I Am Not a Christ-Follower; I’m a Christian

“There is just so much baggage with that term,” said a friend of mine when asked why she does not call herself a Christian.  “I don’t want what I call myself to be a stumbling block for people to know who Jesus is.  There have been so many people who call themselves ‘Christian,’ and yet do not live like they are.”  This is a clear refrain that I hear over and over from people in our churches who have shed what they consider an archaic term for the more “politically correct” term of “Christ-follower.”  The trouble is that it is not just a term that will quickly, if it has not already, become archaic itself, but it is a term that undermines the whole concept of what being a Christian is all about.

And let’s be honest, if the idea is to not offend people then we need to go back to the words of Christ himself.  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11 ESV).  In other places he explicitly says that people are offended by the truth of God, so any way we try to sugar-coat the truth by our terminology will go stale.

If you call yourself a “Christ-follower,” I hope the following points will help you to reconsider and take a stand by embracing who you are in Christ.

“Christian” is the biblical term

“The term Christian is a generic term applied by enemies of the Cross” (Online Source) said David Drake in response to the title of this post.  However this observation is inaccurate.  In fact in Acts 11:26 it says that “in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”  It was a term applied to those who accepted Christ as their Savior and who trusted him for their redemption.  In fact, the Apostle Peter says this about the term:

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
(1 Peter 4:16 ESV)

Therefore, not only is it a term that the Bible uses to describe those who have been purchased by the blood of Christ, but it challenges us to wear it as a badge of honor in the face of adversity.

Whose We Are Not What We Do

 How did you become a Christian in the first place?  Was it some intelligence, some good deed, or some miracle that you preformed that made God say, “I want that one”?  I dearly hope that you do not think that any of this is true.  Time and time again the Bible is clear about what saves us:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
(Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

Friend, it is all about what Christ did for you on the cross that saves you.  When we use the term “Christ-follower” it completely eliminates the idea of what got you to this point in the first place.  Famously, the Indian liberator, Mahatma Gandhi, was quoted saying, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  With such an emphasis on what we do, I have little doubt that Gandhi would have been happy to have called himself a “Christ-follower.”  He was certainly not a Christian.  Dan Kimball’s book They Like Jesus but Not the Church talks about people who think that Jesus was a good teacher, but who do not trust him for their salvation.  They are not Christian, but they may even consider themselves “Christ-followers.”

My point is this: when we seek to not offend in our terminology, we may have done so by the sacrifice of our message.

“Can you truly be a Christian without following the one whose name you bear?” asks Tommy O’Keefe (Online Source).  Surely this discourse does not suggest that we are not to follow Christ’s example as we have become his people.  But the identity I have in Christ is not bound by what I do (for I can tell you with utter certainty that I fail miserably every day), but that identity is based solely on who I belong to.  Christ bought me with his blood, and I acknowledge that proudly by calling myself a Christian.

You Cannot Do What He Did

Every Good Friday in the Philippines people are literally nailed to crosses to remember Christ’s sacrifice for us.  It may be a shocking display, but this is in no way representative of Christ’s sacrifice.  Even in following Christ’s example in such an extreme way, participants only reach to the level of the two thieves that were crucified on either side of Christ.  Their deaths did not redeem the world; it is only Christ’s sacrifice that made the difference.

“[It] doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!” comments Jonathan Sigmon (Online Source).  How does one go about trying to start a 2,000-year-old movement centered around you being God and sacrificing yourself for the redemption of the world?  How does one try to live a completely spotless life from beginning to end?  Is there a learning curve on resurrecting from the dead, healing the sick, and giving sight to the blind? 

No matter how hard we try, we can never follow Christ in any way that makes any difference to eternity.  In fact, some people are figuring this out: displays of authentically trying to follow the law of God and the inevitable failures shed the true light of the power of the gospel.

We all try, and try, and try to make the world a better place, to see God’s justice enter the world, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to love God above all others.  Yet none of us has got it right yet, and none of us are perfect. Try as we might, like Paul in Romans 7, we still do what we do not want to do while trying to do what is right.  Resting in Christ, in full acknowledgement of our weakness is what being a Christian is all about:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

Stop following Jacob thinking that you are really following Christ.  Stop grasping at the heel of success and righteousness.  Instead let yourself fall into the loving and redeeming arms of Christ, who did all the work for you.  Instead of being a Christ-follower, become a Christian.

