By Timothy Sparks
Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Gentiles is significant for our current study: “The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory. You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD will name” (Is. 62:2, NKJV). After the Gentiles saw God’s righteousness (Acts 10), God called his people “Christians.” The NKJV renders Acts 11:26 as follows: “And when he had found him, 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 the phrases “they assembled,” “taught” and “were called.” Digging a little deeper, all three Greek words are infinitives, the first is passive and the other two are active infinitives. Translated into English we have: “to be assembled,” “to teach” and “to call.” From the immediate context (vv. 22-25), it is Barnabas and Saul who “assembled,” “taught” and “called.” In the New Testament, the Greek word translated “to call” carries with it the force of a divine calling, so that while Barnabas and Saul applied the name, it came from God. God gave the name “Christians,” not the Lord’s enemies, contrary to a “popular opinion.” A more accurate translation is: “And it happened that for a whole year they assembled with the church, taught a considerable crowd, and divinely called the disciples Christians first in Antioch.” Three times the name occurs in Scripture (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16). It is alluded to at least once: “that noble name by which you are called” (Jas. 2:7).
Since the name always occurs in Scripture as a noun, never as an adjective, we would do well to “clean up” our terminology. No doubt, people will have a terribly hard time breaking the habit of using the name as an adjective, as in the following phrases: “Christian man,” “Christian woman,” “Christian College,” “Christian Church,” “Christian home,” “Christian books,” etc. So, I wouldn’t dare ask just anybody to give it an A+ effort . . . I’m just asking you. 🙂 Admittedly, I had a hard time “breaking the habit,” but with time and a willing attitude it can be done. In coaching distance running, I used to put it this way, “If there’s a will, there’s a way, and if there is no will, there is no way.” Do we think we can try harder to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11)? Sure we can.
Far more attention needs to be given to what it really means to be a Christian. The Greek lexical definition is “a follower of Christ.” Sadly, many who were once part of Christ’s body no longer follow Christ. As a result, they are not Christians. To be a Christian one must be faithful to Christ. A Christian is a person who is going where Christ would go and is doing what Christ would do (Rom. 8:9).