There is currently an international obsession, perhaps even an infatuation, with the term, “Christian.” Suddenly every denomination, group, and church wants to take upon them this designation. Some faiths that previously had boasted regarding their differences with Christianity, or even demonstrated outright rebuke of mainstream Christianity are now turning to this term with full embrace. There seems to be an incredible misunderstanding regarding the meanings, origins, and ramification of this term. Let’s take a moment and examine the meaning and historical contexts, allowing you to decide whether your religious doctrine or if your personal beliefs will allow you to take this incredible and transforming designation upon yourself.
It is interesting that while there are references to this term within the pages of the Bible, the term was not used widely, nor was it claimed by Christ himself when teaching his disciples and followers. The first recorded use of this term was within the book of Acts. In Acts 11:26 it says, “…The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch (NIV).” The term is once again introduced a short time later in Acts 26:28 when Herod Agrippa II responds to the Apostle Paul, “… Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” It comes again within 1 Peter 4:16, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (NIV). Within non-Christian texts the term is first recorded to have been used when Josephus records the following within the Antiquities of Jews, “the tribe of Christians, so named from him.” Tacitus also used the term to record that “Christians” were responsible for the Great Fire of Rome, in 65 A.D.
This term itself is bore out of the Greek, Χριστιανός (christianos), which is taken from, “Χριστός (christos).” This Greek term, Χριστός (christos), is understood to mean “anointed one.” Christos was also used to translate the Hebrew, מָשִׁיחַ, or Messiah; which means “the one who is anointed.” As an interesting note the adjectival ending on the term “christianos” denotes belonging to, as in slave ownership (Bickerman 1949). Very early Christians were defined as those who would accept and declare that “Jesus is Lord.” By this declaration they are submitting to the Blood of Jesus Christ and become as Paul wrote in Romans bondservants to Him.
One of the defining criteria for Christians is their bold declaration that Jesus Christ is Lord, but what does it mean to declare Christ Lord? The term Lord or LORD with the Bible is derived from the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, YHWH; a sacred Hebrew name for God. This sacred name is made even more personal when God declares himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14, by declaring both hid name and his nature, “I AM THAT I AM”. Within the confines of this simple statement He is declaring His self-existent, all-powerful nature to Moses, so that he may declared God to His people! Incredibly it becomes even more personal than just a name, when God comes in flesh, and in John 8:58 he boldly declares His name, “…before Abraham was born, I AM!” (NIV) As Christians, when declaring Christ as Lord we are making a bold declaration that Christ is the Jehovah of the Old Testament; that He is the one true, eternal, self-existing God come in flesh to rescue his people through the cross (John 1:1,14).
Knowing the importance of declaring Lordship is one thing but some might be asking how do we personally declare this? The Apostle Paul writes about this very subject in his letter to the Romans. In the fifth chapter, verses 5-8, Paul writes:
… God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NIV)
Our ability to declare Christ’s divinity comes as a result of not only our acknowledgement, but our ownership of our “powerless” nature to overcome our own sins. We are the “ungodly” that Paul speaks of in the preceding scripture, but despite this condition our God demonstrated his love for us, by coming to Earth to die for us! We demonstrate our faith in Christ’s divinity by placing Him at the center of our worship. We grow that faith and deepen our worship by establishing a lasting, meaningful, and connected relationship with Him.
Additionally, taking upon the name of Christ and declaring Him to be Lord, requires that we acknowledge His substituationary atonement, as spoken of in Isaiah 53:4-5. In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth he declares, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” To be a Christian one must acknowledge, believe, and surrender to the One that had no sin and yet sacrificed Himself for us!
This relationship in Christ is solidified and deepened when we as followers surrender to Him; acknowledging the power and efficacy of His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. Christ teaches in John 11:25-26, while comforting Martha, “…I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die. Believest thou this?” Do we now believe in this? Will we not trust in Him that he alone has the power to conquer sin and death? Taking the name of Christ upon you requires your possession of this gift and a call to profess it.
With these sacred declarations and relationship comes the responsibility to defend the name of Jesus Christ from those that seek to diminish his Lordship. The adversary seeks to lead God’s people from the presence of our Father through deceit and lies. It is our responsibility as followers and bondservants of Jesus Christ to see that this does not occur. This is particularly true as the adversary seeks to use an empty definition of Christ to accomplish his nefarious plan of destruction. We are warned of this in Paul’s Epistle to the Church at Corinth,
“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.” (2 Cor. 11:3-4 NIV)
This frightening warning from Paul is still very much applicable in our day and age. Paul is warning us of those that teach of different Christ’s from that taught within the Bible. Paul continues by offering a stern warning to those that entertain different Gospels. We cannot afford to be led astray by those that preach anything other than a “pure devotion to Christ.” That “pure devotion” must be centered around the Christ that is taught of and foretold of by the Bible; the Christ that is God come in flesh, that is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8 NIV). Anything less than this is surely to result in our eternal condemnation (Galatians 1:8-9 NIV). There are sects, groups, and major religions that are currently preaching different gospels and Christs that are specifically targeting those that acknowledge Christ but do not yet have a relationship with Him. They seek to pervert the Gospel of Jesus Christ by relegating Him and His mighty sacrifice to the footnotes of their doctrines! As Christians, it is our duty and divine responsibility to refute these teachings, while loving those that have been lost to the lies of the adversary!
Bickerman, Elias J. (April, 1949). “The Name of Christians”. The Harvard Theological Review 42 (2): 109-124