By this all men will know . . .
We’ve wrestled with “Christian” and “Christianity” this whole series. We’ve said it’s impossible to define. We’ve said you can call yourself a Christian and believe, or disbelieve…or do, or not do, just about anything you want. We’ve said you can define yourself as a Christian be just about any way you want. We’ve declared you can find Christians on both sides of just about any social, political, moral or cultural issue.¹
We fought a Civil War over slavery and found Christians who fought for the North and Christians who fought for the South. And they believed in their hearts what they were fighting for. We’ve created more than 31,000 flavors of Christian denominations. We’re about as far away as you can get from the church of Jesus Christ that Luke described in the book of Acts.
What we call our “Christianity” is so messed up because we missed a simple, specific lesson Jesus taught his apostles as He was preparing to leave.
It was just before the Passover feast. They were about to have their last meal together. Jesus just washed his disciples’ feet.
In Jesus day, feet washing was the single most menial task a servant performed. Feet washing was reserved for the lowliest of servants in the house.
Jesus’ Time Is Short
Judas is gone. The Coach is alone with his team, with the guys who will carry Jesus’ message to the world. This is it. Jesus calls them into the huddle. “Gather ’round, guys. I’ve got one more thing I want to tell you. This is the bottom line,” Jesus says. “The litmus test. Our defining moment. I’m about to give you all my marching orders. You’ll succeed or fail as my disciples depending on how well you do this. If you don’t remember anything else I’ve taught you, remember this:
“A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35.
There it is. Love one another. As I have loved you. The disciples’ whole mission in three words. It’s our mission as well. It’s how we spread the Gospel. It’s how we overcome our denominational differences. It’s how we define who we are. That sums up this whole series on Baskin Robbins Christianity. But the verse still leaves us with some questions. Like, how do we love one another? Why did Jesus call it a “new” commandment? And what did Jesus mean when He said to love one another “as I have loved you.”?
And maybe the most germane lesson from this whole series rests in Jesus’ words, “By this all men will know that you are my . . .disciples.” After His resurrection, Jesus did not command his disciples to, “go ye into all the world and make Christians of all nations.” He commanded them to make disciples of all nations. Jesus did not say, “By this all men will know that you are Christians.” He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples.”
“Christian” is only mentioned a few times in the New Testament. In previous posts we learned that it was used by those who were outside the circle of his followers as a derogatory term.
Disciple or disciples appear more than 500 times in the New Testament. That’s what Jesus called His apostles, his followers. Its meaning in the Greek is the same meaning we give the word today. The definition is Crystal clear. Simple. To the point.
A disciple is a student, a pupil, an apprentice, a follower, an adherent to the teachings of another.
Pretty hard to muddy that definition up, isn’t it?
You can hide behind any flavor of “Christian” or “Christianity” all day. You can make it mean anything you want it to mean. Do or believe just about anything in the name of it.
But disciple? No matter what flavor of Christian you call yourself, the real question is: Are you a disciple?
Folks will still refer to themselves as Christians. And that’s okay. You’ll still call yourself a Baptist or a Methodist or a Lutheran … but are you a disciple? You’ll still call homosexuals lost… but are you a disciple? You’ll still prefer sprinkling over submersion…but are you a disciple? You’ll still be pro life…but are you a disciple? Some “Christians” will still be anti-Muslim and anti-gun control and anti-government and anti-social and anti-whatever.
But are we disciples of Jesus Christ? Whatever flavor of “Christian” we like to call ourselves, each of us has to answer that question. Not for our pastor. Not for our denomination. Not for our priest. Not for our church. Not for our neighbor. But for Jesus.
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¹The Video Series Christian by Andy Stanley was the inspiration for this blog post. Stanley is Senior Pastor of North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia.