Those of us who are believers, the redeemed, the born again, the saints, the converted, and the saved probably refer to ourselves and even think of ourselves most frequently simply as Christians. While it is perhaps the most generic name we might use, it has the benefit of Christ’s name in the title and clearly states that we identify with Christ and have become part of His family by faith. Because it is a good term, a thoroughly biblical term, and a commonly used one, it might surprise some to realize that the term appears only three times in the entire New Testament, twice in the singular (Acts 26:28; I Pet. 4:16) and once in the plural in its first citation: “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26b). Sadly, modern usage has largely corrupted the term so that it can mean little (the entire Protestant and Roman Catholic world calls itself “Christian”) or even nothing (it has become a vague term used by anyone who believes in God but is not a member of some major religious group such as Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, etc.).
I would never suggest discarding the term, nor am I even suggesting that it might be a good idea to do so. Rather, I would suggest that we reinvest the word with the meaning it ought to have. It is not a synonym for Protestant. It should not serve as a description for someone who believes in the God of the Bible, or even for someone who believes in the historicity of Jesus Christ.
When we use the designation Christian or should we think of ourselves as Christians, we should remind ourselves of a two-word biblical phrase: “in Christ.” Who are you, true Christian? You are “in Christ.” What are you, genuine Christian? You are “in Christ.” Interestingly, Paul, the apostle of the grace of God, the man to whom the mysteries of the church were revealed, never uses the term. King Agrippa responds to Paul’s testimony about his conversion on the road to Damascus by saying, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28). But Paul is never recorded as using the term in the Book of Acts, nor does he write it in any of his epistles. However, the term “in Christ” occurs eighty-seven times beginning in Acts and ending in First Peter.
To be a Christian is to be “in Christ.” It is something altogether different from being a good person, joining a church, being baptized, taking the sacraments, or any other religious ritual, activity, or exercise. Even the briefest consideration of the term boggles the mind. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (II Cor. 5:17). Redemption is “in Christ Jesus”; eternal life is “in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11, 23) and believers “have been sanctified in Christ Jesus” (I Cor. 1:2). “In Christ all will be made alive” (I Cor. 15:22). We “triumph in Christ” (II Cor. 2:14). There is liberty in Christ (Gal. 2:4). We are “seated . . . with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). Eternity will unfold continually “the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). We “glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:3). God supplies all our needs “according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Every believer is “complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28). And as a consequence of these many things, Christians are to “live godly in Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 3:12).
So, by all means, call yourself a Christian, if indeed you are one by biblical definition. But never use the term carelessly or casually. For to be a Christian is to be in Christ. It is He Who has saved us; it is He we “put on.” It is His eternal life that we receive. It is His Holy Spirit Who indwells us. It is He Who is to be seen in and through our lives. As Paul said: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
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