of some sort.

Some of us were raised with the understanding that our brand, our denomination, or our tradition – our part of “The Church” – is the true brand, denomination, or tradition.

Some of us may know people who say they were a Christian and who might feel like they were emotionally-manipulated at some time…but not anymore.  To which some of us would respond“Oh, no, there is no “was a Christian” – once a Christian, always a Christian.”  Some people grew up with a tradition with an understanding that if you committed certain sins, you ceased to be a Christian – so if you crossed any of those lines (like going on a “non-Christian date” as a Christian), you drove home below the speed limit – as safe as you could – because you believed that if you were killed in a car crash, having done what you’d done, you’d “split hell wide open”, and because you were so miserable, you got on your knees and said, “I want to be a Christian again – I’m back,” because you lived in this uncertain state of “Am I or aren’t I a Christian?”

And some people, maybe someone here, grew up believing that you had to pray a prayer to be a Christian…and maybe you prayed that prayer 100 times, wondering how much you needed for it to take, because deep down, you don’t really feel anything or have enough knowledge to know.

For some, being a Christian is all about what you believe.  For others, it’s all about how you behave.

Q: Isn’t it interesting how all of us associate with what we think is the same thing – being a Christian, but we have all these different approaches to it?

On top of that , there is a group of people who would say they hate Christians and anything to do with them.  They’d say Christians are judgmental, homophobic moralists who think they’re the only ones going to Heaven (and maybe even think they secretly relish the fact that everyone else is going to hell).

And, I’m pretty sure we all know people who are, or have been those people who, fit into almost all these different categories.  I have some 2. Good News, and I have some Bad News.

  • Here’s the Good News:  None of what I’ve just talked about is described as “Christian” is in the Bible. [Really!  Aren’t you glad?!]
  • But here’s the Bad News:  Everything you’ve thought about “Christians” might be wrong.

In fact, the word “Christian” only appears 3 times in the Bible.  First-century Christians didn’t call themselves Christians.  It was a derogatory term used by outsiders to describe followers of Jesus.  It was not un-like how we label groups of people we are not part of, or don’t associate with, because we perceive a difference in that groups’ likes, beliefs, or behaviors – like in high school, where there were:  “Rednecks”, “Nerds”, “Dead-heads”, “Jocks”, “Band, Chorus, or Drama Kids”, “Emo, Goth, or Punk”, “Druggies or Stoners”, “Cool Kids”, “Goodies”, “Floaters”, “Mean Girls”, “Preppies” – that should cover most of the labels through the years.

One thing NT believers had actually been calling themselves was “Followers of The Way”.  When they were scattered by persecutions in Jerusalem because they broke with “traditions of the elders” and from “rules taught by men” for actually following the commands of God, some believers landed in Antioch (in Modern day Turkey).  This group started sharing the testimony of Jesus’s claims:

  • That He is God
  • That He came to seek and save the lost, those far from God, and bring them into fellowship with Himself
  • That He would be killed for His claims because of man’s rebellion, in defense of systems and traditions of self-righteous substitutions for God,
  • But that He wouldand didraise to life 3 days later, [and some of them had actually seen Him themselves!] just as thousands of years of prophecies had said He would to give us that same resurrection-life and power; and
  • That all of this was for everyone on the planet

And people in Antioch began to embrace these truths and believe Jesus.  They came together and eventually established a church there!  Word of this group got back to Jerusalem, where the original tradition-keepers were – which we know from Acts 15 and 21.  They sent Barnabus to check this out, and he went to find Paul in Tarsus (where Paul was from) as a reinforcement.  Together they find that a whole lot of people have embraced and began following Jesus as a result of their initial efforts to get the good news of the Gospel out!

Acts 11:25-2625 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch.  So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.  The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

The Roman historian Tacitus wrote most of what is known, and why we know it, about the emperor, Nero, who, in 64 AD decided to start Rome over by burning it down.  That didn’t go so well, since he burned down people’s homes and businesses in the process, so Nero decided to blame it on this group of people called, “Christians”.  And we know all this because of a passage Tacitus wrote:

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class of people hated for their abominations, called ‘Christians’ by the populace.  Christus, from whom the name had it’s origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus…”  -Cornelius Tacitus

That’s why Nero fed Christians to lions in the Colosseum!  The ways of Jerusalem and the Hebrews were foreign to the people in Rome and Antioch.  They had heard much about “Jesus the Christ” – “Christ“ being the Greek word for the Hebrew Title of Messiah, but they just began associating “Christ” as being part of Jesus’ name.

