WHO IS A “CHRISTIAN?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
Just who exactly is a “Christian?”
A brother in Christ remarked long ago: “Today, it seems like a ‘Christian’ is anyone and everyone but a Jew or a Muslim!” All these decades later, we can still see what he meant by that. The label “Christian” is used quite flippantly or carelessly, to where it is nearly hollow. Oftentimes, no real thought goes into its handling. In fact, the word “Christian” can be—and frequently is—used to refer to ideas and people completely foreign to the Holy Bible. When someone says “This is a Christian belief” or “That is a Christian person,” usually, what they really mean is “This is a denominational belief” or “That is a denominational person.” In other words, “Christian” is a substitute for the title of a particular sect, group, or cult.
Once, a man told this author about a woman he was interested in dating. He reassured this author, “She goes to church. She is a Christian.” (Does going to church automatically make someone a Christian? If so, going to the landfill makes someone a piece of garbage!) Then, there are those who say, “I am no longer a Christian.” What they mean is that they no longer attend church, and/or they stopped reading the Bible, and/or they quit doing “good” works, and/or they no longer pray, et cetera. When such statements are made, they advertise the fact that they really have no idea what a Christian even is. They know what a member of Christendom is, what a church member is, but they cannot define what a Christian is.
How dangerous for people to use Bible terms but ignore the Bible’s definitions when explaining those terms. It is doubtless one of the most effectual aspects of Satan’s evil world system. People can hear the correct vocabulary, speak the right words, and still fail to have accurate beliefs or a clear understanding of the truth. We need to be careful, lest we take this path of deception and unbelief. Let us search the Scriptures to see what the Bible says about Christians and Christianity.
The term “Christian” appears only thrice in a King James Bible. Its first instance is Acts 11:26: “And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” The second time is Acts 26:27-28: “ King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.  Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” It shows up one final time in 1 Peter 4:16: “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.”
It is important to note that the word is never one time found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. While these believers are commonly called “Christians,” the Bible never labels them as such. The name was not attached to followers of Christ until Acts chapter 11—and this is in relation to the ministry of Saul (the Apostle Paul). It appears again with Paul’s ministry (see Acts 26:27-28). The word was finally passed on to those believers in Peter’s ministry (cf. 1 Peter 4:16). Here, we hone in on Acts 26:27-28.
Acts chapter 26 is Luke’s account of the Apostle Paul sharing his testimony with King Herod Agrippa II. This Herod is the great-grandson of King Herod the Great (slaughterer of the Bethlehem babies in Matthew chapter 2, some 60 years earlier). Back in chapter 22 of Acts, the unbelieving Jews had Paul arrested in Jerusalem after he delivered his testimony there. He stood before Israel’s religious leaders in chapter 23, causing them to conspire to put him to death. A Roman commander rescues Paul, assembling an army and sending him away to Caesarea (some 50 miles [80 kilometers] northwest of Jerusalem).
Paul stands before Judaean Governor Felix, giving his testimony there (chapter 24). Two years after Felix, Paul speaks to Governor Porcius Festus (chapter 25). Festus recruits King Herod Agrippa II for advice, and Agrippa agrees to listen to Paul. We have finally reached the context of Acts 26:27-28.
As chapter 26 of Acts opens, Paul eagerly stands before King Agrippa II and recounts his conversion: “ Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself:  I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews:  Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.
“ My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;  Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.  And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God, unto our fathers:  Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.  Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?
“ I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.  And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.  Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,  At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.” Paul met the universe’s most important Person!
“ And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.  And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.  But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;  Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,  To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
“ Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:  But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.  For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.  Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:  That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.”
How will Judaean Governor Festus and Galilean King Herod Agrippa II respond to the Holy Spirit speaking to them through Paul? Will they be interested in becoming Christians, or will they be content in staying lost? Let us see what the Scriptures say.
