What Does it Mean to be a Christian, Really?

It is easy to make up your own version of what it means to be a Christian that is not grounded in what Jesus really calls people to be.

The term “Christian” was first applied to followers of Jesus in Antioch. Before that, followers of Jesus were called disciples. Today, the term Christian is more predominantly used than disciple, but in the New Testament the two terms were synonymous. The New Testament story tells us that disciples were people who were called by Jesus to follow him. Let’s see how the Bible describes a follower of Jesus.

 

I’ve had enough conversations with various people in and outside the U.S. to know that there is not a universal definition of “Christian.” I’ll never forget hearing that in some parts of the world, “Christian” means an arrogant, morally corrupt, manipulative westerner. In other places, it means someone who is generally a good person and goes to church a couple times a year. Others define it as someone who believes in Jesus, attends mass and confession, and accepts the Pope as the head of the church. Yet, others identify “Christian” with the coercive global power that invaded countries and subjected them to colonization and severe abuse, all in the name of Jesus.

Which one of these, if any, is correct? Or are all of them true? And if all of them are true of people calling themselves Christians, does that mean Christianity, the Bible, and Jesus himself are like all those people? Or are the people and their various definitions of what it means to be Christian faulty? Is there a way to be a Christian, a Christ follower, that is different from all of the ways described above?

To be a disciple of Jesus, a person must be called by Jesus.

The term “Christian” was first applied to followers of Jesus in Antioch. Before that, followers of Jesus were called disciples. Today, the term Christian is more predominantly used than disciple, but in the New Testament the two terms were synonymous. The New Testament story tells us that disciples were people who were called by Jesus to follow him. Let’s see how the Bible describes a follower of Jesus.

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matt. 4:18–22)

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