Christian vs. Christ-follower

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Tonight I want us to forget the “quality” question. Just ditch it. It’s not going anywhere, so we have plenty of time to discuss it. I want to look at what’s in you instead.

Please don’t notice me saying this here. I’m not what’s important here, and that should go without saying, but I’m afraid it often doesn’t (and it hasn’t this time now either). If you want to look at me, look at my words. Those aren’t me either, but they should tell you all you need to know. Actions speak, as Ted Haggard and Mike Jones can tell you. Both men claim Christianity, and Mike Jones may very well be a Christian, but neither have been very good Christ-followers of late. I’m not pointing fingers; my sins stand equally damning and I don’t deny my own shortcomings. But this isn’t about me, or even Ted or Mike. This is about you, and more specifically, who’s in you.

When the hypocrites questioned Jesus, he told them to look at his actions. “Don’t look at me,” he said. “Look at my actions. Look at who’s working through me. That’s proof of who I am. That’s what makes me who I am. Don’t see me; see through me.”

The famous artist Paul Klee said we have to learn to look past the surface to get to the root of things. His paintings used multiple symbols that evoked visceral, sometimes primal responses in their simple suggestion. When an artist does his job, no one sees him.

As Sol Stein says, the work of editing is to remove the author so completely that the work can connect directly with the reader. If you do your job, you’ll become invisible. Your voice is there, but it’s not obtrusive. You want to slip behind the curtain, become irrelevant.

God’s work in our lives makes us subservient. It isn’t for our own benefit; it’s for others. For the ultimate end of serving God and bringing him glory, we are bought, redeemed, transformed, and then murdered. That’s right. Poured out, emptied of any personal identity.

Yes, all of this is leading somewhere.

But please don’t hear this as my message. Look past. I can’t say what I’m trying to say if you see me, praise me, call my attention away and undermine my aim. My goal is humility, but your attention could undo me. I graciously deflect, thank, but escape before pride tempts me into duplicity.

This is a difference between Christian and Christ-follower (maybe not THE difference, but certainly a big difference): that so much about “Christianity” has become agenda-driven, self-focused, and forceful. Yet so much about following Christ is about losing all personal agenda, being last, giving up our very lives. Christians may aim to seek God and his agenda, but the connotations, associations and misappropriations seem to twist the word into a separate identity somehow. As a Christ-follower, there is less confusion.

Whether or not the word Christian has become irreversibly corrupted, the relevance for us as writers should be obvious. Rather than focusing on our agenda, our own hopes for a better world, better nation, better industry, we need to forget our own ambitions and stop trying to take matters into our own hands (whether we say it’s for God or not). In our lives as in our words, our strength is in weakness. Our power is in the absence of force. Meek and humble. Lest any of us should boast.

You have the opportunity to direct people’s attention. You write and use words to create meaning and draw attention toward particular thoughts. What are you drawing people’s minds and hearts toward? Are you a candy bar or a compass? Are people bettered by your words?

Are you a Christian or a Christ-follower? Is it about you and your words, or is it about the Word you are following?

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20 thoughts on “Christian vs. Christ-follower”

  1. Mick: “Is it about you and your words, or is it about the Word you are following?”
    It’s always all about Him. Here’s how I explain it:
    It’s about death to self, abandonment to God through Jesus, study and application of Scripture, obedience to His purposes for my life, and ultimately, glorifying God. So I’d say it’s about sealing His Word in my heart so I can write Him into my words.

  2. We’re studying Luke in Sunday School and Sunday the passage included the end of Luke 14 where Jesus talks about the cost of discipleship.
    Then you said this:
    “God’s work in our lives makes us subservient. It isn’t for our own benefit; it’s for others. For the ultimate end of serving God and bringing him glory, we are bought, redeemed, transformed, and then murdered. That’s right. Poured out, emptied of any personal identity.”
    God doesn’t have to hit me over the head with a brick, but sometimes it helps. :/
    Good hard words I needed to hear. Thanks.

  3. You sidetracked me with that song. I almost forgot to come back to comment.
    You said: “Christians may aim to seek God and his agenda”
    As if we know what His “agenda” is. I learned that lesson the hard way. Hard enough that I haven’t even been able to write about it yet and since writing has been my sanity for my whole life, I’m at a crossroads. Do I write it and risk someone finding it someday? Because it is just too much for me to risk. At the same time, He has already whispered a title in my ear and told me, “Write.”
    To pretend that I know why He wants me to write it or why He chose me or what He’s going to do with it is absurd. How can one set out to write something saying they know how it will be used? I don’t understand the logic.

