by Roland W. Keith
It may surprise some people to learn that the term Christian only appears three times in scripture. Originally followers of Christ were simply called His disciples, a nomenclature retained for some time after the establishment of the church. Those early converts were then also known as followers of the Way. However, that began to change during the year that Barnabas and Saul spent working with the church in Antioch, as Luke noted, “So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:25-26). By the time Paul stood before King Agrippa the name had apparently become common knowledge as Luke’s account of the exchange between the two men indicates: “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe." And Agrippa said to Paul, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" And Paul said, "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains” (Acts 26:27-29).
Many years later Peter would encourage his readers with these words: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (I Peter 4:16-17). It seems a natural progression that those who came to Christ would be called after Him, as Peter said, to “glorify God in that name.” Increasingly, in today’s world the name of Christ and His followers are being vilified. But we need not be ashamed. In fact, we have every reason to wear the name with pride. But when we claim the name Christian, exactly what are we claiming? Exactly what is a Christian?
A ruler of the Jews came to Jesus under the cover of night apparently to examine Christ and His teachings. As John recorded: “Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:3-6). According to Jesus a Christian is someone who has been born in the spirit. This is something apart from our physical birth. When we become a Christian, we become spiritually alive in Christ. To do that we must hear the word, believe, repent of our sinful life, confess Christ before our fellow man, and call on the name of the Lord by being baptized for the forgiveness of our sins, thereby being added to His body. And, what is the body of Christ?
As Paul wrote the Corinthians, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many… As it is, there are many parts, yet one body… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12:12-14, 20, 27). Spiritually speaking, then, we are the body of Christ on earth. Each of us is a functioning, living, part of Christ. We are the fiber and muscle, the cells and tendons, the eyes and ears of His spiritual body, the church. We are not pew sitters. We are the embodiment of Christ in this world. Christ lives through us, as Paul informed the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
When we are baptized we ‘die’ with Christ, being buried with Him. When we rise out of the waters, we are raised with Him to a new life. We become a part of His body, and He dwells within us. As Paul so succinctly put it, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17). When we are added to the church we must have, and continue to develop, a new mindset for life. As Paul instructed the Colossians: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory… Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:1-4, 11).
A strong Christian is one who prioritizes His life, putting His spiritual welfare, and that of others, above earthly gain of any kind (Matthew 12:35; 13:44; 19:21). This does not mean that we do not take care of our earthly responsibilities or take vows of poverty. It does mean we put God first in all things, trusting in Christ to help us overcome the call of the world, and to understand when we stumble and seek forgiveness, as Paul wrote: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews: 4:14-16).
The Christian man and woman trusts in the Lord, and puts God first, as they also seek to become healthy, productive members of His body. As Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:4-6). We are not all the same. Some will produce more than others. Moreover, we all have different skills and produce in diverse ways. The important thing is that we must engage in the labor of the Lord. Are we at work in the vineyard, or are we busy doing other things? Where are we at on Sunday mornings? Sunday evenings? Wednesday nights? For work days or special events? Are we off doing our own thing, or are we shoulder-to-shoulder, in fellowship with one another as we serve the lord? John wrote in his first letter, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed, our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:3-7).
Another characteristic of a Christian is the hope that he has within. The Christian trusts God and looks forward to the promises God has made to all who will come to Him through His Son. In the gospel according to John it is written, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). All of the sons of God (Romans 8:14; Galatians 3:26 ) look forward to the day that they are able to claim their abode in heaven, living with Jesus within the eternal light of God the Father.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.