What is a Christian?

Our Lesson today is fundamental. I want to consider some basic questions.

  • What is a Christian?
  • How did Christianity begin?
  • How does a person become a Christian?

It is impossible to answer these questions comprehensively in the time we have available today, but one thing is certain. We must go to the Bible for the right answers. My opinions, past allegiance, feelings or even the history channel are inadequate sources. God has revealed Himself in the words of the Bible.


I. The meaning of the word: Christian (Christianos – signifying an adherent of Jesus – Vines NT Dictionary).  The word Christian is only found 3 times in the Bible, and never as an adjective. It is always a noun describing an individual who is a follower of Jesus.

  • Acts 26:28 – 28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”
  • 1 Peter 4:16 – 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.
  • There are some who suggest that the term Christian began as a term of term of derision, and did not originate among Christians themselves. (Even Peter’s use of the term was in the context of what others would call them.)

A.  But there is also indication that God had chosen prophetically to call His people by the name of His Son. The prophet Isaiah spoke of a time when the people of God would be called by a new name: Isa 62:2  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.” In Acts 11:26, after the first recorded instance of a Gentile congregation, the text says..  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.” At any rate, the Christian accepted the designation as a title of honor, and as Peter admonished, were willing to suffer even death to claim it.

1.   Jesus Himself described this concept in John 10:27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” This concept has always involved more than simple belief or mental assent. Christians became such through a process of reasoning and discernment. In John 6, Jesus watches as the crowds begin to disband, not because they did not understand His teaching, but because they did. They were unwilling to follow Him. We must choose to become Christians; it does not happen by accident.

2.  The word Christian in the Bible does not describe an affiliation to any human organization, or religious institution. It does not describe a democratic set of values or political persuasion.

3.  The word Christian describes people (individuals) who follow Jesus wherever He leads. They have their roots in the story of the Bible, and live by faith in Christ alone.


II.  Tracing Our  Roots:  Christians do not define their origin in reference to the reformation movement, restoration movement or any other historical event that is subsequent to the preaching of the resurrection of Christ as recorded in the N.T.  Any religious movement or association younger than the 1st century cannot be true Christianity.  The seed of Christianity is the word of God itself.

A.  The passage we read in Acts 11:26 traces Christianity to a certain time period. It is not defined subjectively according to what I want or like today. Our roots are in the gospel of Christ.

1.  God came and lived among us in human form in the person of Jesus Christ. His incarnation (as we sometimes call it) was necessary because we are all sinners.

a. Men and women are not sinners because they have inherited any guilt or depravity of soul from Adam and Eve. We are guilt before God because, as responsible adults, we have personally chosen to disobey Him – we have committed sin, and therefore are sinners.

  • Romans 5:12 – Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned —
  • Romans 3:23 – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.  These words describe our predicament.

b.  The Bible teaches that our sin separates us from God. Because of this, we all share a common need. We need to be forgiven of our sins and be reconciled to God. How is this possible? How can I be justified (declared innocent) in the eyes of God?  Again, we must go to the Bible for the answer.

2.  Through His life and planned death Jesus gave us the right to become Children of God.   John 1:9-13 – That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own,* and His own* did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. If we were to properly define Christianity it must be defined in this historical context.

3. The O.T. prophets looked forward to this time as they spoke of the “last days” when God would establish a “new covenant” (unlike the old), and forgiveness of sins would be offered.

  • Jer 31:31-34 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah– 32       “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt…. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”   This promised forgiveness would come through the proclamation of God’s word to all nations. God’s people would be taught His ways.
  •  Isa 2:2-3 – 2 Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the Lord’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. 3 Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
  • These and many other O.T. prophecies were fulfilled in the events of Acts 2, when the apostles of Jesus preached the gospel for the first time. On that day those who obeyed the words of Jesus were forgiven of their sins and were saved. They were the first Christians.

4. The forgiveness provided on that day was made possible through the blood of Jesus that He willing shed on the cross. His death was the judicial payment for every person’s sin.  In Ephesians 2 Paul describes our position before becoming Christians as  “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” ( Eph 2:12).   “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:13). Christianity cannot be defined apart from the power of Jesus’ sacrificial blood. Those who become Christians today are forgiven through the blood Jesus shed on that day. They become Christians by obeying the same Gospel message that was preached in that day.

5.  At the heart of the message preached by the apostles was the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Luke 24:44-48  Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. 46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And you are witnesses of these things.

B.  The First Christians:  As we mentioned, the gospel was preached for the first time in the events of Acts 2. (turn there in your Bible) As foretold in O.T. prophecy, God poured forth His Spirit, and the apostles of Jesus preached the very words of God in every person’s own language.  vs. 4 –they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

1.  Peter spoke of the death and resurrection of Christ, proclaiming that Jesus was not dead, but seated in heaven at the right hand of God.

  • ·   Acts 2:32-33 – This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. 33 Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear… vs. 36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

2.   The Gospel message was good news. But how could the good news of Jesus’ resurrection be assimilated to those who heard it? It was a message that demanded a response.

  • vs.  37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them,”Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
  • Those who responded (3000) were forgiven. This spiritual act of forgiveness through the blood of Jesus was simultaneous with their reconciliation with God. They were the saved by grace (cross) through faith (their obedience). They were added to the church by God. Acts 2:47… and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.  It is nonsensical to speak of being a Christian without being a member of Christ’s church. The church are all those who are saved.

3.  How do people become Christians?  Following Acts 2, every case of conversion to Christ recorded in the book of Acts follows the same pattern. This is the pattern for us today. To be a Christian today you must:

  • Hear the Gospel. Faith comes by hearing the word of God. (Rom 10:17)
  • Believe God. Faith is a total reliance upon God, not just a mental acceptance of facts. “And without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”  (Hebrews 11:6). True faith is willing to act upon what is believed: “What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works…For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:14, 26). Jesus said, He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16)
  • repent of your past sins: Acts 2:38 – “Repent & be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ..” A Christians is a person who chose with all his heart to take a new direction. Repentance is a command and hence a condition for salvation: “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent.” (Acts 17:30)
  • Confess your faith in Christ. Believers must not be ashamed of their faith. Jesus said, “everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”  – Matthew 10:32-33). This identifies confession as a condition for being saved.
    • Acts 8:35-37 “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may. “And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
    • Be immersed (or baptized) in water for the remission of your sins.  We contact the life-giving blood of Christ in the waters of baptism:  “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore, we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”  (Romans 6:3-4)
      • Furthermore, the apostle Peter distinctly indicates baptism to be essential to salvation: “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience — through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21).
      • Gal. 3:27 states that all those who have been baptized into Christ have clothed themselves with Christ. There is no example of someone becoming a Christian in the N.T. who was not baptized in response to being taught the gospel.


Conclusion:  Are you a Christian?  There is no more important question for us to ask ourselves than this one. If not, you need to become one by doing what these first Christians did. If you do just what they did what will it make you? A Christian – nothing else. But that is enough. If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.

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