I grew up in a Christian family, and of course we went to church every Sunday. But at some point in my youth, I started actually reading the Bible, becoming personally interested in what it said. The vibrant life in Acts 2 and 4 seemed so wonderful, but also so distant and unlike my life as a Christian. In the book of Acts, it says all the disciples were together daily, sharing all things in common, and great grace was upon them all. All of us Christians were together only on Sunday, sharing only 10% of our money, supposedly. And as for great grace, well, sometimes I wondered whether God was with us at all.
I wondered, like so many others, whether it was even possible to live like those early disciples. But was it really optional? Was it really up to each person to choose whether he wanted to live like that? Although there were a few obscure groups that lived in community, nearly everyone said, "That was for back then," and everyone agreed that giving up one's possessions was not required.
What is required to be a Christian? Is it different from what was required to be a disciple "back then"?
Let's compare two groups of people to find the differences between them. One group is the Normal Christians: a usual or typical member of Christianity in the 21st century -- "now." The other group is the Normal Disciples: a usual or typical member of the church in the 1st century -- "back then." Granted, our comparison doesn't include the Christians over the past 1900 years, but since I want to know today whether the life of Acts 2 and 4 was just for back then, we'll take a look at the ends of the timeline -- Normal Christians now and Normal Disciples back then.
Paul tells Timothy to be a "good soldier" -- one of several metaphors he uses to describe a normal disciple:
No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor's crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.
(2 Timothy 2:4-7)1
A soldier does not get entangled in the affairs of civilian life. An athlete competes according to the rules. A farmer is hard-working and shares in the crops. Their daily life tells who they really are. Each of these people is wholeheartedly pursuing a specific goal and can reasonably expect a future reward.
A soldier pleases the authority over him, gaining promotions and medals by his deeds. An athlete gains the crown of victory. A farmer gains an abundant harvest. Each lifestyle tells you who's who and what they are seeking.
A normal disciple gives up everything. Luke 14:33 apparently applies to disciples, but not to Christians.2 Back then, Peter had to leave his nets behind to follow the Son of God. He walked away, leaving his father and his livelihood behind.3 Back then, Barnabas sold his land and laid the proceeds at the apostles' feet.4 Back then, the rich young ruler was told to give up all, but he refused.5 The rich young ruler was qualified to be a Christian, but not a disciple.
A normal Christian hangs on to his life in this world. A 2015 study showed that Christians own 55% of the wealth worldwide,6 which isn't so surprising, considering how many there are.7 Some well-known pastors live in million-dollar mansions and own private jets. In fact, many Christians are millionaires. Certainly, not all Christians are extremely wealthy, but it is "usual and typical" for Christians to retain their individual assets. A normal Christian hangs on to his assets in this world.
A normal disciple is under authority, which keeps him on the narrow way. Matthew 8:5-10 tells how a soldier is: under authority, having no time to just putter around. An athlete receives the direction of his coaches. In the same way, a normal disciple is under authority at all times.
"If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him." (John 12:25-26)
The normal disciples in Acts 2 didn't live separate lives. They didn't "go to church" once or twice a week, but rather "every day they continued to meet together" and every day they "ate together with glad and sincere hearts."8 It wasn't like it was in the book of Judges when there was no king in the land, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.9 There was apostolic authority correcting and directing all normal disciples.10 In contrast, normal Christians consider themselves free to choose what job they will have, where they will live, what they will do with their time and money, and what church they will attend on Sunday.
A normal disciple lives a life of obedience. That was the Great Commission: "Make disciples ... and teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you."11 Every normal disciple was taught to know and obey the Master's commandments.
To follow Yahshua, you have to hate your life in this world, hating anything that would cause you to hold on to your old life, your own job, clothing styles, habits, even your own culture. If you claim to be a disciple and don't obey Yahshua's commandments, it means you are a liar.12 Yahshua is only the savior of those who obey Him,13 and the Holy Spirit is only given to those who obey Him.14
A normal Christian is nearly indistinguishable from an "unbeliever." Normal Christians are found in nearly every occupation -- in politics, the military, show business, sports, and on and on. Normal Christians wear the same clothing and hair styles, go to the same movies, watch the same football games, listen to the same music, and read the same books as the rest of the world. They may try to "be good," but the commandments are not even seen as attainable, and are often explained away.
So there is a marked difference between a normal Christian and a normal disciple. It's not easy to be a normal disciple -- or a farmer, an athlete, or a soldier. It's not easy, but it is possible. It requires a choice. It requires devotion to live that kind of life. It requires effort towards a goal. Only then will the farmer, the athlete, the soldier, and the normal disciple receive the sought-after reward.
Otherwise, the Scriptures are irrelevant.