People who have trusted Christ for salvation are known in the Bible by various terms. They are called “disciples” for their knowledge, “brethren” for their love, “believers” for their faith, and “saints” for their holiness. Acts 11:26 says the disciples were first called “Christians” in Antioch. The term “Christian” means “of the party of Christ” and is only found three times in the New Testament. At first, “Christian” was a term of ridicule used by those outside of the faith. Peter said If you suffer for being a Christian, don’t feel ashamed, but praise God for being called that name (I Peter 4:16 GW). We can suffer because of our own sins, but suffering because we are a Christian brings glory to God. Suffering eventually became a badge of honor to the early church.
What does this word “Christian” mean in our world? It is a word that ought to be copyrighted. It is one of the most misunderstood words in our language. Bart Ehrman, Bible scholar at the University of North Carolina, says most people believe that everyone goes to Heaven at death because they don’t like to think about the other possibility. O0bviously, this term, “Christian,” needs a word of clarification and explanation. Here are four helpful principles from the Word of God:
- It is Not a Matter of Breed. I have heard people say, “I have always been a Christian.” Not so! You only get into the human family by being born into it. You have an annual birthday because of a physical birth. The only way to enter God’s family is by a spiritual birth. Jesus told Nicodemus what is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6). Adam, the father of all humanity, sinned, and death followed (Romans 5:14 NKJV). In Adam, all die, which is evidence that everyone born into this world is a sinner. Only your parents could make you their child, but they could never make you a Christian no matter how righteous they might be. The apostle Paul was a godly Pharisee, but he was not born a Christian. He made havoc of the Church and caused the death of Stephen (Acts 8:3) prior to his conversion. The average Israeli considers all Gentiles as Christians, including Adolph Hitler! There are people who believe that being born in America makes them a Christian. No, it only makes them an American. It is not a matter of breed.
- It is Not a Matter of Creed. You could memorize all the great creeds of Christendom and still not be a Christian. John Wesley said we can be as orthodox as the Devil, and just as wicked! Jesus warned that even demons believe and tremble, but that does not make them Christians. The Pharisees were as orthodox as any group on earth, but Jesus called them hypocrites (Matthew 7:21 NKJV). Consider marriage for example. Is it a ceremonial certificate, just a piece of paper? No, marriage is a lifetime commitment spouses make to each other. Being a Christian is not simply memorizing a statement of faith or signing a decision card. It is a life-changing commitment you make to the Lord Jesus Christ. What you believe affects your attitude, behavior, and life, not just what you write down or recite. It is not a matter of creed.
- It is Not a Matter of Deed. We could be saved by keeping the law and ten commandments if we could keep it perfectly. But Jesus was the only One who perfectly obeyed the law. Instead, God revealed His kindness and love by saving us, not because of righteous things we have done, but because of His mercy, washing away our sins and giving us a new life through the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-5 NLT). The law was never given for us to try to keep as a means of becoming a Christian. Instead, it is like a mirror, revealing our sinfulness and need for Christ. It is Christ, not the law that makes us Christians. The message of the Bible is that we are saved by God’s own grace, not our works (Ephesians 2:8-9). There is nothing we can do to be saved. Becoming a Christian will prompt you to do good things, but none of them will make you a Christian. It is not a matter of deed.
- It Is a Matter of Seed. I Peter 1:23 NIV says: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” Childbirth is a miracle, and what a wonderful gift from God is a tiny baby He gives to two parents. But a greater miracle is the fact that God can take a lost sinner and transform such a one into a child of God. It is called the new birth. Theologians call it regeneration. Anyone in Christ is a new creation; old things have passed away and all things have become new (II Corinthians 5:17 ESV). You can be a Muslim without knowing Mohammed or a Buddhist without knowing Buddha. But you cannot be a Christian without knowing Christ.
Mrs. Whyte told a friend, “I’m trying to be a Christian.” Her friend replied, “How long have you been Mrs. Whyte?” “Ever since this wedding ring was put on my finger,” she answered. Her friend said, “I do not try to be a Christian. I have been one ever since I put out my empty hand and received Christ as my Savior.”
Beloved, the question is, are you a Christian? Have you put your hand into His hand and said: “Yes…I do…I will?” “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John1:12-13 ESV).