The podcast "Who Are We?" (18 mins) explores the major New Testament terms that refer to Christ-followers. Are the ways we refer to ourselves and fellow-believers biblical, balanced, and accurate? Find out.

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SELF-TEST: Rank the following terms in order of usage--what you usually call yourself.

  1. Christian
  2. Disciple
  3. Brother
  4. Saint

Many of us answered 1-2-3-4, right? But in the New Testament, as we will see, it's 4-3-2-1!
Other terms, like “soldier of Christ” or "child of God," are not included, as they are not terms of address. Focus: standard biblical terms (not figurative language).

  1. Nazarene — 1 — Humble origins of the faith. (13x of Jesus, only 1x of Christians, Acts 24:5.)
  2. Friend — 2 — Companionship (3 John 14)
  3. Christian — 3 — Outsider term. Connected with the way of Christ. (Acts 11:26)   
  4. Believer — 12 — Worldview; allegiance (Acts 5:14)
  5. Student [disciple] —  30+ — Pupil / apprentice / master, as in Matt 28:19; Acts 6-20. (Acts 6:7)
  6. Brother / sister — >50 — Family (1 Thess 2:1)
  7. Holy person [saint] — ~60 — Purity; devotion (Eph 1:1)

Corporate terms

  1. Way —7 — The way/path: John 14:6; Matt 7:14. (Corporate). Even though we are on the narrow road, and all moving in same direction (towards Christ), we have not yet arrived.
  2. Body of Christ — 8 — Membership—each of us playing an important role in the body. This is organic.
  3. Assembly [church] — >100 — "Assembly" suggests that we need to be there!


Our preferred terms reveal emphases and priorities.  
  • NazareneInsignificant town, though town of the Savior. Arabic Naṣrānī (نَصْرَانِيّ). Self-designation: Masīḥī (مَسِيحِيّ) = Christians, or those who follow the Messiah.
  • Friend—Principal friendships will be in the Christian community
  • Christian—Imitation of Christ. (I am guilty of using this one too much.)
  • Believer—Allegiance (“belief” and “faith” are often dilutes words)
  • Student (disciple)—Evangelicals by and large are off track. Why not used after Acts? Process of learning, "becoming" disciples (John 15:8). They were disciples (students), but did not refer to themselves as such in any Christian document after Acts. As much as I believe in discipleship, this isn't necessarily the standard lingo of the early church. Disciples of Jesus, not people (Acts 9:25 = rare usage). Jesus = master (he controls us, not any earthly leader).
  • Brother—Family loyalty (or can’t remember the person’s name). Underscores our essential identity in Christ.
  • Holy person (saint)—Rejection of world. (Huge issue in my own denomination.)

So why don't the two most common N.T. terms rank at the top of the list when we describe our identity in Christ?

  • Brother/sister—increasing individualism + falling commitment to the body of Christ?
  • Holy one/saint—encroachment of the world + pursuit of happiness (1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4).


  1. 10 terms: 7 terms for Christians as individuals, 3 for us corporately, as the people of God. Perhaps you will find more. Let me know—I may update my notes.
  2. Which terms we choose say something about us, esp. the fewer biblical terms we embrace.
  3. Make use of all the terms—esp. the most common: student, brother, holy person—i.e., disciples, brothers & sisters, saints.
  4. Changing terminology is not an easy shift! Encouraged others to adopt biblical terminology, but be careful not to argue about words.
  5. Whatever we call ourselves, let it match! Correspondence with our lives. This is far more important than terminology. Still, let's strive to use biblical terminology.