Scripture Portion: 1 Peter 4: 12-19
One word we are all familiar with is the word ‘‘Christian’’. Most of us possess a Christian name, and many people in a very broad and nominal sense would call themselves Christians, but are they Christians in the New Testament sense of the word? Some think that because they are born in a ‘‘Christian’’ country or have received a ‘‘Christian’’ education, or have affiliated themselves to a Christian church and adopt Christian principles, that this is all they need to do to become a Christian. The fact is that we can do all these things and still not be a Christian, for these things are external. It is possible to be a church member, good, moral and kind, and still not be a Christian. What, then, is a Christian? In the New Testament we find the answer to this important question and we discover that the word ‘‘Christian’’ is used only three times –- in Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16. It is significant that in the New Testament Christians are called ‘‘saints’’ about sixty times, ‘‘believers’’ about eighty times, and ‘’brothers’’ about two hundred times, but they are called ‘’Christians’’ only three times. What, then, is a Christian?
1. A Christian is someone who BELONGS TO CHRIST (Acts 11:26)
We read, ““the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch…”…” But who called them Christians? Was it the people of Antioch who called them Christians as a kind of nickname, or was it God who called them Christians? It is significant that the word ‘’called’’, a word that is used repeatedly in the New Testament, indicates that God did the calling. But whether it was man-made or God-given, what does it signify? Why would the people of Antioch call them Christians, or why would God call them Christians? Surely because of their obvious attachment to the Lord Jesus Christ. They owned Him, followed Him, loved Him, and served Him – they belonged to Him. We refer to an Englishman, an American, a Russian, an African –- and we know what that means. A Christian therefore is a Christ-man, one who belongs to Christ. So how does anyone become a Christian? The answer is by birth. A Christian is one who is born of God (1 Peter 1:22-23); born again (John 3:5); and who thereafter belongs to Christ. If you refer to Acts 11:19-21 you will see that God’s servants came to Antioch, they preached the Gospel, and the Lord blessed their ministry in a wonderful way so that the Holy Spirit performed the miracle of the New Birth in them –- they ““turned to the Lord”” and ““believed”” on Him, and they were born again (John 1:12-13). Now that is the first mark of a real Christian – someone who has heard the Gospel, turned from his sin, believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, and has been born into God’s family – someone who now belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. Are you a Christian?
2. A Christian is someone who WITNESSES FOR CHRIST (Acts 26:28)
Here Paul is making his defense before King Agrippa, and notice that he is also pleading for the soul of this man. He is witnessing to him of the power of the Lord Jesus Christ who has saved and satisfied him. If you and I were arrested and in danger of death, and were given an opportunity to speak, what would concern us most –- our defense, or evangelism? Read verses 27-29, and notice that this was not just an odd occasion when Paul burst out in a passionate appeal for the salvation of the soul of some man or woman. Wherever he was he was seeking to win others. In Acts 9:20 we read that after his conversion and open confession of the Lord, “”at once”” he began to preach the Lord Jesus; and all through his life, whatever situation he was in, he was making known the gospel of the grace of God. Nor was Paul unique in this ministry of evangelism. The early Christians were all characterized by the same soul-winning zeal. Compare Acts 1:8 with Acts 8:4. These first followers of the Lord Jesus were bold, witnessing Christians, and surely this is the second mark of a real Christian – someone who not only belongs to Christ but who witnesses for Him. Why is it that we are so slow, so reluctant, to speak for the Lord and to set out to win others? The early Christians had to face much opposition, but they did it joyfully (Acts 5:41). Is it true to say we lack a deep, burning conviction of the greatness and the reality of our salvation? – but what thrilling surprises we would get if we would really step out in faith and witness boldly for the Lord!
3. A Christian is someone who SUFFERS WITH CHRIST (1 Peter 4:16)
Verses 12-16 make very helpful reading, and Peter is in effect saying, ‘’Now you are a Christian you must expect suffering, simply because you are a Christian’’. You see, a Christian is identified with the Lord Jesus Christ and must therefore suffer for His sake. Look up and compare Matthew 10:22-25; John 15:18-21; John 16:33 and Philippians 1:29. Why is it that a Christian must suffer? It is because he is markedly different from the non-Christian. The early Christians suffered because they were so completely different from the pagans around them. They were completely transformed men and women. They had to be one thing or the other. The trouble is we do not like being different, and many of us are Christians in name only, and the people we work with and live with would hardly recognize that there is any difference between us and those who do not profess to be the Lord’s people. What a challenge this is! We must recognize the fact that when anyone really dedicates his all to Christ and begins to live a separated life, that he will adopt the Lord’s standards in every area of his life. It may mean suffering the taunts and scoffing of the world, or even worse, the threat to our very life if we are prepared to be identified with Christ. But remember that it was Christ Himself who suffered scoffing and the threat of stoning and death itself for us. So, a Christian is someone who belongs to Christ, who witnesses for Christ, and who suffers with Christ. Are you a Christian? What kind of a Christian are you?