What Is a Christian?

The term “Christian” is used in so many different ways and applied to so many different things in modern times that its real meaning is lost on many people. In this article we will examine the word’s actual New Testament usage and determine its meaning from those texts. Though other related terms and descriptions are frequently used of God’s people in the New Testament, the actual term “Christian” (Christianos) is used only three times (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). Though the term is so rarely used, these texts provide us with considerable insight into what a Christian is and what is involved in being one.

1. A Christian is a disciple. Acts 11:26 says, “And when he (Barnabas) had found him (Saul, Paul), he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” Notice that it was “disciples” who were identified as Christians. A disciple is a learner and a follower. When Christ invited burdened people to “come to” Him He said to them, “take my yoke upon you and learn of me” (Matthew 11:28-30). He said to those who believed on Him, “…If you continue in my word then are you my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). As a disciple, a Christian is one who studies and learns God’s word. He does so on his own in order to “handle accurately the word of truth” and to show himself “approved of God” (2 Timothy 2:15). He also meets and studies with others in church assemblies so that he can admonish others and also be admonished by others (Hebrews 10:23-25). The local church is a self-edifying organization (Ephesians 4:16).

2. A Christian is one who was persuaded to convert to God from sin. Acts 26:28 says, “Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You almost persuade me to become a Christian.’” People sometimes talk about being “born into a Christian family,” however, no one is “born” a Christian! Christians are made. The book of Acts well describes this process. When people on Pentecost asked the apostles what to do in order to be saved, Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” (Acts 2:38). Verse 41 states that those “who gladly received (believed) his words were baptized.” Acts 8:12, 36-38; 9:6; 10:47-48; 16:14-15, 30-33; 18:8 all cite variations of this process, showing examples of people being persuaded to believe, repent, confess and be baptized in order to “be converted” (Acts 3:13). Though the passage does not use the word “Christian” specifically, Galatians 3:26-27 also describes the process of becoming a Christian. Paul told the Galatians, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Faith and baptism allow one to “put on” Christ, hence to become a Christian!

3. A Christian is one who suffers as a result of his identity with Christ. 1 Peter 4:15-16 says, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” Those who suffer for doing wrong are simply receiving their just reward. However, the Christian suffers for doing what is right. He is “persecuted for righteousness sake” (Matthew 5:10-12). He is “hated” by people for Christ’s “name sake” (Matthew 10:22). Christians are hated because they are not “of this world” (John 15:19). They do not “love” the world (1 John 2:15). They do not “speak” like the world (1 John 4:5) and they do not behave like (conform to) the world (Romans 12:1-2). Paul told Timothy that, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:2). The Christian is persecuted because he aligns himself with Christ, Who was the most persecuted person on earth. This is why no Christian should “think it strange” that he is persecuted (1 Peter 4:12).

According to the above descriptions, are you a Christian? Contact us if we can help you. Please send us your mailing address if you would like to be placed on our mailing list (whether email for digital or physical address for printed materials).

—Tim Haile

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