The word “Christian” appears only three times in the New Testament. Acts 11:26 records that “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” This apparently was not a name they adopted themselves, but outsiders likely used it as a negative term. It essentially means a “little Christ,” or one who patterns his life after that of Jesus Christ. It is synonymous-or ought to be-with words such as disciple, saint, and believer. John R. W. Stott writes that this term used here “marked out the disciples as being above all the people, the followers, the servants of Christ” (The Spirit, the Church, & the World, p. 205). It distinguished the early believers from other Jews.

By the time Paul preached to Agrippa in Acts 26:28, the term was in widespread use, at least among those familiar with “followers of the Way” (Acts 9:2). Agrippa, somewhat amused, asked Paul, “Do you think you can persuade me to be a Christian?” The witness of believers had been such that people everywhere knew about Christians, even if they did not know exactly what a Christian was.

Peter exhorts his readers in his first epistle that there is no shame in suffering as a Christian (1 Peter 4:16). He contrasted such suffering to punishment inflicted justly for a crime. Suffering for one’s testimony was seen as a reason to praise God, in that the believer was being faithful (2 Timothy 3:12).

In our day the term “Christian” is used as both a noun and an adjective. A person may be said to be a Christian-that he professes to be a believer in Christ, Someone may be called a “Christian lady,” drawing attention to the fact that she typifies a follower of Christ in her attitude and actions.

Sometimes “Christian” is used too loosely. Some say they are Christians because of being born in a Western country, or were sprinkled as infants. But the careful student of Scripture knows that Christians, properly understood, are those who have committed their lives and souls to Christ for salvation.

Vance Havner, the evangelist, once said that what we need are more “Christian Christians.” The name “Christian” draws attention in that believers are centered on a Person–Jesus Christ–and that their lives reflect Him.

Craig Alan Myers
November/December 2002