Tag Archives: Christology

What Does a True Follower of Jesus Look Like?

How can you identify a real Christian? What are the marks of a genuine Christian?

Mark Dever is famous for his list of “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.” Others, including the Protestant reformers, produced lists of marks of the “true church.” (A church can be unhealthy but still true, so the latter lists are shorter.)

But I am asking primarily about the individual, not the group: How can you identify who truly belongs to Jesus?

There are many good, biblical ways to ask and answer this question. What does Christian mean, anyway? The term was first used in the ancient Syrian city of Antioch, and it appears that unbelievers were the ones who coined it. According to commentator Ben Witherington III, the term Christians (Χριστιανοι) in its original historical context meant “those belonging to, identified with, or adherents or followers of Christ.” (Pardon his poor grammar!) So in this post I’ll frame it this way: What does a true follower of Jesus look like?

I was motivated to ask this question because our little church gathering here in West Lake, Atlanta goes by the name of Followers of Jesus Church Atlanta (FJCA). Since we chose to bear that name, I decided I should examine the New Testament more closely to see whom we are supposed to be!

I shared my findings with our church and we discussed them together. Now I’ll share them with you.

First, some clarifications.

What follows is not a summary of the gospel. If it was, I’d need to be clearer on the work of Jesus.

Nor is it a description of the church. If it was, I’d need to discuss things like leadership and decision-making.

Some might fault this list because it focuses strongly on behavior. But this is a natural result of simply reading how the Bible, Jesus in particular, describes followers of Jesus. They are certainly people who believe certain things—and my list begins with belief, even if it doesn’t use the traditional language of faith. But they are also people who act, or at least ought to act, in certain ways. Again, this focus on behavior is because I am aiming to describe not the gospel itself, but a primary fruit of the gospel—people who are changed to follow Jesus.

This list is not intended to be comprehensive. It began with a simple concordance search for “follow.” Immediately several central themes (suffering for Jesus, selfless love, etc.) became clear. Though I expanded my search, there are too many related concepts to have found all the relevant biblical data. I did try to throw a wide net—sometimes perhaps too wide—but I realize now that even some basic concepts like repentance and faith could be strengthened. I expect I’ll update this list from time to time.

Lastly, perhaps this list would be better titled “marks of healthy followers of Jesus,” since no one follower exhibits all these qualities perfectly.

Read my summary paragraphs after each heading. Compare my summary statements with the Scriptures that follow. Perhaps you’ll find Jesus’ call to follow as challenging as I did!

Marks of True Followers of Jesus

Suffering witness: Jesus’s followers bear confident witness to his true identity as fully God and fully man—the Son of God, the promised Messiah-Christ-King, the Lamb of God who saves us from our sin, and the risen, ruling Son of Man. These followers are so devoted to Jesus that they willingly suffer for his sake, leaving all—possessions, family, and honor—for the sake of Jesus and the eternal rewards of his kingdom.

They bear witness of Jesus and his kingdom to each other, to the watching world, and to all of creation. They bear witness by word and action, by their gathered worship and their daily lives, and ultimately by their deaths.

In this way Jesus’ followers honor his greatest commandment—to love God with all our being.

Matt. 4:19; 16:15-17; 28:18-20; John 1:35-49; 6:66-69; 10:4-5, 27; 15:26-27;  1 Cor. 11:23-26; Col. 3:16-17; Rev 14:1-5; Matt 4:18-22; 8:19-22; 9:9; 10:37-39; 16:24-26; 19:21-23; Mark 8:34-37; 10:28-30; Luke 5:11, 28; 9:23-24, 57-62; John 12:23-26.

Loving service: Jesus’ followers imitate his way of loving others. They gladly suffer injustices without retaliating. They offer generous forgiveness to all who offend them, without holding grudges. They pray for their enemies and look for ways to creatively bless them, refusing to take up the sword. They are faithful in their marriages and all other relationship commitments.

Their whole lives are characterized by selfless service, for they imitate the One who came not to be served but to serve—who gave up his divine rights, washed his disciples’ feet, and laid down his life for the world.

In this way Jesus’ followers honor his second great commandment—to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Mark 15:41; John 12:26; Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 6:27-36; 22:25-27;  1 Pet. 2:20-24; 3:9-18; 5:1-3; Eph. 4:32; 5:1-2, 25; Col 3:13; John 13:14-16; Phil 2:4-7; Rom 15:1-3, 7.

Christian unity: Jesus’ followers know there is one Flock and one Shepherd. They affirm that all who belong to Christ, the Head, also belong to the Church, his Body. They rejoice that people of every culture, color, and class find oneness in Christ alone. They know Jesus has promised to build his own Church which he purchased with his own blood.

They don’t divide over human leaders, but they do honor the teaching and imitate the example of Jesus’ apostles, whom he appointed as a foundation for his true Church. They welcome all whom Christ has welcomed while disciplining those who falsely claim to belong to him.

In this way Jesus’ followers honor his final recorded prayer for them—that we may all be one in him.

