A few weeks ago, a guest speaker at our church spoke about the difference between being “just a Christian” and being a follower of Christ.
The way he explained the historical significance of the term “Christian” was very insightful. You could feel the spiritual atmosphere of the room change as people absorbed what he was saying.
This guy shared how the term Christian, which is trendy but very broadly defined in today’s culture, was definitely not trendy in any positive way when it was first coined in Antioch (Acts 11:26). The word Christian appears only 3 times in Scripture and it was considered a derogatory name, like a racial slur is today. It literally meant, “Like the Anointed” or “Follower of the Anointed.” It mocked those who followed Christ by labeling His followers “Christ-ettes,” or “little Christs.”
Those who had accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior did not call themselves by this rude insult. They called themselves followers of the Way (John 14:6, Acts 9:2). Jesus called them His disciples (Luke 14:25-26 & 33). There are several references to disciples, or followers, of Christ, in the Bible. When you understand what a disciple actually was in its historical context, you will see what relevance this semantic technicality has for us today as followers of Christ who are single.
The Greek word for disciple, mathētēs (μαθητήζ) simply meant learner, pupil, apprentice, or adherent. It was applied typically to men who were committed devotees, adherents, of a particular religious leader. Their collective body of ancient Jewish oral tradition called the Mishnah describes the childhood timeline and process a Jewish boy went through in hopes of becoming the apprentice, or disciple, of an important Jewish religious leader. They had to memorize entire books of the Old Testament, study diligently, spend increasingly longer amounts of time with the leader, and learn their leader’s heart and lifestyle so they could live it out and pass it on. Some Jewish historians believe that girls were allowed to learn the same things as their brothers and friends when they were all very little, but when they all became school-aged, only the boys were allowed to continue on.
Paul the apostle described some of this protocol in Philippians 3:4-6 as he described what he had undergone to qualify in the world’s eyes to be a (self) righteous religious leader. Many prominent religious leaders in that day besides Jesus had disciples. The ruling Jewish elite, the Pharisees, had disciples (Matthew 22:16). John the Baptist had disciples (John 3:25).
The Bible doesn’t describe much of what a “Christian” is. It has lots to say about what a follower of the Way, or a disciple, is.
1. The leader, or rabbi (“Rabbi” is the Greek and Latin word, transliterated from the Hebrew rabbī, which means “teacher” or “my master”), had to call the person to follow him. A young man may have studied diligently his entire life, but the leader had to call him to become a disciple. Just like Jesus did with the apostles (Luke 5:1-11).
2. The disciple, having been called, left his family to live with his new master and teacher, like Jesus’ disciples did with Him (John 1:35-39).
3. The disciple had to become completely submissive to his new master in every area of his life, just as Jesus required of His followers; see Luke 14:24-33. He was never about trying to win a popularity contest.
4. Often, a disciple would have to follow his master into an austere lifestyle, hardship and suffering. Just like Rabbi (Master) Jesus called the rich young ruler to (Mark 17:10-22).
5. Unlike other rabbis in His day, Jesus allowed women to follow and support Him and His apostles as well as learn alongside of the men (Mark 15:40-41; Luke 8:1-3).
6. When the disciple had thoroughly absorbed, learned, and practiced all that his teacher and master knew, he was said to be just like his master, the highest accomplishment and compliment that could be given him. Jesus confirmed this in John 17:6-8 and Matthew 10:24-25a.
So… you say you are a Christian and you are single.
Well, Jesus is our Rabbi, our Master and Teacher. How hard is it for you to see yourself as His disciple just in the context of the 6 items above?
Could it be that you are “just” a Christian—a follower of a cultural religious trend, but not necessarily a follower of Christ?
If you still don’t know, these might be symptoms, as you know yourself or as others may recognize in you: You don’t take Jesus too seriously. You may know a lot of what the Bible says, but you don’t take the Bible too seriously. Or you read the Bible and it just doesn’t make sense to you, 1 Corinthians 2:14. You fulfill your religious responsibilities dutifully if at all. Maybe you used to go to church, but dismissed the church as a bunch of hypocrites who are hiding behind a religious façade that you no longer want to be associated with. I can’t blame you there.