The Point – outsiders looking in at this group of people, trying to come up with a name for them, came up with “Christians”, but Christians didn’t call themselves “Christians”.

Christians actually called themselves something far more bold, more defined, more conspicuous and curious, and way more convicting than “Christian”:  They called themselves “Disciples.”

Are you aware that there are people on both sides of just about every moral, political, and spiritual issue who call themselves “Christian”?!!!  And they can’t all be right!  That’s why we have so many denominations, and groups of Christians who can’t get along, because “Christian” is not defined in the New Testament.  You can say and do just about anything and get by with it because no one can look in the Bible and say, “Ah-ha, the Bible says a Christian should…or a Christian shouldn’t…” because the Bible doesn’t say anything about Christians other than 1. What we just read together – Acts 11:25-26, 2. The one time when Peter writes to encourage disciples being persecuted for being a “Christian” by outsiders in 1 Peter 4:16, and 3. The one time when Paul is in a trial, and King Agrippa, who he’s giving his case to, asks him if he’s moved from defending himself to trying to make a “Christian” out of him in Acts 26:28.  It was a derogatory term.

But when you look at the Bible, the NT, and the Book of Acts, what you do see is a term that is used very, very consistently – 261x – to describe these people who are part of this Jesus-following movement: “Disciple”.

You can hide behind the term “Christian” indefinitely; you can go to war in the name of Christianity; you can justify all kinds of things in the name of Christianity; you can define it, re-define it, mis-define it, or un-define it, but when you associate yourself with being a disciple, and you open the NTthat’s a true game-changer.

For example – look again at Acts 11:26 – “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”  If you were to ask them what they are, they wouldn’t have said “I’m a Christian”, they’d have said “I’m a disciple“ of Jesus the Christ.

So, 3. What is a disciple?  “Disciple” is an intimidating word because it’s so clearly-defined.  It’s concrete.  “Disciple” comes from the Greek word, “Mathetos”, which means:  A Learner, Pupil, Apprentice, Adherent, or Follower of someone, who adheres completely to (follows) their teachings, making them their rule of life and conduct.

John the Baptizer called people to follow him as they would prepare the way for the Lord, removing all obstacles which stand in the Lord’s way, preventing Him from coming to all people.

Paul said to follow him as he follow Jesus.  That way, as he moved out of the way, you might find yourself following Jesus!

A disciple learns and grows by obeying and imitating their master or mentor.  Discipleship isn’t as simple as attending church services, or believing a set of facts, or observing rituals, or celebrating holidays, or being born into the right family, or behaving morally.  Being a disciple is active.  It requires resolve, determination, effort, and trust that it’s all worth it…it requires risk, and it requires sacrifice.

A disciple is someone who handles something like this, looking to the person they follow:

  • “How would you handle this?  That’s how I’ll handle it.”
  • “I’m trying to figure out how to respond to a situation – how would you respond to this situation?  Oh, that’s how I’ll respond to this situation.”
  • “What would you do if you were me?  Then that’s what I’m going to do.”
  • “Where are you going?  Then that’s where I’m gonna’ go.”
  • “How would you react to this…How would you live your life…How would you manage relationships…Oh, then that’s how I’ll live my life…that’s how I’ll manage my relationships.”

A disciple of Jesus is a person who is looking to Jesus to say, “Give me direction; show me how to live my life.  And my answerbefore You even give me an answer – is yes.  Now, what is it You think I should do?”

Q: That’s a little different than “Christian”, isn’t it?

2 weeks ago, we read together in Acts 6:7 – “So the Word of God spread.  The number of disciples [not “Christians”] in Jerusalem increased rapidly…”

Acts 9:26 – “When he [Paul] came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples [he decided to join the church, alongside this general group of Jesus-followers], but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.”

Acts 9:36 – “In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha…she was always doing good and helping the poor.”

