Part 5: The Bible (Christian But Not series)

Summary of my previous posts laying the foundation for this post:

Christian: a person who has anything to do with Christ

Disciple: a person who is totally committed to following Jesus and all He said

Jesus did not call us to be Christians. He called us to be disciples.

Disciples give up their own truth for Jesus’ Truth

Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:17 

I think we would all agree we would find God’s word – truth – in the Bible.

I started to write this blog as a history and explanation of the different versions of the Bible we can find everywhere.  I spent several days researching the Bible. It was a fascinating. But that’s not where I’m supposed to go with this blog. Then I tried writing about statistics of what Christians and non-Christians believed about the Bible. Again I spent a couple days researching. But that’s not where I’m supposed to go with this blog either. As much as I love learning about the Bible’s history and translations, there are many web sites of scholars who do so much better than I ever could. And as much as I am fascinated with statistics and what people believe, there are web sites that provide that information better than I can.

And then I ran into this:

Christians use the Bible. Disciples read the Bible.

And I knew where I am supposed to go.

Christians use the Bible to support and promote their views. Disciples read the Bible to form their views.

Christians use the Bible to point fingers at others. Disciples read the Bible to point their fingers at themselves.

For Christians, opinions come first, then Scripture. For disciples, Scripture comes first, then opinions.

We all know that Christians on both sides of every issue can find something in the Bible to support their views. Many times, the scripture is taken out of context, misunderstood, misinterpreted, or misused. Hopefully the Christians doing so don’t know that they’re doing so. But sadly, there are Christians who don’t care. If they can get a scripture to justify their opinions, then they feel entitled to use it to condemn others. This is not new. It’s been happening since the first Christians. Paul had to address it to the Roman Christians.

Romans 14:14-19 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master[a] that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess[b] to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

In a nutshell, Some Christians were condemning other Christians for breaking the law. They used the Old Testament and years of tradition to back them up. Other Christians were condemning those who were still living under the law instead of in the freedom Christ provided. They used Paul’s letters to other churches (they didn’t have the New Testament yet, but some of the letters Paul wrote were already circulating between groups of Christians) to back up their opinion.

Galatians 4:21:26 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

Galatians 5:1  For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and so not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Sound familiar? Christians fighting Christians, each using the Bible to condemn the other? I could think of numerous examples just by looking at doctrinal differences between denominations. But I also see it outside the lines of denomination. One huge example is how Trump followers use the Bible to condemn Biden followers, and Biden followers use it to condemn Trump followers. Or how Republicans and Democrats are using the Bible to justify their own side and condemn the other.

Both groups are using the Bible to defend their opinions, just like those Christians in Rome. And both groups are missing the bigger picture. 

God’s message has been clear since Genesis. Love Him. Love each other. Live in peace with each other.

Matthew 22:35-40  35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Isaiah 32:15-18 until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.  

Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

The Roman Christians showed in their fighting that they were using the Bible for their own agendas.

Paul, a disciple, showed that he had read the Bible and was responding using that lens. He knew the bigger picture. (Reread his letter to the Romans quoted above if you are guilty of reading familiar Scriptures like I do – skimming through them because I think I already know what they say.)

As disciples, we are not called to use the Bible. We are called to read it. How would our families, our work places, our stores, our roads, our leisure activities, our churches, our communities be different if we began reading the Bible instead of using it? If we lived as disciples instead of Christians?

I think it’s time to find out.

Part 4: Truth (Christian But Not series)

Summary of previous posts in this series:

Christian: a person who has anything to do with Christ

Disciple: a person who is totally committed to following Jesus and all He said

Jesus did not call us to be Christians. He called us to be disciples.

Christians today, for the most part, are just that – Christians. And that causes a lot of confusion. So many beliefs. Some many values. So many behaviors. So many life styles. So many pointing fingers. Wouldn’t you think a group of people who all follow the same Man would have the same beliefs? Or at least very similar ones?  

Everyone thinks that what they believe is the truth, and most are willing to fight for their beliefs. They argue and judge and condemn others, whether done quietly behind their backs, publically on social media, or violently in riots and protests. And yes, I’m still talking about Christians.

Every Christian thinks they know the truth. Yet one person’s truth is different than another person’s truth. The culture in which we live thinks that’s fine. Everyone is entitled to live their own truth. But what happens with truths collide? What happens when your truth interferes with my truth? What do we teach our children when I believe the world is round and you believe the world is flat? I guess we could leave it up to our children to decide what they want to believe, because it’s not a life or death decision. But things can get much more complex. What if I believed people with green hair were parasitic deviants and needed to be destroyed? What if you had green hair? What if you believed your green hair made you superior? Would my truth allow me to kill you – or would your truth top my truth? Who gets to live their truth?

I did a little research hoping to learn more about truth, but closed my browser more confused than ever. There are numerous theories about what truth is, most of which made my brain hurt, but I did understand a few.

Consensus Truth: what a group of people agree on.