Your lifestyle and value system hasn’t changed since you claimed to have become a Christian. Without any conviction or qualms at all, you participate in activity which the Bible would call sin. You may even mock or become hostile toward anyone who might even suggest that whatever the activity is, is sinful.
I’m not talking about “grey” areas where the Bible gives no specific instruction. There is plenty in the Bible that directly identifies specific sins, such as sex outside of marriage (1 Corinthians 6:18), lying (Ephesians 4:25), and stealing (Ephesians 4:28). However, you may feel little or no need to accept the Bible’s evaluation of your lifestyle. You’re confident that you are so progressive and culturally connected that you don’t need the Bible. You feel mostly comfortable where you are at spiritually and see nothing that needs to be brought under God’s authority and transforming power.
Yet something is seriously missing from your life and you know it has something to do with God.
If these are your symptoms, you might just be a spiritual zombie. You mindlessly follow the rest of the spiritually undead. You are unresponsive to the things of God. Like a zombie, you look for more people to infect with your brand of fleshliness and worldliness, often in romantic relationships. You will remain vulnerable to more spiritual filth until you die completely. You are described in Romans 8:5-8, 1 Corinthians 1:18, Galatians 6:7-8, Ephesians 4:17-19, Colossians 2:13, 1 John 3:14, Revelation 3:1.
This might be you if your friends, family, classmates, coworkers, neighbors, or others cannot tell that you are a follower of Jesus because there is absolutely no distinction between you and the remaining spiritually undead in any of your areas of personal responsibility. Your areas of personal responsibility include your motives, your thoughts, your attitudes, your values, your goals and ambitions, your words, your actions, your habits, your relationships, your freedom, your love.
On the other hand, if you are not a spiritual zombie, but an actual follower of Christ; you are spiritually alive, Ephesians 2:5. You live in the light and love of God’s presence, John 8:12. According to the Word of God, you have the Spirit of God living inside you and He is your spiritual light inside of you; Romans 8:9-11, John 8:12, and John 1:4-5.
You don’t mindlessly follow the spiritually undead to embrace destructive philosophies, Colossians 2:8. You are responsive to the things of God, 1 Corinthians 2:12-16. You don’t want to infect others with sin, you want to share the love of God, Romans 5:5. When you sin, sooner than later, you go back to God, confess your sin, and ask for a fresh dose of His strength to get it out of your heart and life permanently, 1 John 1:9 and Proverbs 28:13. The stronger you grow as a disciple, the less vulnerable you are to the enemy’s tactics because you recognize his activity earlier in the game and get away or around it, 1 John 2:13-14 and 2 Corinthians 2:11. Paradoxically, the stronger you become as a follower, the more humble you become as you become more aware of the holiness, authority, and majesty of Jesus.
Your lifestyle and values have changed, and you live in that change, Ephesians 4:1. The Bible makes sense. You try to take Jesus and the Bible seriously. Going to church services may not always be fun, but more often than not, you look forward to going. You are not merely a hearer of the Word, you are a doer of it as well, James 1:22
So… single person, are you a cultural “Christian,” a spiritual zombie, dwelling among the spiritually undead? Or are you a follower of the Living Way, the Living Christ?
What is different about you because you are single but a follower of Jesus? Is the difference more than just knowing the church lingo and arguing about doctrine? What are you hiding, or sheltering, from the church?
If you are disappointed with the hypocrites in the church, join the club. So am I. However, Jesus didn’t say, “follow My followers” or “follow My church’s culture in your region,” but “follow Me,” Luke 5:27 and John 21:20-22. Follow God and allow Him to heal your hurts.
We can’t jump ship because we don’t like the company on board. We have to stay on the boat to remain spiritually vital and viable. Otherwise, you’re liable to risk reinfection, become a spiritual zombie, and return to the shadowy world of the spiritually undead. That’s a nasty and an unhappy place to be, my friend.
Unmarried person, which side are you on? The zombies, or the living?
Word study of Mathetes in the NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon. Bible Study Tools website. http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/mathetes.html accessed 7/24/16
First-century discipleship. David N. Biven. Article for the website, The Jerusalem Perspective; revised 9/7/12. http://www.jerusalemperspective.com/555/ accessed 7/23/16
Rabbi and Talmidim. Ray Vander Laan for website, That the World May Know. https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/rabbi-and-talmidim accessed 7/23/16