Summary: "The Disciples were called Christians First at Antiioch."

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What It Means to Be a Christian

Acts 11:19-26

Verse 26c “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

The US News reported on a poll taken in America. People across America were asked the question? “Are you a Christian?” 86% said, “Yes I am.”

If you asked the same people what it means to be a Christian? You would get a variety of different answers.

“I’m a Christian because I live in Christian America.” “I’m a Christian because I attend Church on Christmas and Easter.” “I’m a Christian because I’m basically a good person.” “I’m a Christian because I don’t rob banks or kill people.”

The disciples in Antioch of Syria were the first disciples to be called Christians. Besides Acts 11:26 the term “Christian” is only used in two others places in the New Testament, Acts 26:28 (King Agrippa said to the Apostle Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian) and I Peter 4:16, (Peter wrote: “If any man suffer as a Christian, being persecuted by the world for carrying that name, let him not be ashamed.”

Acts 11:19-26 – Disciples in Antioch preached the good news of Jesus not only to Jews but also to Gentiles and great numbers of people believes and became followers of the risen Lord Jesus. The news of the revival reached the mother church in Jerusalem and Barnabas was sent to Antioch to help follow up new believers. When Barnabas arrived in Antioch he realized he needed help so he traveled to Tarsus and brought Paul to team up with him in a teaching and training ministry in Antioch. They served a year in Antioch.

Acts 13 we see the results of a dynamic church located in Antioch. Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria. The church was made up of Jews and Gentiles from several cultural backgrounds. As they worshiped and fasted the Holy Spirit gave clear direction that their two teaching evangelists, Barnabas and Paul were to take the good news of the Gospel to other cities in the Roman Empire. The church laid their hands on them and sent them off as Missionaries.

“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Before followers of Jesus were called Christians they were called disciples.

What does it mean to be a Christian? It means different things to different people.


Ask Nicodemus, “What does it mean to be a Christian.” Nicodemus would said, “I am a devout Jew and I keep the Law.” He was a Pharisee, a part of the high society and nobility of Jerusalem.

The name Pharisee means “the separated one”, and the Pharisees were those who had separated themselves from all ordinary life in order to keep every detail of the law of Moses, as worked out over the centuries by the Scribes.

The goal in life for Nicodemus was the formal observance of religion, not a spiritual walk with God, but a holier-than-thou attitude.

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. “Rabbi, please tell me. I am a ruler. I am an educated man. I am a religious man. But Rabbi, I have this void in my heart and I am a broken man. I need to have something in my life that will transform my evil to good, darkness to light, haste to love, ugliness to beauty, stinginess to generosity, sin to salvation. Rabbi, please tell me. What is it that I need? Nicodemus . . . Whether educated or uneducated, Jew or Gentile, black or white, rich or poor, powerful or week, blue blood or blue-collar, religious or sinner – You must be born again.

The example of Nicodemus makes it clear that a disciple of Jesus, a Christian, has experienced a “spiritual birth.” You may be a good moral person. You have done nothing deserving to spend time in jail. You pay your takes and do your best to keep the laws of the land. The crucial questions: “Have you been born again.” Have your said, “Yes” to Jesus who is the Christ and Messiah, the Son of God.

Wealthy Young Man

Ask a wealthy young man. (Matthew 19:16-22.) The rich young man came to Jesus and asked, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus said, “Keep the commandments.” “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, honor your father and mother, do not lie, and love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said he had obeyed all the commandments, what else did he need to do? Jesus, said, “Surrender all your wealth to me by giving to the poor and come follow me.”

Note the question of the rich young man. “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

If “doing” something was all that was needed then surely wealth could assure him of eternal life. Jesus made it clear that there is nothing a person can do to earn the title of being a Disciple/Christian. A disciple/Christian follows Jesus regardless of the cost. The important question this morning is this: “Are you following Jesus and obeying His teachings?”

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