 Constructivist Theory: what society constructs as truth (“perceptions of truth are viewed as contingent on convention, human perception, and social experience”, Wikipedia).

 Correspondence Theory: Truth is determined by how it relates to the world and whether it accurately describes that world.

Even major religions have their own definitions of truth.

In Hinduism, truth is something that is unchangeable, has no distortion, goes beyond distinctions of time, space, and person, and pervades the universe. In this definition, the human body is not true because it changes over time.

In Buddhism, truth is divided into relative/conventional truth and ultimate/absolute truth. Relative truth is based on common understanding, while ultimate truth “transcends logic in the sphere of ordinary experience, and recognized such phenomena as illusory”. I’m not sure I know what that really means. But I understood the example given – political law is relative while religious law is absolute.

My conclusion? The truth about truth is that no one really knows or agrees on what it is. Again, everyone has their theory, but their theories disagree with each other. And thus the confusion we see all around us as people claim their own truths to be the Truth to support their views and behavior.

How does a community function with so many conflicting truths? How do we as members of the Christian church work this out? I don’t think we can. With as many truths as there are groups of people, clashes are unavoidable. It’s not like we can all agree to disagree and move on with our lives. Too many of those truths are incompatible with other truths. They simple can’t co-exist. For example, abortion. We can’t both legalize it and illegalize it. Someone’s truth must rise above the other, or the fighting will never end.

I don’t have the answer (just in case you’re wondering).

But I know someone who does.

Jesus wasn’t confused. He knew truth – because He was the Truth.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

I know for non-Christians, this is just one more truth theory. However, for Christians this should settle most disputes. But Christian doesn’t mean much anymore. Christians disagree with each other, and they even disagree with Jesus. (That makes my brain hurt too.)

However, disciples are different. Disciples are the ones who have voluntarily committed to following Jesus and ALL that He said. Not just what they agree with. Not just what makes sense to them. Not just what is convenient. Not just what lines up with or fits into their corner of American culture. As disciples, they have given themselves completely to the teachings of Jesus, giving up their opinions for His.

In other words, disciples have given up their truths for His Truth. So must we if we want to answer His call to be His disciples. Whatever doesn’t match with what He says, we must toss away. Jesus’ Truth is absolute. Unchangeable. Without distortion. Outside of times and places. (kind of like the Hindus believe). His Truth is Truth for all and for always. No more confusion. No more debates. No more fights. We will be free from all that. In fact He said in John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

So I guess maybe I do have the answer after all. We Christians need to be disciples. To be what Jesus called us to be, not what we made for ourselves. We need to do things His way if we want live in peace with each other as He intended. And if we do this… if we become disciples… if we really lived every moment of our lives submissive to the His words… to accept His truth as THE TRUTH… the world would see a completely different church. The world would see what Jesus meant for us to be – the physical manifestation of His body, His hands and feet, and His heart. And maybe, just maybe, they would be drawn to the One who loved them so much He died for them.

But here’s the kicker. We can’t wait for the rest of the Christians to get on board the Disciple train as an excuse not to get on ourselves. We can’t point our fingers at them, and not point at ourselves. Jesus didn’t call groups of people when He called His first disciples. He called them one by one, and by name.

Guess what? Jesus knows your name, too. And He’s calling you. Can you hear Him? I can because He’s calling me, too.  

I think it’s time to answer Him. It’s time to accept His word as Truth; to give up our truths for His.

I know what my answer is. Do you know yours?

Part 3: What is a Disciple? (Christian But Not series)

Over the years, the name Christian has become associated with anyone who has anything to do with Christ. As long as a person professes belief in Christ, that person is considered a Christian regardless of what else he or she believes, and many times, what he or she does. That’s why Christians can be found on both sides of any controversial issue. Politics, social issues, religious views – even abortion stands. Christian can mean anything because the Bible doesn’t define it.

The good news is – we don’t have to define it because Jesus didn’t call us to be Christians. He called us to be disciples.

A disciple, according to online dictionaries, is a student or learner who adheres completely to the teachings of another, making them his rule of life and conduct. A Christian disciple is someone who fully commits to Jesus as Lord.

Some churches – some people – believe that a disciple is a Christian who had made a higher level of commitment to Jesus than other Christians. This makes it sound like there are two acceptable standards of commitment. However, Jesus only had one standard. He called us to a life of wholehearted discipleship to Him.

When we are committed, we follow Jesus’ teachings and we surrender all of our opinions to His opinions. When He is Lord we seek to live as He lived. It’s like the difference between scrambled eggs and bacon: the chicken is involved; the pig is committed.

 Jesus warned this wouldn’t be easy. He talked about the high cost of being His disciple. He warned that being His disciple would make us stand out from the world around us. He said we would be opposed, rejected, persecuted, and even put to death. He said we would be treated just like the world treated Him. And that wasn’t good.

