In this brief article we would like to explore the subject of just who a Christian is. We have in the past discussed what is scripturally required for one to become a Christian, but in this lesson we wish consider the various terms used to denote one of those we commonly call Christians.
Our starting point might well be with the word “Christian”. This is the word used the most often in this current age to denote the ones we are talking about. However, it is probably the least used in the word of God. The word Christian is used only three times in the entire Bible and all three of these in the New Testament, which is understandable since Christianity is what the New Testament is all about. The three times the word is used are Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28 and I Peter 4:16. Some modernist of the past have stated that when the word was first used, it was used in degradation, so as to cast insult on one. However, a closer examination of the uses of the word would serve to show this not to be the case. For this we need to begin in the Old Testament. The prophets of old had prophesied about the coming of the new covenant and the new kingdom. One great distinction made by these prophets was that this coming kingdom was for all men, those of every nation rather than being made up of only the Jews. In the writings of the prophet Isaiah, he stated, “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). Notice that it will be after the Gentiles have been added that there will be a new name that is given by the Lord. In Acts chapter ten we read of the gospel first coming to the Gentiles when Peter was convinced by the vision from God on the rooftop in Joppa that he was to take the word to the household of Cornelius. After hearing what Cornelius had to say, Peter said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34). It is in the next chapter that, after conversion of the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius, we read the words, “…And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26). The Greek term that is translated “were called” is one that denotes a calling of divine command, thus, the new name given by the mouth of God. Now, as to the other two times the word is used. Neither point in any way to the idea that it was a derogatory term.
Obviously, since the word Christian is only used three times, there must of necessity be other names or terms used to denote these people. Actually we already noted one of these when we noted the words of Luke in Acts 11:26. He said that the disciples were called Christians, first at Antioch, thus they were also called disciples. In fact, these two words together help us to understand just what a Christian is and their relationship to Christ. A disciple is a learner and a follower. These disciples spoken of here were learners of the teachings of Christ and practitioners of His doctrine, therefore those who learn the gospel of Christ and adhere to the doctrine of Christ are Christians. Another term used and one that some seem to misunderstand is the term “saint”. Some have some idea that in order to be a saint, one has to have been dead for a number of years and had some great things done in his name. However, Ananias spoke of how Paul had formerly done evil to the “saints at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13). Peter went down to the saints which dwelt at Lydda (Acts 9:32). In both cases as in most cases in the New Testament, the word saint was used for living Christians. A saint is one that is set apart to serve the Lord. If one is a true Christian, then that person is also a saint. On a couple of occasions, those who were the disciples of Christ were referred to as “believers”. The signs and wonders done by the apostles caused many to believe and these “…believers were the more added to the Lord” (Acts 5:14). The apostle Paul encouraged young Timothy to be an example of the believers (I Tim. 4:12). One can easily see the relationship between the disciple that learns and follows the gospel of Christ which had to have first heard and believed that gospel. Jesus had first preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Later He instructed the apostle to “go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16). A term that was probably used the most often was simply the brethren. To the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Cor. 1:10). One can easily see the relationship that all Christians should have, one with another in the use of this term. There is nothing wrong with just being a Christian. (Send any questions or comments to: email@example.com)
Robert Oliver is a long time columnist for The Sampson Independent.