You know those words that have been so overused they’ve nearly lost their meaning? They’ve been somehow merged with other terms we can’t even conjure a definition for. Nowhere is this more true than in the terms of the church.
We can get lost in the flow of religious terms and bogged down by the assumed weight of the restrictions we feel they place on us. But here are a few words that were given to us to help take the weight off, to help us understand our roles, our identities, our purpose.
Believer. Disciple. Apostle.
These words are not synonymous with each other, though we tend to use them interchangeably. What’s the difference between them? And why does that matter?
A believer believes. Simple, right? A believer has encountered the truth and the grace of the gospel. (More “religious” and overused terms if we’ve lost their meanings.) Breaking it down, a believer is someone who has had a personal encounter with a Person, Jesus, and in that meeting realizes that the God of the universe loves them so incredibly much that He did something unprecedented: He came down to our level, to meet us in our mess and mistakes. A believer has received a gift, something they could never achieve on their own: an intimate, secure, eternal relationship with the God who loves them passionately. (That’s the gospel!) They didn’t earn it. (That’s grace!)
A believer is a member of God’s family.
But, then there’s that word, disciple. Jesus’ last command before He ascended to Heaven was, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 29:19) But what does that mean? He didn’t say, “Go make believers of all nations.” He said disciples. The Message version gives a wonderful explanation of what this means: “Go out and train everyone you meet, near or far, in this way of life…”
Go out and train people. Train them. Equip them with the tools they’ll need. Teach. Uplift.
Jesus had His twelve primary disciples and hundreds more who followed Him, learning from His life and teachings. They did life together. He invested in them as individuals. He helped prepare them for what was coming. He taught them a new way of living and being.
A disciple is a close friend of God.
So, what about this super-religious sounding title, apostle? We may think it only applies to the select few God appointed in the New Testament to go plant churches and kick-start the early church. And, yes, it does. But that’s not all.
The word apostle actually means “someone who is sent out.” An apostle is an ambassador going into new territory, which may or may not be geographical. They have a message to share, tools to give, hope and love to multiply. There’s a mission. A purpose.
An apostle is a partner of God.
First, we believe. Then we’re discipled, or trained. Then, we are apostles, going out to train up others. And the cycle continues. We continue stretching our beliefs when they’re challenged by others or by tough circumstances. We continue learning because there’s always more. We continue going out to reach others with love because we have a mission.
And, the bottom line: It’s not about religion. It’s about relationship. We’re part of the family. We’re dear friends. We’re partners, doing things together, on purpose!
One thing I LOVE about my church is that they make all aspects of this relationship a priority. I will be teaching an Equip class which is founded on belief, training up, and reaching out. If you are local to the DFW area, I would love to invite you to join me for this 3-week class discussing the value, source, and design of our unique identities beginning THIS week! To register or just get more information for “I am who I AM says I am”, click HERE. I hope to see you there!