In the New Testament, members of the church of the Lord are described in various ways. According to the Bible, the Lord adds saved people to the church (Acts 2:47). Once a person is in the body of the Lord, he is counted as a new creature in the Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Let us turn to the Bible and find some ways in which Jesus’ followers are described.
1. Disciples: The word “disciple” means a learner or pupil. Even before the church began, those who followed Jesus were called disciples (Luke 6:12). After the establishment of the church, the number of disciples multiplied (Acts 6:1). Before Saul of Tarsus was converted, he persecuted the church (Acts 8:1). But the Bible says that he was persecuting “disciples” (Acts 9:1). Thus, the disciples and the church were one and the same. In Acts 20:7 we read that those who broke bread on the first day of the week were disciples. Several other verses in the Book of Acts also show that followers of the Lord are known as disciples (Acts 6:7; 9:19,25,26,38; 11:26,29; 14:20,22,28).
2. Christians: The word “Christian” means a follower of the Christ. A Christian is one who not only believes in Jesus, but truly follows Him and His teachings. The word “Christian” is used in three New Testament verses: “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26); “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28); “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed” (1 Peter 4:16). In the New Testament, the word “Christian” is used to refer only to those who were members of the Christ’s church. We need to make certain that we “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11) and use the word “Christian” in harmony with the way that it is employed in the Bible.
3. Saints: The word “saint” means a person who is set apart for God and in a moral sense is pure in his lifestyle. “Saint” does not mean sinless. Those disciples whom Paul persecuted were called “saints” (Acts 9:13; 26:10). The Holy Spirit later guided Paul to write letters to different churches, and he often described those to whom he was writing as “saints,” such as in the Book of Philippians, where he wrote, “. . . to all the saints in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:1; see also Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:2).
Since Paul wrote these epistles to people who were still living, and by the Spirit of God he referred to them as “saints,” it is false to say that all saints are persons who are already dead.
4. Priests: The book of First Peter was written to Christians (cf. 1 Peter 1:2). Peter described them as a “holy priesthood” and “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5,9). Thus, all Christians to whom Peter wrote were part of this priesthood and are reckoned as priests. In the New Testament, the term “priest” was not restricted to a special class of members of the body of the Lord. Another reference to members of the church as “priests” is found in Revelation 1:6, where it is written, “And (Jesus, rdc) hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father . . .” As priests, when we each offer our worship to God, we do so through His Son, not through some mere human. We offer spiritual sacrifices to the living God (1 Peter 2:5) in His temple, the church (1 Corinthians 3:16).
5. Children of God: As Christians, we are called children of God because of our spiritual relationship with Him. He is our Heavenly Father. All of those who are in God’s church are in His family, “the house of God” (1 Timothy 3:15). We are all the children of God by faith, and we became His children when we were baptized into the Christ (Galatians 3:26,27). What great love the Father has shown in calling us His children! (1 John 3:1). It truly is a privilege to be called a child of God and to enjoy fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the Christ. Along with our privileges comes the responsibility to be “obedient children” in all aspects of our service to our Father (1 Peter 1:14).
The Bible calls the followers of Jesus “disciples,” “Christians,” “saints,” “priests,” and “children of God.” Let us take each of these terms seriously, considering what each one indicates about our relationship with the Lord and our duty to Him. May we all strive to “walk worthy of God,” who has called us into His kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 2:12).
— Roger D. Campbell
TRUTH is published monthly by the Klang church of Christ in order to help educate, edify, encourage, and equip the saints of God.