The word "Christian" is sometimes used rather freely and without regard to its New Testament usage. Some folks apply the term to practically anyone who has any connection to some religious group or embraces certain moral principles. Others use the word to describe any nation in which a majority of the population follows some forrm of "Christianity." But what exactly IS a Christian? Can we describe nations, families, organizations, etc. as "Christian"?
The word only appears three times in the New King James Version. Luke records that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch of Syria (Acts 11:26). Prior to that time, followers of Jesus were called "disciples," "brethren," or "saints." The congregation in Antioch was not called "Christian;" the individual members of that congregation were called Christians.
When Paul made his defense before the Roman governor Festus and King Agrippa, he claimed that he preached exactly what the prophets of old had predicted, that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead. The King's response was, "You almost persuade me to become a Christian" (Acts 26:28). Paul responded, "I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains" (vs. 29). It is clear from Paul's response that Agrippa used the word "Christian" to mean a disciple of Jesus.
It is evident from the apostle Peter's use of "Christian" that the word refers to a person rather than a nation, family, etc. Peter wrote, "Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter or by this name" (1 Pet. 4:16).
From an etymological viewpoint, the word "Christian" means one who pertains to or belongs to Christ. The church, according to Paul, was purchased with the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28) and thus belongs to Him. It is no surprise that local congregations in the firs century were referred to as churches of Christ" (Rom. 16:16). Such a name indicates ownership or possession. Paul affirmed that the individual members of the church of Christ at Corinth did not belong to themselves; they had been "bought at a price" (1 Cor. 6:19,20). The price of their purchase, of course, was the precious blood of Christ.
A Christian, then, is one who has been purchased by the blood of Christ and thus belongs to Him. But when does that "purchase" take place? Those who are living in sin have yielded themselves to Satan, but when the blood of Christ cleanses them from their sins they are redeemed from the slavery of sin and then they belong to Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:19; Eph. 1:7). Listen to the words of Ananias to Saul of Tarsus, "And now why tarriest thou or why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22: 16). At the point of water baptism, an individual is cleansed by the blood of Jesus and purchased to be one of God's family, i.e., becomes a Christian. (See Gal. 3:26,27).
By Allen Dvorak in Gospel Power, Vol. 15, No. 40, Oct. 5, 2008.
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