By Heather Riggleman, Crosswalk.com
Andrew Bennett once said: “The longest journey you will ever take is the 18 inches from your head to your heart.” I never really understood this statement...especially during life-group conversations, or sitting in the pew at church. I would encounter fellow brothers and sisters in Christ at church and over time, I began wondering: is there a difference between being a Christian in your head, and a disciple of Christ in your heart?
Being a Christian isn't all there is to following Jesus, and the world is filled with a sense of loving the faith, but not living it. So is your community, your church, your small group, your home...and perhaps even your own heart.
The difference becomes apparent in our choices. Someone who is not a disciple might: get to church and be annoyed because the particular roast of coffee is out, yet smile and say, “I’m just blessed to have coffee,” while scrolling through Instagram looking for the perfect filter for their “Sunday Church Day” selfie. In church, they make lunch plans while half-listening to the message. They don't carry a Bible nor have they opened a Bible App in ages. When the offering plate is passed, they smile and comment on how they tithed last Sunday.
Half-hearted Christians like this might drive home into a two-car garage as the automatic door closes behind them, avoiding talking to their neighbor Bill who was recently diagnosed with cancer. After all, they said they would pray for them. Later they boast about how blessed they are to receive another promotion or accolade at work. They stop by the store and are visibly annoyed because the woman in front of them is paying for a gallon of milk in quarters.
Do you see what I’m talking about? Loving Jesus, going to church, reading the Bible sometimes. Even while praying, someone like this has yet to truly take the journey—the 18 inches from the head to the heart.
Am I a Christian or a Disciple?
Are you tired of this shallow life? Dear Christian, are you ready to be a disciple of Christ? Because that’s the difference. So many of us are raised in the comfort of the church. We hang on to the apron strings of our parent’s faith and never truly dive into the deep end of Christ where we become disciples of His Word.
It's understandable that this issue can be confusing, and even annoying. So allow me to clarify.
A disciple of Jesus is a worshiper, a servant, and a witness. The standard definition of “disciple” is someone who adheres to the teachings of another. It is a learner or a follower or someone who takes up the ways of someone else. One of my friends defines himself as “A follower of The Way based on Acts 22:4.”
A disciple is someone who learns from Jesus to live like him—someone who, because of God’s awakening grace, conforms his or her words and ways to the words and ways of Jesus.
The terms disciple and Christian are related, but not synonymous. The biblical Pharisees were the perfect examples of many modern-day Christians. The Pharisees prided themselves in being disciples of Moses (John 9:28). The Pharisees knew God’s rules, laws and expectations of living but they didn’t accept Jesus or follow him.
The name “Christian,” meaning “belonging to Christ,” appears to have been invented by those outside of the church. It was most likely meant as a derogatory term.
Jesus’ followers were called “disciples” long before they were ever called “Christians.” Their discipleship began with Jesus’ call and required them to exercise their will to follow Him (Matthew 9:9). Paul describes the reality of being a Christian disciple: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Akulinina
What Does it Look Like to Live as a Disciple of Christ?
Remember the story of the woman at the well? Or the tax collector Jesus found in the tree? What about the homeless man roaming the cemetery? Do you remember what his brothers and sisters said about him or the fact he wasn’t welcome in his own hometown? The point I’m trying to make is that there is a difference between knowing who Jesus is and following him.
As a disciple, you will lay your life down for him. You will lose your reputation. You will be uncomfortable. You will rub elbows of the poorest of the poor and care for the lost, the fatherless, and the needy.
To be a disciple of Jesus is to be his hands and feet. Your choices may look more like this: spending Saturdays volunteering at Habitat for Humanity instead of watching the big game. Finding ways to live on less to help fund a ministry or support a missionary. Turning off shows like The Game Of Thrones because Jesus asked you to guard your eyes, soul, heart, and mind.
The Book of John gives us another helpful picture of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. During the commission of Jesus, he says to his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21; see also John 17:18). This means that Jesus’ disciples are on a mission. This means you and me.
As Christian disciples, we are missionaries in our communities, homes, workplaces, and neighborhoods. Jesus was sent for a purpose and so the same goes for each of us. We too, as his disciples, filled by his Spirit, are sent for a purpose — to tell his good news (Romans 10:14–17).
To be a disciple of Jesus means to gently point people to him when he prompts us to...in how we live, how we talk, in all we do. It means to tell the ancient story of Jesus and his love, so that others would know him and worship him today. As a disciple of Jesus, we make disciples too—as Jesus tells us to (Matthew 28:18–20).
The Difference Between Knowing Jesus and Following Jesus
Being a Christian disciple means we have a love for Jesus that can’t be quenched. We love what he loves and we honor it through our actions. If you’re still a half-hearted ‘Christian,’ there is a heavy price to pay. Not only will you miss out on the real, raw, and awesome joys of being his disciple; you will have the face the fact, Jesus may say, “I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Today there are millions who know Jesus and John 3:16 is one of the most-searched scripture verses. Yet, they have never allowed the facts to become their personal reality. They hold knowledge in their heads without allowing the truth to penetrate their hearts.
Jesus says it’s mere lip service: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules" (Matthew 15:8-9; Mark 7:6).
So how do we follow Jesus? We need to know who he is Biblically and personally. It means we live with him in our hearts. He directs our steps, we seek to please him, to honor him, to obey him. It means we talk to him on a daily basis. Sometimes minute by minute.
We ask him what he wants us to do when we see the single mom counting out quarters for the milk. We ask him how we can best be his hands and feet for our neighbor that’s just been diagnosed with cancer. We obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit when he tells us to develop a friendship with a co-worker who seems lost.
But here’s the difference friends, we can’t avoid talking about Jesus. Nothing is of greater importance than understanding this truth when it comes to knowing God. Jesus makes it clear that He alone is the way to heaven and to a personal knowledge of God: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me" (John 14:6). We carry the responsibility to live out the very faith that is required to know God. We are salt and light on this earth (Matthew 5:13-14).
The disciple's life is not for the faint of heart. It takes commitment, self-denial, time, resources, and prayers. It will take your reputation. It will take your relationships. It will cost you everything. It will require obedience to his word, his teachings, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
But the truth is, we were created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10) and to be part of God’s plan of continuing to reveal Himself to the world.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/SIphotography
Heather Riggleman calls Nebraska home (Hey, it’s not for everyone) with her three kids and husband of 20 years. She writes to bring bold truths to marriage, career, mental health, faith, relationships, celebration and heartache. She is the co-host of the Moms Together Podcast and is a former national award-winning journalist. She is author of Mama Needs a Time Out and Let’s Talk About Prayer. Her work has been featured on Proverbs 31 Ministries, MOPS, Today's Christian Woman and Focus On the Family. You can find her at www.heatherriggleman.com.