Upon hearing the Apostle Paul speak about his conversion for the last 23 verses, King Herod Agrippa II and Governor Porcius Festus respond: “ And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.  But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.  For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.  King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.  Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”
Festus, not convinced, raises his voice to interrupt: “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad” (verse 24). He accuses the Apostle of being crazy! Paul sounds like an educated man, but he seems “too educated.” To Festus, Paul’s testimony is the simply ramblings of an insane, renegade Jew! “But the natural man receiveth not the things of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Paul replies to Festus’ charge of madness: “ I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.  For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:25-26). Festus and Agrippa could check the record to see if Paul was fabricating lies or telling the truth. His radical transformation was a historical fact to the land of Palestine, and his apostolic ministry has been conducted for last 30 years. However, sinful Festus is not interested in truth. He finds an excuse: “I do not believe the Gospel of Grace because its preacher is nuts!” Let us expound Agrippa’s response.
The Old Testament prophets were aware of the doctrine of bodily resurrection (Job 19:24-27; Psalm 16:10; Daniel 12:2,13; et al.). In fact, Paul knows that King Herod Agrippa II is familiar with such Jewish religious beliefs (verse 3; cf. Acts 26:27-28). He therefore skillfully uses Agrippa’s knowledge of the Old Testament in an attempt to lead him to Jesus Christ: Paul twice mentions the idea of resurrection.
Re-read excerpts of Acts chapter 26: “ And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God, unto our fathers:  Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.  Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?….  Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:  That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.”
It is here that Festus interrupts and ridicules Paul, dismissing Bible truth as mere lunacy (verses 24-26). Paul then turns to the king, and we read Acts 26:27 once more: “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.” The soul of Herod Agrippa II hangs in the balance. He can either trust God’s words, or disbelieve them. Surely under tremendous peer pressure from Festus, Agrippa takes the latter route and derides the truth as well. “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Agrippa has made his decision: he is not swayed! His tone is one of surprise and condescension. “Paul, you will have to try much harder than that to influence me to become a Christian!”
Now, by carefully considering this, we see what a Christian really is. Verses 22 and 23 again: “ Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:  That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.”
It is greatly helpful to notice Herod Agrippa II had Bible awareness before he ever met the Apostle Paul. Even as a Gentile, Agrippa was familiar with the Hebrew Old Testament. Read Acts 26:27-28 again: “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Herod did not deny he believed the Hebrew Scriptures. What he refused to do was agree with—believe—Paul’s Gospel presentation.
Moreover, it is surely insightful to appreciate how Paul was not trying to influence Agrippa II to join a local church, get water baptized, say a “sinner’s prayer,” walk an aisle, “feel sorry” for his sins, keep commandments, partake of a holy meal, confess his sins, ask God for forgiveness, kneel and weep at an “altar,” promise to “do better,” or obey any other such common appeals prominent at “invitation time” in most local churches today. Paul wanted Agrippa to believe—have faith in—the Word of God’s Grace!
Agrippa had head knowledge and head belief, but not heart knowledge and heart belief. It was just intellectual assent with the Old Testament, which therefore rendered him unable to receive Paul’s further revelation in heart faith. “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (Romans 10:10a). The same is true of most people today—even church members. Aware of the Bible, seeing some historical facts in it, they nevertheless cannot trust it in the heart. They speak of “God,” “Jesus,” “the Holy Ghost,” “grace,” “righteousness,” and so on, but there is no faith in the soul concerning Jesus Christ.
Our English word “Christian” is a transliteration of the Greek “Christianos.” In its most basic form, it means “follower of Christ.” When we look at the Bible’s usage of the title, we can fine-tune the definition. The term was first applied to Gentiles who followed Jesus Christ in Antioch of Syria (Acts 11:26)—modern Turkey. It specifically described the disciples or students of the Lord’s doctrine committed to Saul’s (the Apostle Paul’s) trust. Their core belief was faith or trust in Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as sufficient payment for sins (cf. Acts 26:27-28 and its context).
Finally, the name became attached to the Apostle Peter’s converts, especially in the sense of following Christ in suffering persecution according to God’s will. First Peter chapter 4: “ Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:  But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.  If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.  Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.”
Paul’s final recorded words to King Herod Agrippa II were: “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds” (Acts 26:29). That is, “King Agrippa, I would you and all my listeners to be like me in trusting the Gospel of Grace!” Whatever subsequently happened to Agrippa is unknown. Regardless, he had heard directly from God’s Apostle of the Gentiles how to become a Christian… and now have we!
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthian 15:3-4).
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