What is a Christian? A Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ, and a disciple of Jesus Christ is a follower of Jesus Christ. A follower of Jesus Christ is an active worshiper of Jesus Christ as a part of His community in a local gathering of fellow disciples of Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, many professing Christians don’t seem to understand this truth. This is why some Christians describe themselves by using qualifiers, such as “born-again” Christian, which is redundant, or “true” Christian, which is unnecessary yet can seem fitting when nominal Christianity is so prevalent. Yet these are meaningless distinctions, for there is only one kind of Christian. It’s not as though some Christians are “born-again” Christians and others are “not born-again” Christians. One is either a Christian or not a Christian. One either trusts, follows, and worships Christ or is an unbeliever. Faith alone in Jesus Christ alone leads to a life of following Christ, repenting at the foot of the cross, and bearing fruit by the power of the Holy Spirit. If there is no demonstrable fruit, even the fruit of repentance, there is no genuine faith and no genuine Christianity. It’s true, of course, that Christians can fall into grievous sins, but they never fall away fully or finally—they always eventually repent and are restored.
Christians identify not only as Christians but also as disciples of Jesus Christ, and their lives bear this identity out—not perfectly but repentantly. Christians, in fact, are the first ones to admit that they’re sinners, for that is one of the chief qualifications for becoming members of the church of Jesus Christ. To confess that we are sinners who are trusting in Christ alone for our salvation is fundamental to being a Christian.
Just as Jesus called His first disciples to follow Him, so every Christian is called to discipleship. And discipleship is a life, not a program in the church or being busily engaged in church activities and duties. One of my mentors has often said that there’s a difference between making busy church workers and making disciples. Ministries, classes, small groups, and programs can help us in our discipleship, but such activities do not define what a disciple is. These activities also should not displace the primary means of discipleship—the ministry of the preached Word, the sacraments, and prayer in corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. God promises to work through those ordinary means of grace to form and fortify disciples of Jesus Christ.