Matt. 12:30; 16:18-19; 18:15-20; Mark 9:38-41; Luke 9:49-50; John 10:16; 17:20-23; Acts 2:42-47; 20:28;  1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:3-9; 11:1; 12:12-13; Eph. 4:4-6; Rom. 15:5-7;  2 Tim 1:13-14; 3:14-17; Rev. 7:9-10, 17.

Spirit-powered obedience: Jesus’ followers honor his words by doing them. They do this by the Holy Spirit, their Helper sent by Jesus. They know they—like Jesus during his earthly life—will bear good fruit only by the power of the Spirit within them.

They expect the Spirit will bear witness to Jesus by miraculous signs and special graces given as he wishes. They also expect the Spirit will empower them to live clearly counter-cultural lives of moral purity, relational integrity, and neighbor- and enemy-love—lives of humility, contentment, and trust in their heavenly Father.

In this way Jesus’ followers honor the great commission he gave them—to make disciples who are taught to do all that he commanded.

Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 6:46-49; John 14:15, 21-24;  1 John 2:4-6; Matt. 5-7; 22:37-40; Acts 10:38; Luke 3:21-22; 4:1-2, 14-15, 18; Luke 3:16; 11:13; 12:11-12; 24:49; John 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26; 16:7-15; Acts 1:4-5, 8; 2:1-4, 32-33, 38-39; Gal. 5:16-25.

Here is a PDF version of the same list:

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Marks of True Followers of Jesus

Where are North American Christians most falling short of these marks? How would you summarize the biblical picture of a true Christian? Share your insights in the comments below.

Endnote: As I did my research, I ended up with about seven main points. I wanted to be more concise, in case we end up using some version of this list as a church values statement someday. So I combined points until I had only four somewhat memorable headings. Many other combinations could have been equally possible, however. For example, combining “suffering” with “love” rather than with “witness” would also have expressed something that is clearly biblical: “Suffering love.” “Spirit-powered unity” also sounds good! The richness of Scripture cannot be summarized in any four, seven, or nine marks.

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Do Non-Christian Jews and Christians Worship the Same God?

Last night I was listening to some US history lectures from The Teaching Company as I drove home through the night. Here is one thing I learned: Apparently the concept of “Judeo-Christian values/morals” is a relatively recent concept, birthed right here in America.

(Here is more information from Wikipedia that supports this assertion.)

Prior to the time when this term was birthed, a greater separation was usually assumed and promoted between Judaism and Christianity. And apparently (Wikipedia again), some Jews even today find the term “Judeo-Christian” offensive. I’m missing a lot of details, but I’ll let you pursue that history further if you wish.

This discovery relates to all sorts of knotty questions. For example, consider the recent convoluted debate about whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. There is legitimate debate about whether that is a helpfully-phrased question. (See, for example, this insightful post.) But, setting that aside for a bit, I’ve noticed that the strongest negative answer that Christians give to this question is to rightly note that Jesus insists that the only way to the Father is through the Son, and that “whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23). Thus a person who does not worship Jesus does not really worship God/the Father, either.

I agree with that observation (despite lots of undeniable overlap between Mulsim and Christian concepts of Allah/God on other points). However, this rebuttal just as surely suggests that non-Christian Jews and Christians don’t worship the same God. That sounds like a radical suggestion to our modern (“post Judeo-Christian”) ears. (In fact, I’ve seen someone make the same observation, then use it as proof that Muslims and Christians must indeed worship the same God—for Jews and Christians surely do, right?)

Yet, as radical as it sounds to suggest that non-Christian Jews and Christians don’t worship the same God (and, again, there may be a more helpful way to frame the issue), somehow it also sounds pretty much like what Jesus might have said. After all, it was to Jews that he insisted on the above-noted relationship between the Father and the Son. And he also said this, which is even more offensive to our ears:

If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:42-47, bold added)

There is much to ponder here, and much need to define terms clearly and speak to each other with grace.

But one thing is already very clear: If you want to know and honor God, Jesus is non-negotiable.

What do you think? I’m not sure I have time to host a big discussion about the current events issues I’ve raised. But perhaps you have an observation about how Christ is at the center of true worship of God, or an observation about how we can discuss these matters helpfully in the context of missions and witness. If so, share your thoughts in the comments below.

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The Church of Christ — Ferguson (1): Introduction

One of my primary goals on this blog is to help us think biblically about church. As I seek to grow in my own understanding, I find it helpful to read authors who wrestle directly with Scripture, form conclusions, and send me back to Scripture myself to weigh their conclusions.

Recently I’ve finally begun one such book, one that has been calling my name for several years: The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, by Everett Ferguson.


Ferguson is best known as an historian of the early church, having written books such as the seminary standard Backgrounds of Early Christianity and, more recently, a massive book on Baptism in the Early Church. I recommend both.

But in this book Ferguson aims to speak as a biblical student, not as an historian. Here is how he explains things in his Preface:

Recent scholarship has emphasized the diversity of theologies within the New Testament… I have chosen to pay more attention in this study to the melody than to the individual instruments.