So, you can hide behind the term “Christian”, but if you look into the NT to see what this group of people was really all about, they called themselves “Disciples”.  Q: Are we really disciples?  Or are we just Christians?

Q: Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ, or are you just Christian?

All Disciples are Christians, but not nearly all Christians are Disciples.

Q: Are you a follower of Jesus, with your answer to whatever He calls you to being, “Yes”, or are you just Christian?

Q: Those are pretty disturbing and intimidating questions, aren’t they?

Let’s close our time together this morning with a look at a moment in time when Jesus is talking with a group of people who want to be disciples.  He’s giving them the bottom-line concerning if they’re going to be a disciple, and not just a Christian.  So, here are your and my specific marching orders from Jesus Himself.

And, if we, believers and followers of Jesus, would have gotten just this one thing were about to hear Him say right over time, just this one part of being a disciple, there may have not ever been a first World War, and definitely not a second one.  There definitely would have been a Civil War in this country.  Slavery would have been put to rest long before.  And there would have been no need for a Civil Rights Movement in this Nation.

If the followers of Jesus would have followed this one thingbesides the 10 Commandments, the rest of the New Testament, or everything else the Apostle Paul taught – if we would have gotten just this one teaching of Jesus right, I believe our world and our nation would be a different and better place.

The time is towards the end of Jesus’ ministry.  He’s with the Apostles at His last Jewish Passover.  Judas has already left to go betray Him.  And He’s making sure to share this with these guys before He’s taken and killed – that one big thing He doesn’t want us to miss before He goes.  So here He goes with the one big thing we have to get right:

John 13:33-3533 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer.  You will look for Me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now:  Where I am going, you cannot come. 34 “A new [and the Greek word here for “new” is “kainen”, which means “new in quality”, “strange”, “unknown”, “odd” – a new] command I give you: [And it really wasn’t that new…on the surface.]

Love one another. [“Hold on, Jesus, You’ve said this before.  It’s even in the OT.”  But then Jesus goes on…]

As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

From the times He welcomed each one of them and invited them to follow Him, through all the times He was with them and forgave their temptations to question Him or to abandon ship, to all the times He let them in on the greatest mysteries of life and the most intimate displays of God’s glory and power…

35 By this [you loving one-another as I have loved you – by this] everyone will know that you are My disciples [followers of Me], if you love one another.” [That’s way more than just because you say so.]

We can all be Christians.  Do you want to be “Christian” right now?  OK, you’re in! (And that’s where the fight starts!)

But, to actually love each other like Jesus loved these guys puts us in a totally different, and much smaller, category.

He’s  saying, “I want your love for each other to draw people in – right to the edge, peering in, drawn by the kind of love I have for you – love that is unconditional [unconditional love is not uncritical – it’s willing to risk for the best interests of others], generous, compassionate, extravagant, ridiculous; love that doesn’t cause people to fear that you’re gonna’ try to manipulate them into doing something, or fear that you’re gonna’ accuse them of something, but love that draws them to come to the edge of our community and to be able to say and think stuff like”:

  • Look how the men treat the women
  • Look how the women treat the men
  • Look how they treat widows
  • Look how they treat sick people
  • Look how they even honor children
  • Look how they manage their money, and with such generosity
  • Look how graciously they respond to persecution – It’s like they don’t even fear death
  • Look at them love!

Jesus wants us to be about building communities like that – churches, small groups, and ministries – that will grow and expand, drawing people to the edge, peering in, drawn by that kind of love.  Maybe at first outsiders might think or say, “I don’t necessarily want to become one of those [yet?], but:

  • I’d sure like to have one of them come work for me.  I’d hire all I could – they’re the most honest people.
  • They’re so strange and so odd that if they mess up, they tell you!  You don’t have to find out after the fact.
  • They’re generous to a fault.
  • They willing to do the right thing, even if it costs them financially.  I’d want to hire all of them.
  • I don’t know if I want to be one of them, but I’d sure like to see someone treat my daughter or my granddaughter the way those men treat their wives; I’d sure like to see someone honor my son or my grandson the way those women honor their husbands.
  • I don’t know yet if I want to be one of them, but I’d sure like to work for one of them.
  • Look at the way they love.

Side-note:  I heard years ago that another one of the ways you can tell someone is a genuine follower of Jesus is by how well they treat waiters and waitresses, hotel rooms, and rental cars.  That’s pretty good.

