Fundamentals are important to understanding and success, regardless of the subject or activity. According to former New York Mets catcher Clarence “Choo-Choo” Coleman, Mets manager Casey Stengel, frustrated by the ineffectiveness of the team in its first year (1962), decided they needed to return to the basics. During a locker room meeting, he held up a baseball and said, “This is a baseball,” to which Coleman interrupted, “Wait, you’re going too fast.”
For anyone interested in understanding Christianity, the question “What is a Christian?” is basic. The term is used just three times in the Bible — Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16. We’ll look at these passages through three headings: Change, Choice and Challenge.
1. The Change (Acts 11:26): “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”
According to the Biblical historian Luke, the gospel was preached in Antioch to Jews and then Greeks by Jesus’ followers scattered by persecution following the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1–2). In the city of Antioch, “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (11:21).
The Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to investigate the conversion of non-Jews. When he saw “the evidence of the grace of God,” he accepted it gladly. He and Saul (later known as Paul) worked with the young church for a year. Luke then records that “the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”
Remember Luke’s comment in verse 21 — “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” Those who became followers of Jesus made a great change by this “belief and turn” — that is, since they believed, they then turned from their sins (repented of), were baptized and thus became Christians. This was the same as in other stories of conversion to Christ. This change is one that everyone who wants to be a child of God must make.
2. The Choice (Acts 26:28, NIV): “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
The immediate context is dramatic and tragic. Earlier, Paul had appeared before the Roman governor Porcius Festus and King Herod Agrippa II, ruler of western Galilee. When Festus heard him speak of Jesus’ resurrection, he told Paul, “You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane” (26:25). Denying his insanity, the apostle appealed to Herod’s knowledge of the truth of what the prophets said about the Messiah. Perhaps annoyed at Paul’s exposure of his nationality, the king replied, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (26:28, NIV; the KJV’s “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” isn’t viewed by most to be a correct translation.)
Everyone has the choice of accepting the gospel’s claims about Jesus or rejecting them. Paul couldn’t make the choice for Herod, and no one can make it for you or me. But the choice we make will determine our eternal destiny.
3. The Challenge (1 Peter 4:16): “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
The immediate context (4:12–16) is that of Peter’s encouragement to his readers to consider the suffering they endure as a privilege. They should rejoice, since they are participating in the sufferings of Christ and will be “overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (4:12–13).
If they suffered for the name of Christ, they were blessed, because “the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (4:14). They must not suffer for doing evil but for the good they’ve done. Millions have suffered since then because they were Christians. Thousands still suffer because of him.
Remember Jesus’ beatitude: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10–12). There are many reasons for suffering and bad treatment. Some is deserved and some not. But no reason is so glorious as this — to suffer because of the name of Jesus Christ.
In brief, then, a Christian is one who is willing to wear the name of Christ, to accept its challenges and to glorify God in it.