"First Called Christians"
I find it interesting that people called them Christians, not that they named themselves Christians. So what are the attributes of a Christian?
First CALLED Christians
A. I read the following statement: “I believe today that a church should require dynamic worship, dynamic fellowship, dynamic opportunities to understand and apply the word, dynamic opportunities to serve the Kingdom of God both locally and globally, and dynamic principles for living out the faith visibly and deliberately in the context of daily living.” ~Abraham Shanklin Jr.
B. How dynamic is a church supposed to be? One person’s understanding of “dynamic” may be very different than another’s. But overall, I would tend to agree with the statement. We as a collective group of disciples should be dynamic in all that we do collectively and individually. The word “power” found in the NT is Greek equivalent of “dynamite.” It means “one who has the ability or power.” Paul uses this word to Timothy when he reminds him that God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love and self-control. A little later in that letter as he describes the last days and the people of the last days, he says that they will have the appearance of godliness, but deny the power thereof.
C. Are we to be dynamic? YES! So think about what I am going to ask you. When you hear someone call themselves a Christian, what comes to your mind first? Let me give you some options: When you hear the word Christian do you think about a person’s doctrine or belief system? Do you think about what church or denomination they attend? Or do you think about a person’s lifestyle and actions? Ponder on what it means to be a Christian to you? Let’s define what it means to be a Christian by examining some terms that were used to describe people who followed Jesus.
I. Term: Disciple
A. Before the word “Christian” was used, in the ministry of Jesus another word was used; that’s the word “disciple.” Turn with me to Luke 14:25-33. The most frequently used word to describe a follower of Jesus during his earthly ministry was “disciple.”
B. A disciple was a person who was engaged actively in learning from a master or teacher. It was used to describe a person who was intensely loyal and followed that teacher exclusively.
C. You can see it in Joshua as a disciple of Moses, Elisha as a disciple of Elijah, and the twelve as disciples of Jesus. But in the Luke passage, Jesus elevates what it means to be a disciple. The word translated disciple occurs 250 times in the NT and only in the Gospels and Acts. It is used almost always as one who is a follower of Jesus.
II. Term: Servant
A. This idea of a disciple brings up another term that is used to describe the followers of Jesus and that is the “servant.” One of the places this word is used is in John 12:23-26.
B. We are familiar with the word “diakonos” as the word “deacon.” But another word that the Greek language uses that is translated “servant’ is “dulos.” John 13:12-20. It carries with it the idea of slavery more than just a hired servant. It is one who has been bought with a price and no longer is his own.
C. Greeks had a strong sense of freedom, just like we do in America. So the idea that you would describe yourself as a slave to someone is beyond what many would comprehend. But that is how Paul begins several of his letters, “Paul a bond-servant, or slave, of Jesus Christ.” When young Mary is told by an angel that she will be with child through the Holy Spirit, she responds, “I am a slave of the Lord.” She had given herself completely over to God to be used as He wills not as she wills.
III. Term: Christian
A. I set this entire sermon up because of the reading in the book of Acts. Only 3 times in the NT is the word “Christian” used. It was a title description given to them by the Gentiles of that area. It simply means “a follower of Christ.” That in itself is interesting. They didn’t call them Jesus-ians, but Christ-ians. These Gentiles wanted to distinguish these Jewish followers from other Jews and took the idea of the Messiah/Christ/Anointed One and turned it into a description of these people.
B. When Paul gave his defense before King Agrippa, he told him his conversion story. He told how he was on his way to persecute people who follow the name of Jesus of Nazareth. But the Lord appeared to him in a great light and commissioned him to preach about the forgiveness of sins to the Gentiles. As Paul spoke about all this Festus interrupted him and said he was crazy. But Paul turned to King Agrippa and said boldly, “I know you believe.” The king’s response was this, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” There’s our word. Once again given from someone who is not a disciple to describe the disciple of Jesus. It is a word that promotes lordship over one self. A Christian is one who has made Jesus both Lord and Christ. A Christian so follows the Anointed One of God as to claim his name for himself.
A. So what does a Christian look like? When the world looks at us, what do they see? How do they describe us? Are we known well enough in this community to even have a reputation?
B. What we know about the disciples in Antioch is that they were preaching the Lord Jesus to people and a great number believed. What we know is that Barnabas brought Saul from Tarsus and together worked in Antioch for a year. What we know is that people of that area saw them followers of Christ. It may not have been a term of love at first, but it was a something we have taken hold of and hold in great honor to this day.
C. The best way to describe a Christians is to simply describe Jesus. When you do, then you see what you and I are to be all the time. Not just on Sunday. Not just in these walls, but all the time. Are you described by the community as a person who preaches and teaches the good news of Jesus and salvation from sin?
D. Matt. 25:31-40. Is this a description of this congregation? Are you a person who feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty, welcomes in a stranger, clothes the naked, and visits those who are sick or those wrongfully put into prison? Is that the description of this church?
E. Yes, it’s personal. For Jesus wants to know, are you a Christian? Is there enough evidence to convict? You know you and your heart better than anyone here. We invite you to respond today.