In Acts 9:2 Saul seeks to persecute anyone who followed the Way (the NLT reads ‘followers of the Way) and this brings up the point of today’s discussion. In the span of my life, all short forty eight years of it, I have met many people who claim to be “Christians”. They claim, usually in bold letters, to follow Christ. I’ve seen bumper stickers and t-shirts, badges, yellow page ads, videos, public proclamations, hats, metal fish, symbols on bank checks, rusty and shiny square nails, wooden/metal/glass/plastic crosses, signs, flags, and even tattoos. Rarely have I seen a life submitted to Christ. I realize that longwinded sentence sounds really judgmental. Interestingly, it is usually followed by someone saying not to judge. Yet scripture teaches I will know a tree by its fruit. I could go on about this, but I’d rather continue in the vein I started with.
When did the term ‘Christian’ come into the public sphere? According to the book of Acts, (Acts 11:26 to be precise), it was in Antioch where believers were first called ‘Christians’. Prior to this, as I started with, Christians were called ‘followers of the Way’ (Acts 9:2). You might be wondering what the big deal is with this… What am I talking about? Doesn’t it mean the same thing? Yep, I’m pretty sure it does mean the same thing: Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. So to be a Christian is to be a follower of the Way. The difference, if there is one, is in how my brain chooses to think of these descriptions.
If I think of myself as a ‘Christian’, I find myself spreading out a laundry list of objectives. I start checking to see if my internal motivations are aligned with Christ. In short, I find myself checking things off of a list, i.e. I become religious and act accordingly. Have I been good? Am I helping others? Have I been honest? Am I demonstrating the fruit of the spirit? It almost feels works based, and yet I know that no amount of my work will do anything meaningful. In defining myself as a Christian I might start to think that I’m done… done changing, done asking, done seeking, done knocking… Didn’t Christ say “it is finished”?
If, however, I am a follower of the Way, I find myself less likely to check things off a list and more likely to simply ask Jesus for my instructions right now, in every situation. I know this will likely not apply to all of you, and perhaps it’s just a reminder for me. When I start thinking of myself as a ‘Christian’ it’s like I have arrived. My destination is complete. But, if I maintain my status as ‘a follower of the Way’ I remain as a work in progress changing daily, never finished. Paul said he keeps running the race set before him – and alluded to a crown at the finish line. I pray we remain in the race and not be fooled into thinking it’s already done.
Scriptures to ponder: