Just what is a Christian?

By Robert Oliver - Contributing columnist

Having written articles printed in this paper for over eight years, I readily admit that I have written on this same topic more than once. Yet, each of these article put focus on differing points involved. Sometimes a dictionary definition, though it reveals the way people use the word in this day and age, does not reveal what the word meant when used in the Bible. Since the Bible is that which we are to be following, we need to know what words meant when used, if different than today’s vernacular. The word Christian is one of those words. We hear said that we live in a Christian nation and multitudes around us call themselves Christians when all do not have the same beliefs and practices. One of the modern definitions is essence says that anyone who believes in Jesus Christ is a Christian. Though that definition may sound reasonable, using that definition, Satan is a Christian, for he certainly believes. The unclean spirits that Jesus cast out of the swine said to Him, “What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God” (Mark 5:7), but they certainly were not Christians.

Let us take just a moment to note that the name Christian was a name given by God. Many are the prophecies by Isaiah that mention that when the Christ came, the blessings would be for not just the Jews, but all nations. Late in the book of Isaiah, he wrote, “And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name” (Isa. 62:2).

From this verse we see that the new name would come from God and that it would be given when the Gentiles were added in. Acts chapters 10 and 11 record the conversion of the household of Cornelius, the first of the Gentiles to be added in. When Peter returned to Jerusalem, the elders and other brethren questioned Peter’s preaching the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 11:2-3). After Peter explained to them what had happened, the text says that “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). It is shortly after this that the text states that “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). The Greek word that is translated “called” in this text is one used often to denote divine command. Though some so-called scholars have stated that the word Christian was a derogatory term given to the saints by the Jews, the truth of the matter is that it is the name God has given to His children.

Now, on to determining just what a Christian is. As we have already noted, the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch (Acts 11:26). They were the disciples of Christ, but they received the name Christian to wear. Thus, the first step in determining what a Christian is involves understanding that a Christian is a disciple of Christ. This certainly explains why both Satan and those unclean spirits cast out of the swine were not Christians though they did recognize Jesus as being the Christ, the Son of God. They were not disciples. But, let us go to a few words that Jesus spoke in the temple in Jerusalem. “As he spake these words, many believed on him. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed: and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:30-32). Now, notice an order of events: they heard the word of the Lord, they believed on Him and “if” they continued in His word they were disciples. Hearing the word did not make them a disciple, though one had to hear before they could believe.

Paul said that “…faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Believing did not made them disciples, though they had to believe before they could be disciples. If and only if they continued in His word would they be disciples. In other words a disciple of Christ is one who hears the gospel of Christ, believes the gospel of Christ and is then guided by the gospel of Christ. It is those that have so done that are made free by way of the truth. Add to that the fact already established that disciples are Christians and we know just how one becomes and remains faithfully, a Christian! By learning and obeying the gospel of Christ. Many are the instructions in the gospel concerning how to live as a Christian. Fewer are those required to become a Christian.

Everything from Romans through Jude are designed as instruction in Christian life. The history of the spread of the church is a good study for that which must be done to become a Christian. In brief, studying all the examples of conversion in the book of Acts, we see that first one has to hear the gospel, then one must believe the gospel. After believing the gospel, one must repent of their past sins and then confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God. There is then just one step left to get into Christ. That is to be baptized into Christ for the remission of sins (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:37-38; Matt. 10:32-33; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27). It is at this point that one is truly a disciple, a Christian and a member of the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:13). That is God’s way and no other way will suffice.


By Robert Oliver

Contributing columnist

Send any questions or comments to: [email protected]

Send any questions or comments to: [email protected]