Summary: If being a Christian is about BEING CHANGED and BEARING CHALLENGES, how well do we line up?
There were two evil brothers. They were rich and used their money to keep their ways from the public eye. They even attended the same church and looked to be perfect Christians. Then, their pastor retired and a new one was hired. Not only could he see right through the brothers’ deception, but he also spoke well and true, and the church started to swell in numbers. A fund-raising campaign was started to build a new assembly. All of a sudden, one of the brothers died. The remaining brother sought out the new pastor the day before the funeral and handed him a check for the amount needed to finish paying for the new building. "I have only one condition," he said. "At his funeral, you must say my brother was a saint." The pastor gave his word and deposited the check. The next day at the funeral, the pastor did not hold back. "He was an evil man," he said. "He cheated on his wife and abused his family." After going on in this vein for a small time, he concluded with: "But, compared to his brother, he was a saint."
I don’t think I need to tell you how much damage has been done to the name of Christ by those who bear His name. Those of us who call ourselves Christians, if we were honest, would say that at some point in recent memory we have given a wrong impression of who Jesus is: by a sharp word, by a condemning attitude, by a fit of emotion, or by a desire to do what we want to do, despite the consequences.
Let me tell you how this sermon was born. I was driving to Windsor last weekend and on the radio was a song I recognized, called “Walking in Memphis.” The last line of the song goes like this: Now Muriel plays piano every Friday at the Hollywood and they brought me down to see her and they asked me if I would do a little number, and I sang with all my might and she said, "Tell me are you a Christian child?" And I said "Ma’am I am tonight." Now, I don’t know all that the writer meant by this line, and I don’t know being a Christian has anything to do with playing piano in a club in Tennessee, and I don’t have the time to figure it all out. But it got me thinking – what IS a Christian? What makes a Christian? What are the distinguishing characteristics of a Christian?
So I turned to Acts 11:26 for an answer. It’s the 1st mention of 3 of the word “Christian” in the Bible. You could call it the rule of firsts. The 1st mention of something in the Bible is significant, because it defines the thing. So, the 1st mention of Christian should give us a clue as to what they are. Let’s start in v19 to give the picture. (Read v19-26.)
In this passage, the word “Christian” is used to distinguish the group of people who worshipped this Jesus Christ god as opposed to the people who worshipped any other god. The word “Christian” perhaps had an insulting tone to it at first – you know, with a sneering “oh, he’s a Christian” kind of meaning. Or perhaps it was the new name that God Himself would give to His people, as prophesied in Isaiah 62:2. At any rate there they were, with a new name to set them apart from the others.
And that’s an important thought too. They were set apart. They were different. They wouldn’t have needed a new name if they were the same as they always had been. For the early believers, they were called a new name because they were new people. They were different from what they had been. They were changed. If we were listing the biblical qualities of people specifically called Christians, the first of them would have to be “changed.” Being changed. Different. New. Fresh. Altered.
And yet many call themselves Christians by default. As in, if they’re not Buddhist or Muslim or Hindu or Shinto or Jewish or New Age or witches or druids or neo-pagans, then what’s left to be but Christian? Perhaps this area is a little different because we are still pretty traditional and small-c conservative, so most everyone around here is more Christian than Muslim. I understand that. But sometimes that’s even harder, because it’s easier to blend in. If your neighbor across the street believes the Bible is true, and is a good person, then it’s awful easy to look just like them. It’s awful easy - too easy - to blend in and not look any different from happy pagans, as they say.