Part 2: What is a Christian? Are you one? (Christian But Not series)

In Part 1, I looked at the word ‘Christian’ and at what the first Christians called themselves (which was not ‘Christian’).  I summarized saying a Christian was someone who followed Jesus, spent time learning what Jesus taught, identified with others who were doing the same, believed they were set apart by or for God from the rest of the world, and were trustworthy and faithful in living what they believed.

I guess I still believe that. But there’s a problem with this definition. It’s still too vague. And there are many self-identified Christians who fit part but not all of it. Is that enough? Is that what Jesus wanted?

I just listened to a sermon by Andy Stanley in which he did – in a far superior way – what I’m attempting to do. His message “Christian” was amazing and I encourage everyone to listen to it. https://northpoint.org/messages/christian/brand-recognition

In this blog, I want to focus on what the first Christians called themselves. Like I said, it was not “Christian”. The name Christian was given to them by others and was derogatory. Kind of like it is now, only we give it to ourselves. And we’ve earned that reputation.

So what did the first followers of Jesus call themselves? And more importantly, what did Jesus call them?

I heard that the most common term was “disciple” but I wanted to see for myself. So I did a search using Bible Gateway. I subtracted the terms that were included in subtitles. The numbers vary between versions of the Bible. I’ve included a few popular versions for comparison.

 ESVKJVNASBNIV
Christian3333
Disciple ( found only in the Gospels and in Acts)247255255279
believer1421550
saint6562610
Brethren*022900
Brother*325109323275
* included in subtitles, also includes natural brothers, such as Matt 10:2  The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother.

Results: “Brother” and “Disciple” were used a lot more often than any other terms. Since “Brother” included natural relationships as well as referring to Christ-followers, which would make the numbers much lower than “Disciple” if we subtracted them (anyone with more time than I have is welcome to do the math), I would say that the winner is…

Disciple

That’s what Jesus called us to be.

In my next blog, we look into what a disciple is, as found in the NT, and compare it to what Christian means to us today.

Part 1: What is a Christian? Are You One? (Christian But Not series)

Hey! I thought this was going to be an easy first blog in this series. I mean, everyone knows what a Christian is, right?

Wrong.

From what I learned from the research I just did, everyone has their own idea of what a Christian is.

  1. A person who believes in Jesus
  2. A person who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus
  3. A member of a Christian church
  4. A person who exhibits a spirit proper to a follower of Christ
  5. A person who’s life exemplifies the teachings of Jesus
  6. A person who belongs to a religion based on the teachings of Jesus
  7. A person who believes in and follows the teachings of Jesus
  8. A person who is born into a Christian family

Evidently a Christian, as defined by society, has something to do with Jesus. Whether it’s the family they were born in, the church they attend, what they believe, or the way they act – Jesus is the common factor.

That’s well and good. Especially if we put most of the definitions together. The only problem is – they aren’t always put together.

Some people believe to live a life following the teachings of Jesus makes you a Christian, regardless of what you believe about Him.

Some people believe to believe in Jesus as God makes you a Christian, regardless of what else you believe or what you do.

Some people believe that having a relationship with Jesus makes you a Christian, and nothing else matters.

Some people believe belonging a Christian church makes you a Christian, regardless of how you act when not at church.

Some people believe being born into and raised in a Christian family makes you a Christian by default, period.

So who’s right?

There’s only one place I know that always has the truth. And that’s the Bible. (more about this in another blog.) So let’s see what the Bible has to say.

The term ‘Christian’ was used only three times.  Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16. In Acts, the term Christian was applied to them by outsiders; in 1 Peter, Peter referred to his fellow believers as Christians. In all three places, the same Greek word was used. From Bible Hub:

Christians
Χριστιανούς (Christianous)
Noun – Accusative Masculine Plural
Strong’s Greek 5546: A Christian. From Christos; a Christian, i.e. Follower of Christ.

So, a Christian is a follower of Christ. Simple, yet still vague, in my opinion. Let’s keep digging.

The early Christians usually referred to themselves as disciples, brethren (brother), saints, believers, and in one place, followers of the Way.

disciples
μαθητὰς (mathētas)
Noun – Accusative Masculine Plural
Strong’s Greek 3101: A learner, disciple, pupil. From manthano; a learner, i.e. Pupil.

“Brothers,
ἀδελφοί (adelphoi)
Noun – Vocative Masculine Plural
Strong’s Greek 80: A brother, member of the same religious community, especially a fellow-Christian. A brother near or remote.

saints
ἅγιοι (hagioi)
Adjective – Nominative Masculine Plural
Strong’s Greek 40: Set apart by (or for) God, holy, sacred. From hagos; sacred.

{does} a believer
πιστῷ (pistō)
Adjective – Dative Masculine Singular
Strong’s Greek 4103: Trustworthy, faithful, believing. From peitho; objectively, trustworthy; subjectively, trustful.

The first Christians saw themselves as…

  1. A follower of Christ
  2. A learner
  3. A brother, member of the same religious community
  4.  Set apart by or for God, holy
  5. Trustworthy, faithful, believing

So a Christian, according to these first Christians followed Jesus, spent time learning what Jesus taught, identified with others who were doing the same, believed they were set apart by or for God from the rest of the world, and were trustworthy and faithful in living what they believed.

In other words… Christians believed what Jesus said, and lived lives consistent with that belief.

Do we?

We’ll find out more in my next blog.

As always, I welcome your feedback. Agree? Disagree? Confused? Let me know in the comments below.