“Discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Christ.”
Anybody familiar with former NFL Hall of Fame coach John Madden knows he has an aversion to flying. After he retired from the sidelines, Madden moved to the booth, where he began providing color commentary for NFL games. But he didn’t fly to games any longer, he took the bus; The Madden Cruiser. Despite the fact flying commercially has been proven to be safer than highway travel, Madden refuses to board planes. There is no doubt that he believes flying is safer, he just hasn’t put his faith in flying. In other words, he has not acted on what he knows to be the truth.
According to a 2015 Pew Research Center Survey, nearly one-third of the world’s 7.3 billion population is Christian. My guess is that 90% or more of those of you reading this post right now identify yourselves as Christians. Even though the Bible is a collection of sacred texts in which Jesus Christ is the central theme, the word Christian appears only three times in the Bible; twice in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 11:26; 26:28) and once in Peter’s first epistle (1 Peter 4:6). The literal meaning of the word Christian is “to belong to Christ.”
The word we find in the Bible that most often refers to those belonging to Christ is “disciple.” In fact, this word appears 261 times in the scriptures. GotQuestions.org states, “The Greek term for “disciple” in the New Testament is mathetes, which means more than just “student” or “learner.” A disciple is a “follower,” someone who adheres completely to the teachings of another, making them his or her rule of life and conduct. Jesus’ follower’s discipleship began with Jesus’ call and required them to exercise their will to follow Him (Mt 9:9).”
When asked, “Are you a Christian?” 71% of Americans said “yes” in 2014 (Pew Research Center). I’d venture to guess that if these 71% were all asked, “Are you a follower of Christ?” many, if not most, would respond, “What do you mean by a follower?” Yet Jesus never called people to Christianity; He called them to discipleship or followership. Sadly, many who consider themselves to be Christians have simply been born into a family that happens to be on the membership roster of a Christian church, either Protestant or Catholic. They don’t know much about what’s in the Bible. They don’t know the difference between an apostle and an epistle, and heresy from hearsay.
This is “Cultural Christianity,” which Patrick Morley states in his book, “The Man in the Mirror.” It is “pursuing the God we want instead of the God who is. It is sensing a need for God but on our terms. It is God relative instead of God absolute.” Even famous atheist Richard Dawkins describes himself as a Cultural Christian and states in his book, “The God Delusion,” that Jesus Christ is to be admired for his ethics. Make no mistake, Dawkins is not a disciple of Jesus Christ.
How about you? Are you a cultural Christian or a disciple of Jesus Christ?
This question became very personal for me when I was 26 years old. I heard a pastor make this statement; “All disciples are believers, but not all believers are disciples.” As I reflected on this proclamation, I knew I was a believer, but I had to ask myself, “Am I a follower?” Like John Madden, I believed that air travel was safer than land travel, yet I had not boarded the “discipleship plane.” I was reminded years later of what writer Henry Blackaby said, “When God speaks to you, it will nearly always create a crisis of belief that requires from you faith and action (see Experiencing God Part 5 – Crisis of Belief).” That was my crisis of faith. On that day I went from believer to follower; from cultural Christian to disciple. I made a decision to answer the call of Christ and to follow Him. I acted on what I knew to be the truth; that Jesus Christ is God’s Son who died for my sins on a Roman cross and came back to life three days later. I exercised my belief and boarded the plane.
Disciples aren’t perfect. They’re just normal human beings like you and I who have recognized the divinity of Jesus Christ and have simply acted on it by exercising their will to follow Him, vowing to be the best they can be with Jesus’ help. Disciples sometimes lapse like Peter and the other disciples did in the Garden of Gethsemane. They might abandon Jesus for some time, but Jesus doesn’t abandon them. He comes back to them with His mercy and grace.
A true Christian belongs to Christ. A cultural Christian does not. Jesus calls us to discipleship, not spectatorship. If you’re not following Christ, who or what are you following? Are you pursuing the God you want or the God who is? What rules your life? Are you traveling by bus or plane? One is safer, more rewarding, and offers first-class. How will you choose to travel with the days you have left on this planet?