  4. Okay, mister. First you write, “I can’t say what I’m trying to say if you see me, praise me, call my attention away and undermine my aim. My goal is humility, but your attention could undo me.” Then you tell us to go introspective. No fair, meanie-cat.
    Like humility, true Christ-following precludes self-consciousness. It demands setting our eyes on Jesus and leaving ourselves severely alone. I realize your intentions are good. You’re trying to get us to walk a razor’s edge–to find out if we’re building on rock or sand without becoming too enamored with our own house plans. But I find myself unable to answer beyond this: Jesus is worthy. With His help, I will follow, trusting that He’ll correct me if I stray into candy-bar land.
    It’s so hard not to crave and thrive on the approval of others. “Let another man praise you.” “Let her works praise her.” “Her children rise up and call her blessed.” Etc. We all love appreciation and confirmation that lets us know we’re on track, but, as you say, this kind of feedback often undermines our efforts to flee self-centered motivation. To complicate matters further, the greatest works are done secretly in prayer, so no one but the Father knows where the fruit originated this side of eternity.
    As soon as I’m determined that men know I was the one who prayed, I’ve tossed my crown in the mud. Heck, as soon as I bring the crown into the equation at all, I’ve lost focus.
    The best way I know to test my own heart is the presence or absence of unruffled peace. If I’m bothered by rejection or not receiving credit for something I’ve done, if I’m jealous of another’s success, if interruptions to my plans ruin my day, then I’m not dead to self. The answer isn’t more introspection. It’s repentance and worship and remembering that I was created for His pleasure and to accomplish His works–and that fulfilling His plan may never put me on anyone’s admiration map. If I can truly be content without any promises beyond His “well done,” then I will have arrived, and all the other answers will take care of themselves.
    (Was that a good comment? Huh? Huh? Did you like it??? Hmmm. Guess I haven’t arrived yet.)

  5. Very interesting. I was not raised a “Christian” so I think I see the entire “culture of Christianity” a bit differently than those raised in the church.
    And now that I am a mom, and raising my kids in the church, I don’t want them to take the light (that is Jesus Christ)for granted because they wear some label. Labels mean nothing because in the end many will say “Lord, Lord did we not do this and this in your name” and He will say depart from me. I want to impress upon my kids that following Christ isn’t some choice we made, but a choice we make every single day.
    I am probably one of those who thinks the overuse and misuse of the word Christian has been so diluted that it is practically meaningless today. As my kids begin to ask questions about whether those people around us are Christians, they tend to ask like this: “Mama, do they love God?” I like this because it points beyond believing, beyond labels and gets to the very heart of the issue – Do they love God? Do they follow Him?
    So I love that idea of being a “Christ-follower” rather than Christian…it’s really all I want to be. And what I long for my children to become more and more each day…

  6. Jeanne wrote, “The best way I know to test my own heart is the presence or absence of unruffled peace.” Jeanne, I love that. Unruffled peace. Lord, I pray for that. That peace that transcends all understanding.
    I want to be someone who glorifies God. God, for some odd reason, has decided to rest his reputation on us. Craziness. But I am how the world knows God. Yikes.
    But here’s the thing, I don’t want to lose the term “Christians.” I don’t want to separate myself from this group that was first called Christian in Antioch 2000 years ago. Actually, to be honest, I do. I want to separate myself from them because sometimes I don’t like them. But I can’t separate myself from them. “I can’t live, with or without you,” as Bono sang.
    Terms aren’t usually a big thing for me. Change them for communication. I live in a low-context Western world that believes that the responsibility rests on the speaker, not the listener. It is my responsiblity to help the listener understand Christ’s message, so change whatever terms. But “Christian”? Now, I understand that negative connotations have pasted themselves to this word because of the deeds of the church. But people have also died because they took on this name. I don’t want to dishonor them. Just because I don’t like how most North Americans act doesn’t mean I can stop being a North American. Let me reflect what I want the world to see as “Christian.” Oy. That’s a responsibility.

  7. Jeanne wrote: “If I can truly be content without any promises beyond His “well done,” then I will have arrived, and all the other answers will take care of themselves.”
    I think we’ll all “arrive” here at the same time…or at least in the same place (on the other side of this life).
    Until then, I’ll keep my eye out for that unruffled peace. In my human experience, that peace has often been accompanied by an unsettled heart. Perhaps this is God’s reminder that there’s some distance yet to travel.

  8. mick,
    very interesting question. i’ve watched feigned humility and seen it look just as bad as someone who wants the praise. the denial of the facts, yes you are an artist. yes you did have a hand in creating a mighty fine work. it is not a sin to say thank you. and leave it at that. i think that has been the hard part for me. when people gush, as people will gush, i gush, too., but when people gush, remembering it is okay to say thank you for playing your rightful and necessary part in this act of creation. popping out literary lovechildren is something after all (roethke). but wanting it, hungering it, it is probably much like meth. it may taste so good you get hooked and end up with a mouth full of black gums and rotted teeth. (isn’t that an image.)
    the big dealio for me is and always will be balance. i’m learning as artists we can position ourselves and our performances in ways that we do not get lifted up. or praised. but appreciation is another thing entirely. and there is a place for that, too.
    deshchidn out.

