Summary: In their daily lives as saints, disciples, and brethren, they were recognized as belonging to the party of Christ. Let us hope that in like manner we today may be called Christians.
What’s In a Name?
Reading: Acts 11:19-26
A.Text: Acts 11:26.
The young church at Antioch was a curious mixture of Jews (who spoke Greek or Aramaic) and Gentiles. It is significant that this was the first place where the believers were called Christians (“Christ’s ones”—the ending “-ian” means “belonging to the party of”). There is no small amount of commentary written as to who gave them the name “Christians.”
It is unlikely that the Jews would want their term “Messiah” (christos) associated with this new movement.
One of the earliest extra-biblical occurrences of the term comes from a remark made by Emperor Nero.
It is likely, therefore, that the term “Christian” was invented by the non-Christian culture of Antioch.
B.Yet this is not the only word used in the New Testament to describe the Lord’s people.
1.Each term used to characterize the Lord’s people tells us something we need to know about what Christians are, what it truly means to be “belonging to the party of Christ.”
Let us see what we can learn from the names used for Christians in the God’s word:
C.Called to be saints.
1 Corinthians 1:2 “to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:”
1.One word, hagios, is used for saints in the New Testament. This word has the meaning of being holy, consecration and divine claim and ownership. Consequently, saints are the holy ones. The word is applied with practical uniformity to the company of God’s people rather than to any individual.
a.There is only one reference to saints in the Gospels (Matthew 27:52). In this verse, dead saints are resurrected at the Lord’s crucifixion.
D.First Ananias (in Acts) and then Peter talks of the saints as simply believers in Christ.
1.Paul continues this use in his Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, and Philemon. In each case, saints seem simply to be people who name Jesus as Lord.
E.In the Book of Revelation, however, where the word saints, occurs more times than in any other single book (13 times), the meaning is further defined. Saints not only name Jesus as Lord, but they are faithful and true witnesses for Jesus.
1.Little wonder then that the early church considered witnesses who were martyred for their testimonies to be saints. In fact, soon these saints were accorded special honor and then even worship.
2.Unfortunately, by the fourth century the term saints came to be applied only to such special people. A misconception carried forth to our current day.
F.We need to note that to be a saint is not directly and primarily to be good but to be set apart by God as His own.
1.When God consecrates and claims moral beings for Himself and His service, He demands that they should go on to be fit for and worthy of the relation in which He has placed them, and so we read of certain actions as performed “in a manner worthy of the saints” (Romans 16:2) and behavior “as is proper among saints” (Ephesians 5:3.)
G.Biblically then, the term saint is correctly applied to those who believe Jesus Christ is Lord, conforms to His image, and bears true and faithful witness to Christ in speech and lifestyle.
1.We must give conscious thought and effort in maintaining our special character before the Lord.
We also find the faithful of Christ called:
H.Acts 11:26c “…and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”
1.Jewish disciples would follow their master around, often literally imitating him. The goal of Jewish disciples was someday to become masters, or rabbis, themselves and to have their own disciples who would follow them.
a.But Jesus’ disciples were to remain disciples of their Master and teacher and to follow him only (Matthew 23:1-12).
b.Matthew 28:20 “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” Jesus concludes the commission with the crucial element of discipleship: the presence of the Master. As the new disciple is baptized and taught to observe all that Jesus commanded, Jesus is present.
c.The Master is always present for his disciples to follow.
2.His calling is the beginning of something new. It means losing one’s old life and finding new life in the family of God through obeying the will of the Father.
3.The response to the call to be a disciple involves recognition and belief in Jesus’ identity, obedience to his summons, and counting the cost of full allegiance to him.