Acts 11:26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
Acts 26:28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”
1 Peter 4:16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.
According to a December, 2012 Gallup poll, 77% of Americans say they are Christians. (an ABC News poll said it was 82%, but let’s not quibble.) However, in the 1st Century this term was rarely used to describe the followers of Jesus, and by taking note of the few places in the Bible where this term was used we can discover why this term was not a common designation for religious people, but a special term used to described true followers of Jesus Christ. Let’s take a look.
First, followers of Jesus were first called “Christians” in Antioch by non-believers after they observed their faith in action (Acts 11:26). So, what did the non-believer see? They saw a faith that brought historic enemies (Jews and gentiles) together; coming together because their love for the LORD, and their love for each other caused them to form one church (the body of Christ – Ephesians 4:4-6)). Likewise, after hearing Paul give an impassioned defense of the gospel, even defying imprisonment or death to do so, king Agrippa exclaimed, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” (or a radical follower of Jesus Christ). Lastly, Peter admonished the believing community to follow the Lord even to the point of suffering and hardship, saying;
- “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.” (1 Peter 4:16)
So, what does the term “Christian” mean? Let me suggest to you that the term Christian, used in context, means that the persons thus labeled “Christians” are distinctively surrendered to, and passionate in love with Jesus Christ (or as Keith Green would say, “Bananas”). I like the way J. I. Packer identifies a “Christian” below. Packer writes:
What is a Christian? He can be described from many angles, but from what we have said it is clear that we can cover everything by saying: he is a man (or woman) who acknowledges and lives under the world of God. A Christian submits without reserve to the word of God written in ‘the Scripture of truth’ (Daniel 10:21), believing the teaching, trusting the promises, following the commands. His eyes are to the God of the Bible as his Father, and the Christ of the Bible as his Savior.
If asked, Christians will tell you that the word of God has both convicted them of sin and assured them of God’s forgiveness. A Christian’s conscience, as Luther observed, is captive to the word and will of God. Lastly, as noted by the psalmist, Christians aspires to have their lives line up with the Word as “doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1:22).
“O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!”
“O let me not wander from thy commandments.
” “Teach me thy statutes. Make me to understand the way of Thy precepts.”
“Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies.”
“Let my heart be sound in Thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:5, 10, 26f., 80).
Christians, like Abraham, believe the promises of God,and are looking “for a city “whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10)”. And the precepts of God’s word guide Christians as they live their faith day by day.
The Christian knows that all things (the good, the bad, and the ugly things) will work together for their good because their sovereign God is in control of their circumstances, and He is doing all things for His eternal glory, and their eternal joy; as it is written:
Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
The Christian is an independent person; a person that doesn’t just have a religious bracelet on their wrist that reads “WWJD” (What Would Jesus Do), but they seek to consistently live by faith the WWJD life.
Why does this suggested description the Christian fit so few of us who profess to be Christians today? I found it profitable to ask my conscience this question, and to let it tell me the answer. You will too. (adapted from J. I. Packer’s, Knowing God)