About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

8 responses to “I Am Not a Christ-Follower; I’m a Christian

  • Tommy O'Keefe

    We are called to bear fruit and fruit that remains. According to John 15 that fruit comes about by loving others as Christ has loved us. I think there is a danger in conflating what a Christian is with how one becomes a Christian. Believer is a name used for the early Christians, but so is disciple and “Those of the way”, both of which point a person to the very real need to follow Christ. We also have the following from 1 John 2:

    “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. ” (1 John 2:1–6, ESV)

    We know that the reality of being saved is not something that we can do on our own. It is the work of Christ. However, that saving act should change and transform us in a holistic way. In that sense, I would hope we would all embrace the call to follow Christ no matter what the cost may be.

  • Dan

    Good post. I still probably won’t correct people who call themselves Christ Followers, because I resonate with why they do it, but overall I’ll be calling myself a Christian in most contexts 😉

  • EGarcia5000

    I enjoy reading your argument. I ask that you read my post regarding what it means to be a “Christ Follower.” I most definitely see where you are coming from and what you mean, but I still believe claiming to be a Christ Follower has validity to it. To be called a Christian is wonderful and will never be anything less. However, it is undeniable that this name is used imprecisely today. There are countless people who claim to be Christians, yet bear little or no fruit. To claim to be a Christ Follower, in my opinion, is far more specific than to claim to be a Christian.

    I am not trying to offend my terminology when I claim to be a Christ Follower. I am more simply trying to make a more bold and specific claim as to where I stand in my faith as a Christian.

    Again, I really liked this perspective and understand what you are saying, and there is nothing at all wrong with proclaiming to be a Christian. However, claiming to be a Christ Follower does have legitimate reasoning and purpose as well.

    Check out my post at followchristnow.blogspot.com to read my post on being a Christ Follower. Thanks and GOD BLESS!

  • Chelsea

    I’d never heard the term “Christ Follower” until today, and was actually surprised to learn that it’s used by a group of Christians who wish Christians were more, well, Christian.

    I consider Christ to be a great teacher, perhaps the greatest teacher considering his broad impact, and a martyr. I don’t consider myself to be a Christian, but perhaps a Christ Follower, so your point about Gandhi and the young people in Dan Kimball’s book resonates with me.

    In fact, I actually felt a bit cheated that the term “Christ Follower” refered to (and I apologize for being blunt) a somewhat elistist sect of Christians. As a non-Christian who sometimes feels ostracized by Christian evangelism, I can relate to how a “Christian” might feel ostracisized by this “Super-Christian” evangelism of the so-called “Christ Followers.”

    I saw being a “Christ Follower” (in the Gandhi/Kimball sense) as potentially unifying. I may not believe in Christ’s divinity in the Christian sense, but I do see value in following him as he provides an excellent example of how to live.

    The way the term is used now is not unifying, but divisive, and that is a shame.

  • Paul Parry

    I am a Christ-follower (or a follower of Christ) because I have chosen to take up His cross and follow Him, according to His instructions which appear more than 20 times in the gospels.

    I am a Christian because I am a member of His church, as described once in the book of Acts.

    Some people are both, some people are one or the other, and some people are neither. They should use the term that is correct for them.

  • Joel Douglas

    I am a Christian, but I am called by Jesus Christ to follow him.

    “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

    Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10: 38-39

    There are several other passages to support being a follower of Christ. The bottom line is that I think that what is talked about here is that we stop just calling ourselves Christians and go about doing the work of advancing his kingdom.

  • Aaron Gardner

    Thanks for your comment, Joel. This issue is a point of emphasis: we are not Christians because we work to “advance the kingdom,” but because our ransom was purchased by God through his Son. Christ did not save us because we did his work and earned his favor. We do his work because of the effectiveness of the work he did for us. We would still be Christian if we never did anything to “advance the kingdom.” But it is the Bible’s clear emphasis that “faith without works is dead.” To put it another way: how can the Spirit of God be live inside you and you not be different? It is all a matter of emphasis and sequence.

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