Q: Can you imagine what your workplace and community would be like if you loved the way Jesus calls us to love?  Can you imagine what would happen in our nation – in our world – if Christians everywhere began living like disciples?

In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 – where it says “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations”, the “make disciples of” part is one word in Greek μαθητεύσατε – which means literally means “you (2nd person plural) cause to become disciples – true learners and followers of Jesus”.

And anytime we leverage anything other than love, we go backwards in regards to our purpose and influence, never forward.

…ALSO:  Love is not some touchy-feely, excusing-all-behaviors, positive-energy, tolerance-of-all-worldviews.  Love is when we genuinely care for the best interests of others, with our heart informed from the heart of God from His Word, and guided and empowered by His Spirit, Who always points people to Jesus!

Q: What if we decided that for the next 3-6 months we are going to take on The Cause of Jesus, to love the people around us the way Jesus loved the people around Him?  It would need to start with:

  • Prayer – depending on the Lord on behalf of those around us – for lost people to know and love Jesus back and for believers to remember and be strengthened in their resolve to follow Jesus.  If you’re not talking with God about people, you’re probably not talking with people about God.  Which empowers us to… 
  • Care – love demonstrated, because genuine love does.  Pursue spiritual friendships that are consistent – on par with the integrity of all our other relationships, inside and outside the walls of the church, with our behavior and our beliefs inter-connected, and we…
  • Share Jesus’ message – Good News – the Truth in love, not Judgement, because we know the Judge and what He actually says, and we love them and genuinely want what’s best for them – friendship with God.

Q: Can you imagine where our church would be?  There’d be no drama.  There wouldn’t be enough room for everyone in one service anymore.  All of our age groups would be running on all cylinders in the Lord.

I’m sorry if Christianity was mis-represented to you.  In John 10:10 Jesus says that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Christianity at its core is all about one-another.  The way you know and show you love God is not by how well you love some personal, intangible, idea of God, but by how you love Him back by loving one-another.

For some of you, the reason you are here is because someone took the chance to invite you, even though they knew what you’d heard or experienced with church in your past.  They just invited you to come and see, and you came and saw.  I trust you saw God and His love for youJesus is saying to us now, we are as close as many will ever get to being in the presence of Jesus, because we, collectively, are the body of Christ.  Again, when people are with us collectively – the body of Christ – that’s as close as many of them may ever be to Jesus.

Jesus said, “By this one thing is how they’re really gonna’ know that you are really My disciple – by how you love one another.”  Not how long you pray, not how long you preach, not what or how you do what you do on Sunday mornings, but how you love each other like Jesus loves us.

So here’s the question:  Are we going to be content just being Christians, or are we going to be disciples?

NEXT STEPS:  If you’re a follower of Jesus, try this out for this week.

Regardless of what state any of your relationships are in with your spouse, parents, children, bosses, teachers, friends…whoever.

What would it look like for you to love those people like Jesus loves those people in your life?  What if you decided that for the next week you were not going to take your cue for how you treated anyone from them, but from Jesus?  What if you decided you would relate to them in this new, strange, odd way that Jesus really does ask of us?

Just try it.  But this is not a means to an end, or a fix-all.  It’s what it means to follow Jesus.  It’s better!  It’s the kind of faith-risk that’s a magnet for the Holy Spirit to display the power, work, and love of God.  It’s being available for God to do through you what He promises to do when we’re faithful to do what He’s told us to do.  This is being a disciple.  It has the power to change your heart, your relationships, your community, and even the world.  Because in the end, it’s not about just being right; it’s about being transformed by love.

Some of us here need to be saved.

John 1:12 – “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name [that He is who He says He is, reality is as He defines it, and that He will do what He’s promised to do], He gave the right to become children of God”

  • You need to trust Him enough to bank your hopes, your life, your future on Him alone as the only true foundation He is.  You need Him to transform your heartThen you begin the process of your head and hands catching up, from the inside-out.
  • Some of us need to acknowledge the tug on our heart to come back home, lifestyle and all.  If you’ve allowed anything to come between you and God, if you find there’s any distance between you and Him, it’s time to let Him yo-yo you back in.

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