What does it mean to be "Christian?" Given that the term is not even clearly defined in the Bible and draws a myriad of definitions from Christians themselves, influential pastor Andy Stanley is challenging believers to embrace a different, and more convicting, identity: disciple.
"Are we disciples? Or are we just 'Christians?' Stanley asked thousands at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga. "Don't settle for 'Christian.'"
Stanley is continuing his "Christian" series, exhorting attendees to fulfill the role that Jesus so clearly laid out for his followers: to love like he did.
While Jesus' instructions were clear, many believers are found hiding behind "Christianity," he noted.
To some, "Christian" means someone who prayed the prayer or a person who was baptized; others say it's not what you believe but how you behave; and then there are those who define Christians as "judgmental, homophobic moralists who think they are the only ones going to heaven," Stanley listed.
"One of the reasons that you can't get five people to define 'Christian' the same way ... is because 'Christian' is not defined in the New Testament," the megachurch pastor clarified.
The term is only mentioned three times in the Bible and it was a derogatory label created for Jesus' followers by outsiders.
"Christians didn't call themselves Christians. They called themselves something far more terrifying, ... far more defined, ... far more convicting than 'Christian,'" Stanley pointed out.
They called themselves disciples. And that's a word that's hard to dodge or misdefine, the pastor noted.
Disciples follow the command to "love one another" as Jesus loved them, Stanley stressed, citing the book of John. Jesus said, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
"If we had gotten this one teaching of Jesus right, our world ... would be a different and better place," Stanley said.
"We can all be Christians," he noted. But to love each other the way Jesus loved people, that places believers in a much smaller category.
Challenging believers to show a generous love to those around them, Stanley said, "How cool would it be to do a big rebranding campaign?"
But don't expect to try to change someone by loving them, he cautioned. "This isn't a means to an end. This isn't 'I'm going to fix you.' It's 'this is what it means to follow Jesus.'
"This is better than 'Christian.'"
Stanley took it a step further and exhorted those who follow Jesus to be the salt and light of the world.
"Live your life in such a way that when people see your good deeds," they ask themselves "who is that generous?"
The North Point pastor challenged those who think, "I don't want to be the light of the world. I just want to be a Christian and go to heaven when I die. Leave me alone."
That is not what Jesus taught, he stressed.
"Jesus said I want your good deeds to be so extraordinary that people begin to connect the dots between your lifestyle and your Father in heaven," he preached.
"Some of you are just happy to be going to heaven [because] you're a Christian ... Jesus said 'I never called you 'Christian.' I'm telling you who you are. You're salt and you're light.
"Don't settle for 'Christian.'"