Although the synthetic approach adopted in this book may be out of fashion, the recognition of the authority of a canon of scripture… justifies the effort to bring together the teaching of the various New Testament documents… This kind of reading does not serve the purposes of historians well, but it is a necessary task for theologians.

The book is written by one whose academic training is primarily that of a historian, but a historian interested in theology who has used history as a way of understanding theological questions. I have set my hand in this work to a book that is completely theological and systematic…

The “Today” in the subtitle does not mean a tailoring of biblical ecclesiology to the interests of the present but is meant to emphasize that biblical ecclesiology is viable today… (pp. xiv-xv)

So far I am only about 136 pages into Ferguson’s 443-page book. But I’m starting to like it enough that I’ve decided I’d like to share a series of posts quoting and interacting with this book.

Ferguson arranges his book in a way that is unexpected but exactly right: around Jesus. After the Preface and Introduction, the book consists of six long chapters, each building on some aspect of Jesus’ identity and work:

  1. The People and the Messiah: History and Eschatology
  2. The Church and Her Lord: The Nature of the Church
  3. The Church and Her Savior: Salvation and Church Membership
  4. The Church and Her High Priest: Worship and Assembly
  5. The Church and Her Bishop: The Continuing Ministry
  6. The Church and Her Teacher: The New Way of Life

Don’t let these titles overwhelm you. They repay close reading. For example, note that Jesus is identified by six titles: Messiah, Lord, Savior, High Priest, Bishop, and Teacher. Ferguson uses these titles of Jesus to understand the church. Thus (in chapter three), if Jesus is “Savior,” how should this shape our understanding of church membership? Or (in chapter five), if Jesus is “Bishop,” how should this shape our understanding of human leaders and servants within the church?

This means that all the “practical” topics you may be curious about are probably found in one of those chapters. For example, subheadings address things such as this:

  • The Body of Christ
  • The Family of God
  • The Meaning of Ekklesia
  • Attitudes toward Worship
  • Activities in the Assembly
  • Shepherds, Preachers, and Servants
  • Discipline
  • Unity

I’m thinking I’ll share about seven posts on this book—this one plus one for each chapter. If I am bursting with extra thoughts and time, one more concluding post may appear.

To wrap up this first post, here are some highlights I enjoyed from the book’s Introduction:

God gave a person, then a proclamation, and then a people. This is the historical and theological order.

God gave first a person, Jesus Christ…

The proclamation centers in the person…

The proclaimed word calls and gathers a people… This book studies the people, the church. As such it is concerned with what is derivative and in third position… I seek to relate every aspect of the doctrine about the church to Christ…

The oral message about Jesus Christ gathered a people and so created a church. That word was put in written form… In a historical sense, one may say that “the church gave us the Bible.”… Although the church was historically prior to the Bible as a given collection of books, the word contained in the Bible was theologically prior to the church. The recognition of a canon of scripture was an acknowledgment by the church that it was not its own authority and was an act of submission to the authority of  apostolic preaching inscripturated in the apostolic writings…

The witness of the first generations of Christians about what was authoritative for them is an irreversible decision and remains determinative of what the essence of Christianity is… The historical circumstances of the first century are not normative for Christians in later centuries, but the apostolic teaching given in those historical circumstances is normative…

The effort to find an authoritative word in scriptures on the matters discussed does not mean adopting the kind of “proof-text” approach that often takes verses out of context. The effort has been made to show the interconnectedness of themes…

There is such an interconnectedness of themes that this book could almost be considered a New Testament theology organized with reference to ecclesiology. It is not that; there are too many aspects of New Testament theology that are not included…

The person of Jesus is more attractive than those who claim to follow him are. But… one cannot have Jesus without the church. We hope to show that Christ or the church is a false alternative… To emphasize Christ is to make his church important.

Sometimes people, finding the heart of the gospel, want to treat the rest of biblical teaching as irrelevant. It may be secondary, but it is not irrelevant. The proper procedure is to work out from the center of the gospel to other things and apply the gospel to other aspects of doctrine. On our topic, that means working from Christ to the nature of the church and its activities…

Perhaps the problem for many has been in taking the church too much in an institutional sense and not sufficiently in terms of a people, a redeemed community… The church may often have been presented in such a way as to obscure Christ…

The first three chapters of this book develop the theological axiom that Christology and soteriology determine ecclesiology. The last three chapters then apply this insight to the ministry, worship, and life of the church. We want to take seriously that this study concerns the church of Christ. He gives existence, meaning, and purpose to the church. Christology is the norm for ecclesiology, and that is what justifies the title of the book. (pp. xvii-xx, bold added)

I won’t add much to that except to say that typing those excerpts renews my excitement about Ferguson’s focus as he examines ecclesiology. Whatever points of disagreement we may discover with him along the way, he has certainly started his study very well indeed!

What stands out to you from these introductory thoughts from Ferguson? What do you want to say Amen to? Is there anything you’d balance differently? What do you hope he addresses (and I review) in his book? Share your insights below.

Note: I participate in an Amazon affiliates program, so if you buy a book using the links above, I will earn pennies. Thanks!

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