  9. My upfront apologies if this offends anyone or rocks any of your worlds, but these parodies of the Mac vs. PC commercials on being a “Christian” vs. a “Christ Follower” were too hard to pass up in light of this post…
    If the URL below doesn’t work go to You Tube and type in “Christian vs. Christ Follower” Four have been made so far. All focus on different “divisions” within the church in a poignant, while admittedly tongue in cheek, kind of way.
    Keep in mind that I’m not inviting debate. Rather, my aim is to show that we aren’t the only ones thinking and talking about this issue. Enjoy…

  10. “Rather than focusing on our agenda, our own hopes for a better world, better nation, better industry, we need to forget our own ambitions and stop trying to take matters into our own hands (whether we say it’s for God or not). In our lives as in our words, our strength is in weakness. Our power is in the absence of force. Meek and humble. Lest any of us should boast.”
    Great post! “In our lives as in our words, our strength is in weakness.”
    I hadn’t heard that song by Vertical Horizon in a long time. It’s funny but I’ve always related it to God regardless of what their intention was in writing the song.

  11. Maybe the terminology is really Christianity vs. *Church*ianity? I prefer to think so. But I get your point, for sure. If Christians pray to be *filled* or totally yielded, anyway, to the Holy Spirit within, He will make a difference. Since doing that, “I’m not what I want to be, not what I ought to be, but I’m also not what I was.” There’s deeper joy and motivation to be what Jesus wants me to be, and more regret when I’m not. : )

  12. Excellent post, Mick.
    I agree with others who’ve posted here that the name “Christian” has in many ways lost its meaning and as the name goes, so do we. “Christ-follower” is more apt but it doesn’t fall off the tongue as nicely. It’s too bad we lost the long “i” in “Christian.” It stole away the very sound of His name. It would be refreshing, wouldn’t it, to be Christ-ians instead of Criss Chins. Or Christ-ish. If we could just start over and keep the name pure, perhaps we’d follow suit. . .

  13. So you want us to shoot the messenger?! :-( !! Just kidding.
    However, the thing that makes your words meaningful and real is you. Your heart sound resonating through them. If we can listen and watch you and see those words come to life, practiced, and upheld, we develop a trust in both you and the words you speak. I’m not talking flaky admiration here. I’m talking about the respect factor for a person who walks the talk. Jesus walked the talk, performed the miraculous deeds, explained that those who observed “us” would know us by our fruit if we followed Him. The Pharisees detested Him because He lived it. The jealousy and pride ate them up–they didn’t want to live it. They wanted to live their version of it which made everyone else subservient to them and made their words untrustworthy.
    Jesus is The Word. In a smaller case (like way smaller but still representative) we are our words as well–we either live it or we don’t. At some point in our lives, the concessions and compromises we make to our faith are going to come up against judgment. Are we who we SAY we are? Are our words real and valuable? Christian or Christ-follower? A person can call himself whatever he chooses and fail just the same.
    The messenger is important because he delivers an important message, at least in your case.

  14. Mick wrote: “God’s work in our lives makes us subservient. It isn’t for our own benefit; it’s for others. For the ultimate end of serving God and bringing him glory, we are bought, redeemed, transformed, and then murdered. That’s right. Poured out, emptied of any personal identity.”
    Yes, this is God’s work in our lives, erasing us from the work to bring Himself glory. But I am troubled by the implications of being “…emptied of any personal identity.” I get it—it’s all God. Not me. Not you.
    And yet, isn’t a big part of this story for you and me—this excavation of a God-given gift—all about that personal identity? Do we not see God and his work in the uniqueness of these identities and the voices in which they speak as well as in that “ultimate end of…bringing God glory”? Who is Paul (and what can God say through him) without his “Paul-ness”—his bold, brash voice and a message that leans precariously close at times to focusing on Paul himself rather than God? And who is David (and what can God say through him) without his grievous sins and repentance and poetic gift and all of those things that make him such a powerful and unique example of what it means to be a “man after God’s own heart”?
    I suppose this all leads back to that “dying to self” thing. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is one of those rich, complex, impossible-but-for-God’s-help paradoxes that requires us to actually know our unique, God-breathed identity in order to be able to die to it. I wonder if it’s not a matter of writing and disappearing beneath the words so God can speak unobstructed through you or me, but instead, a matter of wrestling daily with who God created us to be and what He wants us to say and writing those words. Perhaps it’s about allowing God to speak not only “past the surface,” but also through the very unique aspects of us which then show not only God’s glory apart from man, but God’s glory in and through His creation—through these fleshy vessels that display His creativity and His love to a world that needed flesh to make sense of God in the first place.
    Or maybe all of these theological wrestling matches going on inside my head these days are just a precursor to a more complete unraveling and I’ll be working out my salvation in a white padded room before the weekend is through.

  15. Wow. God is good. Something that’s been on my mind a lot the last couple of years. And this post goes so well with a comment on a program I saw on TV yesterday. It was a show about angels. Near the end of the show one of the ‘experts’ said that one of the things wrong with people’s perceptions concerning angels was their focus on what angels could do for them. Angels were created for God as best I can tell, though the do intervene in our lives at time. Always at God’s command though. So much of Christianity today is me focused or other focused when it’s really supposed to be God focused.I think maybe Max Lucado has said it best in his book, “It’s Not About Me”. That title alone speaks volumes.

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