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Are You a Follower?
Do you consider yourself a disciple of Jesus? You might say, “Weren’t the disciples those twelve guys who followed Jesus? I’m not a disciple; I’m a Christian.”
Perhaps you aren’t aware that the word “Christian” is found only three times in the Bible.
And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26b).
And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28).
Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name (1 Peter 4:16).
These three verses suggest that the name “Christian” was invented and popularized by non-believers. In Antioch they may have said, “Look at those strange people who follow that man Jesus. Wasn’t he crucified? And they still believe he is the Christ? That’s insane! Let’s start calling them Christians.” So “Christian” was originally an insulting label that was later embraced by the church (like “geek” and “nerd” today).
Whether you call yourself a “Christian” or a “disciple,” you are a follower. Why? Because “disciple” means “follower,” and “Christian” means “Christ-follower.”
In today’s world, when you talk about “following” someone, people might think you’re talking about Twitter. (For example, our Prime Minister Stephen Harper has 167,960 followers on Twitter. President Barack Obama has 10,083,001.) It doesn’t take much to follow someone on Twitter—just a click on the “Follow” button. But it is sometimes very difficult to be a follower of Jesus—a Christian (as 1 Peter 4:16 states and Acts 26:28 implies).
The earliest recorded use of “Christian” outside the NT is by the Roman historian Tacitus when he wrote that Nero blamed the “Christians” for the Great Fire of Rome in A.D. 64. Some Christians were forced to confess by means of torture, and these “confessions” led to the persecution of Christians.
…Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians…by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but, even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. In accordance, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not as much of the crime of firing the city as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired (Annals XV.44).Don’t expect the benefits of salvation without the demands of discipleship.
Salvation isn’t like a burger at some fast food restaurant. (“Yeah, I’ll get the salvation burger. But can I have it without any adversity and with some extra blessings?") You can’t “have it your way.”
Three (Not So Simple) Steps to Being a Follower of Jesus
What do followers of Jesus need to do? In Acts 2:36-42, we find three steps for Jesus’ followers.
1. Be converted.
“Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
The word “conversion” means “turning.” Biblical conversion is “a turning from sin to Christ. The turning from sin is called repentance, and the turning to Christ is called faith” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 709).
“Repentance, like faith, is an intellectual understanding (that sin is wrong), an emotional approval of the teachings of Scripture regarding sin (a sorrow for sin and a hatred of it), and a personal decision to turn from it (a renouncing of sin and a decision of the will to forsake it and lead a life of obedience to Christ instead” (ibid., p. 713).
2. Be baptized.
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls (Acts 2:41).
Baptism is the way we publicly identify ourselves as followers of Jesus. Our church’s statement of faith says that baptism “is the immersion of the believer in water, whereby he obeys Christ’s command and sets forth his identification with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection.”
Baptism is an outward, physical symbol of the inward, spiritual conversion of Christians. It pictures person being “buried” with Christ (submersion under water) and being “raised” to new life with Christ (emergence from water) (ESV Study Bible, p. 2167).
Is baptism necessary for the forgiveness of sins? No. But some verses (e.g., Acts 2:38) might seem to say this. Why? Because baptism usually happened immediately after conversion. In the early church, there were probably no unbaptized believers.
Baptism is not necessary for the forgiveness of sins, but baptism is still a big deal. To remain unbaptized, is to disobey Jesus!
3. Be devoted.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).
This third step is really a series of many steps. We will not reach perfection, but we should see progression. Here is what Jesus said about His disciples. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8).