During this Pentecost Season we have considered the birthday of the Church’s power, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the unique fellowship that came into being following the Pentecost event. The Holy Spirit also bestowed spiritual gifts on the followers of Jesus, and in this post I want us to recognize a very important biblical truth: all gifts of the Spirit are given to be used in full-time Christian service.
Suffice it to say, there is no such thing as “part-time” Christian service for those who have responded positively to Christ’s call to discipleship. To be sure, there are those whose names are on the membership rolls of our churches who are not engaged in “full-time” service for our Lord, but we could hardly consider them “disciples” of Christ. The word “disciple” in the New Testament comes from a Greek word that literally means “follower” – one who follows his master, one who is being taught by another, one who is a “learner” or “student.” It is also the same word from which we derive the English word “discipline,” and those who have answered the call of Jesus, “Follow me,” are expected to take the disciplines of the Christian life seriously, rather than settling for what has been called “easy believism” or “cheap grace,” a less costly brand of Christianity. Someone has suggested that too many contemporary Christians have been inoculated with “a mild form of Christianity, and are now immune to the real thing.”
In all honesty we must readily admit that there are many who have responded positively to the questions that are asked when anyone makes a profession of faith and becomes a member of Christ’s Church, including this question or one very similar: “Do you promise to be Christ’s faithful follower to your life’s end?,” but are they really “followers of Jesus”? They will tell you they are “Christians,” because Christianity is their religious preference. It would be wonderful if there was no distinction between the common title “Christian”, and that descriptive phrase “follower of Jesus”, but we know there is often a tragically sharp disparity between the two designations. There are many nominal Christians who participate in worship, even with some degree of regularity on the Lord’s Day, but in their public life, and even in their private life, there is very little to distinguish them from the average run of decent pagans. You would never suspect by their conversation and conduct that they are “Christians.” It would be difficult to find anything about their lifestyle that cannot be explained apart from Jesus Christ. Surely we can agree that there should be something.
It comes as a surprise to many to discover that the first believers in apostolic times did not even call themselves “Christians.” That is a title that was bestowed on those of “The Way,” for Jesus had called Himself “the Way” and those who believed in Him were given that designation. The first time they were called “Christians” was in Antioch (Acts of the Apostles, chapter 11, verse 26); it was a title bestowed on the disciples by the pagan world, a title of derision and scorn: “These people are ‘Christians,’ religious fanatics who believe a crucified carpenter named Jesus was the Christ, the Savior, who could not even save himself!” The disciples, and other believers in the Early Church, did not call themselves “Christians.” They called themselves “followers of Jesus.” They also called themselves “saints” (i.e. “believers”). They called themselves “brothers and sisters in Christ.”
I am not suggesting that we do away with the title “Christian.” It has become an honorable title through the centuries. However, I am suggesting that it is a title that has fallen among thieves, for it has been stripped and robbed of its original meaning, when it was applied to those first believers who were willing to be scorned, ridiculed, persecuted, beaten, stoned, imprisoned, and even martyred for their faith and allegiance to Jesus Christ – and for the millions through the centuries since then who have endured persecution and martyrdom, rather than denying Jesus and bowing the knee to other gods (little “g”). We are “..surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” who lived by faith, and also died by faith (Hebrews 11 and 12:1), because they knew there was no “part-time” participation in the Lord’s service, and no price was too great for them to pay as proof of their superlative love for Jesus, and their supreme loyalty to Him, as the Lord of their lives forever.
Therefore, I am not asking if you consider yourself a “Christian.” I am asking, “Do you believe you are a follower of Jesus?” Furthermore, I am asking, “Are you using the gifts God has given you for His glory, for the honor of Christ, in the service of others? Do you believe you have been called to “full-time” Christian service, or have you settled for a less costly and more comfortable brand of Christianity that only requires occasional church attendance, when you can share in the singing of hymns, participate in the unison readings, join in praying the Lord’s Prayer, and place your gift in the offering plate when it is passed – habits which give you a sense of having done your “Christian duty.” You can then speak to the pastor at the close of worship, leave the sanctuary, go back home, return to your job among the vocations of our common life during the work week, giving little or no thought to living a consistent and contagious Christian life wherever you are day by day, never wondering how you can fulfill your calling to be a faithful servant of your Servant Lord on a “full-time” basis.
The Season of Pentecost is an excellent time for taking such a spiritual inventory, considering how you are investing your time and using the spiritual gifts God has given you, remembering that all gifts of the Holy Spirit are given for service, “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (i.e. all those chosen and called by Christ for full-time Christian discipleship in the Church and in the world), living as “children of light” in a world where so many still “…love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil” (Ephesians 4:1-12, 5:8-17, 6:10-16; John 3:19). Let us remember the admonition of our Lord, whose we are and whom we are called to follow: “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (John 5:14-16).