If we’re not seeing that in our lives, maybe it’s because we’re not disciples. Maybe we have left the teachings of Jesus for the teachings of the world. We may have unknowingly – or knowingly – adopted the world’s ways, values, and beliefs as our own. We may have mixed them in with those of Jesus. We may have even completely replaced some of Jesus’ ways with them.

Why?

To indulge our own desires? Because of ignorance of God’s word? Out of fear of being labeled or judged? To avoid conflict or offense? Because it’s easier or more convenient? To fit in with those around us? To be accepted as one of the crowd?

Whatever the reason, Paul called what we have done ‘becoming friends with the world’.

James 4:4  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Hard words to be sure.

Here’s a comparison between Christian (believer) and Disciple that I found on a website called davidcannistraci.org.

How are disciples different from believers?

1.  THE CROSS: Believer look to the cross. A Disciple pick up the cross(Matthew 16:22-24).

2.  OBEDIENCE: A Believer obeys God if it’s convenient. A Disciple obeys no matter the outcome.

3.  DECISIONS:ABeliever decides once, A Disciple decides daily.

4.  FOCUS: Believers focus on eternal life, A Disciple focus on eternal rewards.

5.  PRAYER: A Believer prays when things get tough. A Disciple prays no matter the circumstance.

6.  SCRIPTURE: A Believer twists the Bible to fit his or her lifestyle. A Disciple works to make his or her lifestyle resemble the teachings of the Bible.

7.  ETERNAL IMPACT: Believers make heaven.  Disciples make history.

http://www.davidcannistraci.org/news/2016/2/23/seven-ways-disciples-are-different-than-believers

I have to admit for too many of the 40+ years since I encountered Jesus, I was a Christian. I loved Jesus, and grew in my relationship with Him, but when His words were hard to follow, I chose to ignore them and lived as I thought best. He loved me, and I knew I was secure in His hands, but I chose my way over His more times than I want to remember.

I still do. Am I’m heartbroken over that.

Jesus died for me. He gave up everything for me. And yet, I only give Him what’s convenient. Is that enough? Is it enough to return my husband’s love and commitment to me with a half-hearted commitment to him?

Did God ever say that was enough?

He didn’t in the Old Testament.

Joshua 22:5 Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses, the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

And He didn’t in the New Testament.

Mark 12:30  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

So why do we Christians think that is enough now?


Luke 14:25-33   Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?  For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish. Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Mark 8:34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

John 15:18-21  “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me

Deut 6:4-15 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.  You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.

Linda’s Paraphrase: Hear, O Christians: There is only one God. Love the Him with all your heart (total commitment) and with all your soul (what you think) and with all your might (energy, focus). Keep His words foremost in your heart always. Teach them to your children. Talk about them day and night as a part of everything you do. Put up post it notes and memory cards throughout your house. And when God answers your prayers – when you are living with His blessings which you didn’t earn – be careful not to forget who gave them to you. It is God you shall fear, not man. Him and only Him shall you serve. Don’t go after the ways and loves of the world around you – for the God in you is a jealous God – lest He get angry and destroy you.

Part 2: What is a Christian? Are you one? (Christian But Not series)

In Part 1, I looked at the word ‘Christian’ and at what the first Christians called themselves (which was not ‘Christian’).  I summarized saying a Christian was someone who followed Jesus, spent time learning what Jesus taught, identified with others who were doing the same, believed they were set apart by or for God from the rest of the world, and were trustworthy and faithful in living what they believed.

I guess I still believe that. But there’s a problem with this definition. It’s still too vague. And there are many self-identified Christians who fit part but not all of it. Is that enough? Is that what Jesus wanted?

I just listened to a sermon by Andy Stanley in which he did – in a far superior way – what I’m attempting to do. His message “Christian” was amazing and I encourage everyone to listen to it. https://northpoint.org/messages/christian/brand-recognition

In this blog, I want to focus on what the first Christians called themselves. Like I said, it was not “Christian”. The name Christian was given to them by others and was derogatory. Kind of like it is now, only we give it to ourselves. And we’ve earned that reputation.

So what did the first followers of Jesus call themselves? And more importantly, what did Jesus call them?

I heard that the most common term was “disciple” but I wanted to see for myself. So I did a search using Bible Gateway. I subtracted the terms that were included in subtitles. The numbers vary between versions of the Bible. I’ve included a few popular versions for comparison.

 ESVKJVNASBNIV
Christian3333
Disciple ( found only in the Gospels and in Acts)247255255279
believer1421550
saint6562610
Brethren*022900
Brother*325109323275
* included in subtitles, also includes natural brothers, such as Matt 10:2  The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother.

Results: “Brother” and “Disciple” were used a lot more often than any other terms. Since “Brother” included natural relationships as well as referring to Christ-followers, which would make the numbers much lower than “Disciple” if we subtracted them (anyone with more time than I have is welcome to do the math), I would say that the winner is…

Disciple

That’s what Jesus called us to be.

In my next blog, we look into what a disciple is, as found in the NT, and compare it to what Christian means to us today.