It was in Antioch where in Acts 11:26 it says that the believers in Jesus were first called Christians. The term Christian comes from two Greek words. The first one is referring to Christ or the anointed one and the second indicating a following or adherence to (the subject) which in this case is Jesus (Christ). It is usually understood to identify a “follower of Jesus” or more specifically, someone who is “like Jesus” or Christ like.
The term Christian does not identify someone’s parents, nationality, church attendance, race, gender, political persuasion or club membership. It was intended to singularly and uniquely identify someone who follows and takes on the attributes, attitudes and characteristics of Jesus. This was important in the early church formation as to be a follower of Christ was a significant departure from the status quo of religious leaders and zealots who were joined in a corrupt hierarchical system of money, manipulation and control. So to reflect the character of Jesus was distinct enough to garner its own descriptive term.
This is vitally important for us to understand today as the practices of Jesus (and subsequently His followers) were highlighted by humility, modest lifestyles, serving others, outreach to non-believers, modest dress, knowledge of Scripture, holiness, repentance, fellowship with other believers, spreading the Gospel, spiritual accountability, correction and discipleship.
Hopefully, for most of my readers, what I have written so far will be considered somewhat academic in nature and shouldn’t come as any shock or cause controversy. But perhaps this next part will change that.
Identifying fellow believers in Christ was important in the early church since they were few and far between. So when Jesus says in Matthew 7 “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions” He is giving advice on distinguishing between false believers or wolves and true “Christians”. The early church incorporated Jesus’ exhortations and used them to advise on issues of fellowship and church discipline.
Fast forward to today where the label “Christian” has come to be associated with almost a third of the world’s population, to include many top athletes, performers, politicians, motivational TV personalities and church “leaders”. But purely from a practical standpoint, the attributes of Christ are often far removed from many of these high profile figures as well as the not so high profile. I/we, of course, cannot judge hearts, but we are instructed on ways to judge actions, fruit, character and attitudes.
Christ is in the business of transforming and changing lives from the corruptible to the incorruptible, from unholy to holy and from earthly focused to a focus on eternity. It is not some small and insignificant power by which Christ influences lives towards sanctification. It is the unlimited power of the creator of the universe which courses through the lives of those who have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins.
I can’t say for certain why so many today, who have little or nothing to do with Christ and His character, identify themselves as Christians but I can speculate. First off, they simply do not understand what it means to be a Christian. Take Trump for example; I think we are all aware of his interview where he was asked if he had repented and ask God for forgiveness and he didn’t even really know how to answer the question. This is not intended to be a slam to Trump but rather highlighting his understanding of Christianity as being one of the most common out there. Many simply don’t have much of a clue as to what it really means – the extent of their knowledge is that their parents were Christians or they were “raised” in church. Then there are those who may have a pretty good understanding of what it means to be a Christian but they have little interest in actually living a Godly life but they understand that to identify as a Christian affords them some particular status or image as an impression in other people’s minds. Sort of like if I tell people that I am a skydiver they will automatically put me in the category of crazy, extreme sport or daredevil even if I have never actually jumped out of a plane. There are those who don’t want to disappoint family or friends and continue to pose as a Christian simply to keep up appearances out of a sense of obligation. There are those who do it for financial gain. And then there are those who do it because it is some trending thing to wear a cross or thump your chest and point to the sky.
Bottom line, in my opinion, the days are such that we can no longer warm up to or tolerate posers as representing Christ and the church. In the same way we would unanimously reject the Westboro group as not representing Christian values, I believe we must distance ourselves from an increasing number of what I will call “wanna be” Christians who for reasons of financial, political or social gain preach, chest bump or bow at the altar of a pop-culture religion that has little to do with the life and lifestyle exampled by Christ. I submit that these types are eminently more dangerous than the Westboro crowd as they are far more socially acceptable yet blur the focus and distinction of the cross of Christ to those around them and in some cases to the nation and the world. The line of difference must be as clear and distinct as the character and nature of Christ or, honestly, there is no difference.
Matt. 7:14 How narrow is the gate and how constricted is the road that leads to life, and there aren’t many people who find it!
1 Cor. 5:12 After all, do I have any business judging those who are outside [the Christian faith]? Isn’t it your business to judge those who claim they are inside?