Interestingly, the Bible only mentions the word Christian three times (Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16). When the term Christian was used in Acts, it was initially used by the unsaved people of Antioch and Agrippa as a kind of derisive nickname used to make fun of the followers of Christ. Christians called themselves by different names—disciples, believers, brethren, saints, the elect, etc. The word Christian literally means, “belonging to the party of Christ” or an “adherent or follower of Christ.” Initially, it was a term of contempt or ridicule. Over time this derogatory term became a positive designation. Also, as Peter admonished, there was a sense of suffering and distress attached to the word Christian in the New Testament.
What is a Christian? If were are discussing the Christian brand, it would be helpful to know what it means to be a Christian so we can understand what our personal brand should look like when we call ourselves a Christian.
1. A Christian is someone who has been chosen by God. Sometimes we speak of finding the Lord, but if he had not found us first, we would never have found him at all. Salvation begins with God, not with us. He chooses us, and then we believe. Salvation is all by grace, all of God, all the time. A Christian, then, is a person who has been called and chosen by God himself. Being a Christian is not a work of merit or a personal accomplishment but an act of God’s free grace.
2. A Christian is someone who responds to the gospel message. The good news becomes effective in us through the preaching of the gospel. When the Word is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, it produces deep conviction in the hearts of the hearers. Even when preachers have done their best, it will count for nothing without the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the hearers. That’s why “full conviction” matters so much. It means people are so deeply convicted of their sin and their need for a Savior that they run to the cross and embrace Jesus as their only hope of heaven.
3. A Christian is someone who regards Christ as infinitely more valuable than earthly suffering. In the early days of the Christian movement, new followers faced enormous cultural pressure. No doubt some faced opposition from family members who thought they were nuts to believe in Jesus. It wasn’t popular to be a “Christ-follower.” This response is often seen in those places today where being a Christian really costs something. A more profound joy is evidenced than is seen among American Christians. Here we tend to take our blessings for granted. Where persecution exists, every day is a gift from God, and every Sunday is an oasis in the desert of suffering. Jesus never invited us to receive him on a trial basis, although some try to do just that. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.” True conversion means that we continue to follow Christ even when the going gets rough.
4. A Christian is someone whose life has been genuinely changed by Jesus Christ. The person who claims to be a Christian, but whose life does not change, is only fooling himself. Those whom God chooses; he changes. This does not mean they are perfect, but they are possessors of a new life that cannot be hidden.
5. A Christian is one who cannot keep silent about Jesus. The evidence of true Christianity occurs when a believer receives God’s Word gladly, then lives it out daily. As they do, the message of the gospel reverberates in every direction. And those around begin to sit up and take notice. They are witnesses of the wondrous work that Jesus has done in their lives. We all know that a satisfied customer is always the best advertisement for any product. The best place for us to make an impact for Christ is right where we are. We don’t have to go overseas to be a missionary. We can start by living for Christ and showing others the difference he makes daily.
6. A Christian is someone who has gone “all in” on Jesus. There comes a moment when a believer has to decide to go “all in” about what they believe. They look at their cards, look at their chips, and then say, “All in.” They risk everything on that one hand. If they’re right, they win it all. If they’re wrong, they lose it all. It’s that way in the Christian life also. We can’t hold on to our cards forever. Somewhere along the way we’ve got to make a stand. We’ve got to go “all in” with Jesus.
Years ago I decided to go “all in” on Jesus. I pushed my chips to the center of the table and I went “all in” that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died on the cross for my sins, that he rose from the dead on the third day, that he is the Lord of the universe, and that he will someday take me to heaven.
That’s what it means to be a Christian. Are you one?