Who is a Christian?


     The word Christian is a very misunderstood word. Some cannot even relate to "Christian." They think only in terms of Baptist-Christian, etc. The Bible knows nothing about the hyphenated use of Christian. Denominations, as we know them today, were non-existent in the First Century (Click here to read more.) Many confess to be a Christian when actually there is little semblance between their confession and profession (manner of life). Some believe and teach there is not serious connection between being a Christian and life style (click here to read a quotation). The noun (never used as an adjective) Christian is found three times in the New Testament (Acts 11: 26, 26: 28, I Pet. 4: 16). The word is simply defined as:

     "Christianos, 'Christian,' a word formed after the Roman style, signifying an adherent of Jesus, was first applied to such by the Gentiles and is found in Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16.…From the second century onward the term was accepted by believers as a title of honor" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).

     There is no serious doubt that the term "Christian" is meant when James wrote, "Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?" (Jas. 2: 7). "Christian" is a "worthy name" in that it is divinely given and denotes both adherence and belonging to Jesus it its usage (see addendum). One excellent way to define words is by noticing their usage. In this case, we shall consider the concept in the biblical presentation of Christian.

     In pursuit, the Christian is a follower of Christ. Jesus said, "…If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matt. 16: 24). Jesus is the Christian's example (I Pet. 2: 21). Hence, the Christian looks to Jesus (Heb. 12: 2). Too many continue to follow men, not Jesus (I Cor. 1: 10 ff.). Allow me to be plain: One cannot be a Christian and follow Joseph Smith. Following Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon makes one a Mormon!

     In knowledge, the Christian is a disciple or learner. Christians are called "disciples" (Acts 11: 26). Jesus said "learn of me" (Matt. 11: 29). The Christian is progressively learning the word of God (Col. 1: 10, 2 Pet. 3: 18). Not only is he learning God's word, he is applying it to his life (2 Pet. 1: 5-11, 3: 17, 18).

     In faith, the Christian is a believer. Paul wrote, "…for I know whom I have believed…" (2 Tim. 1: 12). Paul's faith was personal and active. We see Paul's faith in his following statement, "…for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me" (Acts 27: 25, click here to read more about saving faith).

     In character, the Christian is a saint. A saint is sanctified or set apart for spiritual use (hagios, cp. John 17: 17). A saint is sanctified in body, mind, and spirit (Rom. 12: 1, 2, I Thes. 5: 23). A saint does not use vile language, allow bad thoughts to dominate his mind, and live in an unbecoming fashion (Eph. 4: 29; Phili. 4: 8; Eph. 4: 1).

     In connection and relationship, the Christian is a branch in the vine. Jesus teaches at length about the branch/vine relationship (Jn. 15: 1-8). Jesus is the vine and his disciples are the branches (vs. 1, 2 ff.). Just as the branch must depend on the vine for sustenance and life, so it is with the Christian. Jesus said, "Abide in me, and I in you, as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself…" (vs. 4). Apart from Christ, the Christian "withers and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (vs. 6).

     In transformation, the Christian is a new creature. Paul wrote, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new: (2 Cor. 5: 17). This new life officially begins with baptism (Rom. 6: 3 ff.).

     In illumination, the Christian is light. Jesus prospectively wrote, "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid…" (Matt. 5: 14). Of the Philippians Paul said, "…among whom ye shine as lights in the world" (Phili. 2: 15). The Christian illuminates or reflects the light of Christ, the single source of light, to a benighted and sinful world (cp. Jn. 3: 17 ff.). The Christian himself, though, first walks or lives in the light (teaching of God's word, I Jn. 1: 7-9).

     In influence, the Christian is leaven. For the most part, "leaven" is used in the scriptures to stand for the influence and pervasiveness of evil. However, Jesus said "the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leaven" (Matt. 13: 33). Just as evil influences, so does righteousness (I Cor. 5: 6).

    In labor, the Christian is a worker. The Christian is the laborer of the parable of the sower (Matt. 13: 3). The exhortation is, "Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief" (Heb. 4: 11). The labor of the Christian is not in vain, when it is in the Lord (I Cor. 15: 58).

     In combat, the Christian is a soldier. The Lord has his army and every Christian is a soldier (cp. Eph. 6: 11-17). The soldier is spiritually aggressive and endures hardship (2 Tim. 2: 3, 4). By the way, there are no conscientious objectors in Jesus' army and there is no draft system.

     In alertness, the Christian is a watchman. So many walk around in a daze. It is no wonder they have so many problems. Paul enjoined, "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong" (I Cor. 16: 13). Spiritual alertness is essentially involved in the command, "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise" (Eph. 5: 15).

     As I suggested in the beginning, a Christian belongs to Christ and is a practitioner of Jesus' teaching. We have attempted to scripturally illustrate what a Christian is by analyzing the aspects of the life of a Christian. As you have probably concluded, certainly not all who claim to be Christians are. Paul wrote of certain ones, "They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him…" (Tit. 1: 16). In the three actual times "Christian" is used, it is never used as an adjective. Hence, from a biblical perspective there is no concept of a "Christian nation" or "Christian school." The desire of all should be to simply be Christians, nothing more, nothing less.

     Addendum: "Were called" (chrematizo) used in Acts 11: 26 ("were called Christians") is found nine times in the Greek New Testament (Matt. 2: 12, 22, Lk. 2: 26, Acts 10: 22, 11: 26, Rom. 7: 3, Heb. 8: 5, 11: 7, and 12: 25). In all the eight occurrences outside of Acts 11: 26 "called' is used of a divine calling, cp. Isa. 62: 2. Therefore, I reject the common view that "Christian" was first applied by man as a term of derision. To read more as to how one becomes a Christian, click here.