Christian or Follower of Jesus?
Would the people who know you best consider you a Christian or a follower of Jesus?
I still remember the stunned look on Dave’s face when I asked him that question over breakfast ten years ago. To give him a chance to recover a bit, I took the time to clarify my question. “What I mean Dave is this: based on how you live, the things you talk about, your passions, what you spend your discretionary time and money on, would your wife, your children, co-workers and fishing buddies, would they consider you a Christian or follower of Jesus? And by the way, you don’t have to answer that question to me today. I’m not your spiritual authority. But, Jesus already knows the answer. The question is, do you?”
I’d known Dave for a few years, but not well. He was forty something, husband and father of three, attended a conservative church in town, and was involved in a men’s Bible study – a typical Christian. Our kids went to school together and we’d talked a number of times at school functions, but not in depth.
His reason for wanting to meet that morning was to ask if I would spend some time with him to help figure out some moving parts in his life. His relationship with God was flat. The company he was working for was in turmoil. He and his wife were struggling. The usual mid-life stuff. I’ve mentored many men in our community, so it was no surprise that he would ask me to help him sort things out. But, obviously he’d not expected to be hit by this truck.
Dave’s first question after he’d regained his composure was, “What’s the difference between a Christian and a follower of Jesus?” It was a fair question but I wanted to hear his answer first. So I asked him to take a crack at it.
“Well, when you put it that way, I would say a Christian is someone who believes Jesus is the Son of God, died on the cross and all that, believes the Bible is true, goes to church regularly, tries to live a good Christian life, volunteers in church – things like that. I would think a follower of Jesus believes all the same stuff and does all the same things, but is a lot more excited and serious about actually living like Jesus and being like Jesus in everyday life.”
Are Christians saved?
“Not bad”, I told him with some admiration. Before I could say another word, he asked me this penetrating question with just a hint of fear in his voice. “Are both Christians and followers of Jesus, saved?” I told him the truth. “I don’t know with certainty of course, but I don’t think so.
With that, he grew quiet. I thought it best to leave him alone with his thoughts for a minute, so I went to the restroom. My reason for asking this question of Dave is that most of us intuitively know if we are serious about following Jesus, or if we’ve been content with the average Christian life. This question simply forces a conclusion most of us don’t want to think about.
Words wear out.
In Chapter 12 of The 10 Second Rule, I wrote this, “Some words wear out. It’s not that they’re wrong – simply that they’ve out-lived their original meaning. I think the word Christian could be just such a word. It’s a word that’s centuries old. In Antioch in the decades after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, it was first applied to those who believed in Jesus and lived his teachings. And in the first few centuries of the church, when obedience was still costly, all Christians were also committed followers of Jesus – the terms were interchangeable. Today, all followers of Jesus are still Christians. But it’s clear that the reverse is not true – not all who call themselves Christians, even those sitting in church every Sunday, are truly his followers.
Having said that, it’s impossible to accurately measure our devotion to God and our love for others. I don’t have a faith-o-meter I can pull out every day and point at myself and others to keep score. Nevertheless, we do keep score, don’t we? And it’s the self-delusional nature of sin that causes us to believe we’re better followers than most other Christians. Aside from the statistical impossibility of that being true – it’s the wrong measure. The only true measure is Jesus.”
So here’s the question again, which I’ve asked thousands of people in the past dozen years but now I’m asking you: Based on how you actually live your life, what you’re passionate about, how you conduct yourself when you’re at home, or out with your friends and how you treat others, would your spouse, your children, your co-workers or friends – more importantly, does Jesus consider you a Christian or a true follower of his?
My second question for you: How do you think Jesus himself would define his followers? (Please try to do it in one sentence, if possible and let’s see what you come up with.)