What is a Christian?
Luke reports that it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. (Acts 11:26) The word literally means “Christ’s ones” or “one who belongs to Christ”. Let’s dive a little deeper to explore five words that define the substance of this identity with Christ.
Revelation accepted. Being a Christian involves a basic belief that the living God of the universe is revealed in and through Jesus Christ. He’s not just a spiritual man, a pious teacher or a powerful social-justice warrior. He is no less than the revelation of God on earth. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1, 14). Jesus is unique. He’s in a class by himself. He doesn’t fit into lists of great religious leaders of the past. He is God.
Faith confessed: To become a Christian, one goes beyond mere agreement with a general theological doctrine. It’s specifically personal. Jesus is decidedly my Lord and my savior. This commitment can’t be general like Ernest Hemingway’s famous remark, “I love people, it’s just my generation that I can’t stand.” It’s not enough to say Jesus is Lord, the Christian wholeheartedly affirms he is my Lord and Savior. Thomas is our inspiration here. When he was confronted with the risen Christ he made the good confession “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28)
Obedience practiced: To be a Christian is to live in obedient communion with God. As John points out, “For the love of God is this that we obey his commandments” (1 John 5:3) A Christian may not live in sinless perfection every moment of the day but neither can they dwell in habitual, repeated and willful sin. The Holy Spirit aids and empowers the Christian to seek a moral and ethical life in accordance with the commandments of God.
Spirit received: A Christian is one who has received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins and leads us to cry out to God for mercy. The Holy Spirit brings the truth of the cross to bear upon our hearts. The Holy Spirit leads us through the entire process of new birth and sustains Christians in the new life.
Church joined: A Christian is one who takes their place in Christ’s church. There is no such thing as a “churchless” Christianity. Such an animal is the creation of the anti-institutional and radical self-centeredness of modern culture. It has no grounding in the Gospel. Jesus came to build the church (Matthew 16:18) and Christians are ones who have agreed to be his building materials. So the apostle invites us, “like living stones let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” (1 Peter 2:5)