“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.