The vast majority of people in North America identify themselves as Christians. Do you? Perhaps you are not sure. Perhaps you are very sure and wonder about others who do. For example, even the majority of criminals in the U.S. prison system identify themselves as “Christians.”
Just how far back in time can “Christians” be identified? The name “Christian” was coined in the First Century A.D.-about five years after Pentecost. “And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” In the “church at Antioch” these Christians were also called “disciples.” Acts 11:26; 13:1, “Church” means “called out ones” while “disciple” means “learner or pupil” and/or “adherent and
follower of a teacher.” Therefore, “Christians” are defined as ones “called out” from the world to be followers and pupils of Jesus Christ.
Can 200 million people in North America all be true Christians? Jesus said, “I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19). He identified the quantity of his followers as a “little flock” (Luke 12:32). Jesus placed very restrictive terms for discipleship.
What Do Christians Do?
Jesus’ disciples would know and obey the truth. John 8:31,32, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed. And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Jesus’ disciples would continue in his word, that is, daily study the Bible. They would receive a knowledge of his truth that would so enthrall them that they would forsake all that they have (Luke 14:33) in materialism and goods to be his disciples. In Mark 8:35 Jesus said, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” This means consecrating our all to the Lord and using it in his service as he directs.
Further stringent conditions of discipleship are found in Luke 14:26: unless a man “hate” (love less) his father, mother, wife, children, brethren, even his own life, “he cannot be my disciple.” Again in Luke 9:23: “If any will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
Jesus’ terms of discipleship for being a Christian, indeed, are demanding. Is it any wonder he predicted that only a “little flock” would qualify? Oh yes, many would call themselves Christians as Jesus predicted in Matthew 7:22,23: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name and in thy name. . .done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you. . .” (as Christians). Yes, the terms of
discipleship are demanding. The faithful Christian does not
actively seek financial and health blessings. But the
compensating spiritual blessings are a hundredfold in this
life and then life eternal (Mark 10:30).
In western civilization “Christian” denotes a culture to which the majority belong. In Scripture, “Christian” denotes a lifestyle characteristic of an extreme minority. Certainly 200 million people have not left all to follow Christ. But have you left all to follow Christ?
Why Some Become Christians
Some become Christians for fear of eternal judgment. After all, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) But God saves us and forgives our sins “for His name’s sake.” (Psalm 25:11) Similarly, Paul observes in Ephesians 1:7,12 that “we have redemption through his blood. . .that we should be to the praise of His [God’s] glory.”
Then there are those who become Christians in order to gain health and prosperity, believing that faith in a “secret kingdom” and its power will grant their desires. How sad! The height of Christian concern should not be “what can God do for me” but rather “what can I do to glorify God.” Remember the words of Psalm 31:3, “For thy name’s sake lead me and guide me.”
Self-Centered vs. Christ-Centered Christians Evidently the church at Corinth included many self-centered Christians. Paul had to chide them in 1 Corinthians 4:8-14: “You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and I would, indeed that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. . . We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are
slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.” (New American Standard Translation – NAS)
Then Paul admonished these self-centered Christians to be Christ-centered. “I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 4:16;11:1, NAS) Paul’s economic poverty and persecution in the Lord’s service were merely results from following the example set by Christ. Did Christ experience poverty in the Father’s service? “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” (2
Corinthians 8:9) But, exponents of the idea, “God wants Christians to be wealthy,” are quick to reply that Jesus experienced “relative
poverty.” Jesus was prosperous, they say. Only by comparison with his previous heavenly glory, he was poor.
However, Jesus spelled out his poverty on earth in Luke 9:58. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” This statement of Jesus’ poverty is all the more meaningful because it was his reply to a person in the preceding verse who said, “Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.” Following Jesus does not mean automatically living in poverty, but it does require sacrificing economic interests for his cause, yes, committing all wealth to him.
Have you committed all your means to God?
For those who would use Christianity for financial gain, the Devil, who is the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), is anxious and able to give them “the world on a silver platter” as long as they are willing to live a self-centered lifestyle instead of a Christ-centered lifestyle. Matthew 4:8-11
Actually Jesus’ ministry was a life of sacrificing all personal and earthly interests in doing the Heavenly Father’s will, as he “poured out his soul unto death.” (Hebrews 10:9; Isaiah 53:12) The Scriptures use several symbols to illustrate this life of sacrifice. For example, there is the sacrificial death of an animal in the tabernacle.
Also Jesus’ water baptism (immersion) pictured his complete submersion into his Father’s will. Three years after his water baptism Jesus said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with and how am I straitened [stressed] till it be accomplished.” (Luke 12:50) Yes, Jesus’ complete submersion into his Father’s will meant sacrificing self in the interest of others (Acts 20:35), suffering for truth and
righteousness (Psalm 69:7-9) and enduring the cross (Hebrews 12:2,3).
When James and John asked if they could sit on his right hand and left hand in his glory, Jesus replied, “Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:35-39) Like James and John we must drink of Jesus’ cup of suffering and share his baptism of sacrificial death. Thus the Apostle Paul said, “If we be dead with him, we shall also live with him. If we
suffer, we shall also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:11,12). Becoming a Christian does not mean preserving and prospering self, but yielding self even to the point of suffering with Christ.
The Reason We Are Christians
In Romans 6:3, Paul speaking of our real baptism said, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” Yes, we must follow Jesus’ lifestyle of sacrificially dying to self interest. This will mean sacrificing worldly pleasures and interests that are not even sinful while serving the cause of the Lord. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:29 speaks of Christians being “baptized for the dead.” From God’s standpoint the whole human race, except Christians, are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). That’s why Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their dead” (Matthew 8:22). Why are you a Christian?
Sharing in Christ’s sacrificial death will benefit the whole human race. If you suffer and die with Jesus (being baptized for the dead) you will live and reign (2 Timothy 2:11,12) with him as king and priest a thousand years (Revelation 20:6) for the benefit of the dead (and dying) world of humankind.
In summary, thus far, the Scriptures reveal that:
· True Christians will be numerically few, a little flock.
· The terms of discipleship are stringent.
· Christians reign with Christ in his 1,000-year Kingdom
on earth for the benefit of the dead world of mankind.