What makes a Christian? Glad you asked. That is a wonderful question in our present American and Western Culture. Does going to a “church” service once or twice a month make a person a Christian? Does renouncing all worldly happiness and becoming a Catholic nun or priest make one a better Christian than others? Does picketing abortion or signing a petition against same sex marriage make a person a Christian? What about feeding the poor and working to eradicate world hunger? That’s a good one that both my right and lefty friends like. Does that make one a Christian? What’s on your list of your personal requirements for being a “Christian” in the West? I wonder how the Christians in persecuted China and other parts of the world would answer that question.
Going back 2000 years, the first question was probably not, “what makes a Christian” but rather, “who are these people who live so differently?” Answer, “Those are the folks who follow Christ” and thus the term was born. In sermonizing for Sunday, I camped out a bit on Acts 11:26b which states that the “Disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Looking at the greater context what we find is that this group of early believers were so marked by the character of Christ that people took note. Some scholars debate as to whether this was a term of endearment or ridicule. To me that doesn’t really matter a whole lot. The point is that these people were just doing life seriously devoted to Jesus and change happened. Who were these first Christians in Antioch? From the text here are a few points to ponder.
1. They were risk takers who stepped out of their comfort zone to share the love of Christ with those who were different. They loved everyone regardless of their background.
2. In their conversations, they were not afraid to openly speak about the “good news” of Jesus. Because of that the text tells us that “The Lord’s hand was with them.”
3. Those who heard the message “believed” and “turned to the Lord.” There was grace and truth.
4. They cared about the physical needs of others who had nothing to do with them. The willingly sent aid to the Jews in Jerusalem even though they themselves were Gentiles.
5 Their fellowship was made up of people from multiple social, racial, cultural, and economic groups.
6. They were serious about worship, ministry, prayer, fasting, and spreading the message of Christ.
In short, they were all about Jesus. In John 3 Christ said that we must be “born again” before we can enter the Kingdom of God. These folks so experienced the new life of Christ that people all over the city and region took notice. They were different; they were Christians. From that small band of believers came a new life that was so powerful that the entire Roman world was turned upside down. For us to really live as Kingdom citizens today no matter where we’re at on the globe, they key is the new birth of Christ and following hard after him. The point is not more religion, but more Jesus. So . . . how are you being Jesus in your neck of the woods today?