As a title which belongs to those who are saved, though itself now more employed than any other, Christian appears in the Sacred Text but three times: "And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch" (Acts 11:26); "Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (Acts 26:28); "If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed" (1 Pet. 4:16). The term Christian is evidently a Gentile designation for believers, since the word Christ upon which this title was constructed suggests recognition of the anointed Messiah and no unbelieving Jew was prepared to acknowledge the Messianic claims of Christ. This acknowledgment, indeed, became the very crux of the problem of a Jew's relation to the new faith. It is significant that Saul of Tarsus, when saved, "straightway ... preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God" (Acts 9:20). Messianism was ever the theme of those who preached to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. All might be able to identify the person who had been known as Jesus of Nazareth, but it was the determining test that He be acknowledged as the Christ or the Messiah, and thus the Son of God. The Jews spoke of believers as Nazarenes. This had no complimentary implication. Very early in the days of Christ's ministry on earth, however, Nathaniel voiced the accepted idea when he inquired, "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Also, the orator
Tertullus when arguing before Felix thought it well to condemn Paul as "a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5). It will thus be observed that believers did not assign the name Christian to themselves, though Peter employed it in reference to that which had become a recognized practice (1 Pet. 4:16). It seems probable that this custom of designating believers was not the expression of a conviction that Jesus is the Messiah; it was rather based upon Christ's familiar name as a religious leader. The designations brethren, used about 200 times in the New Testament, saints, used about 60 times, disciples (beginning with its appearance in the Acts) used about 30 times, and believers meaning those who believe, used about 80 times, thus hold a preference according to the Acts and Epistles of the New Testament.
Beyond the problem of what may be an appropriate title is the fact itself of being identified one way or another. What, according to the New Testament and thus upon the authority of God, makes one a believer or Christian? Answers to this question are varied, sometimes falling so low that the title Christian is assigned to one who merely holds citizenship in a so-called Christian country. Over against this, the reality which the saved one represents reaches out beyond all human comprehension. Under Soteriology (Vol. III) thirty-three simultaneous and instantaneous divine undertakings and transformations which together constitute the salvation of a soul have been named. All of these are wrought at the moment saving faith in Christ is exercised. Three of these great realities alone may be cited here, namely:
1. A New Purification. That divine forgiveness which has been achieved as a part of salvation is complete and extends to all sins—past, present, and future—so far as condemnation is concerned. Romans 8:1 therefore declares: "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." It still remains true that the believer's sin may, as seen elsewhere, lead to chastisement. Forgiveness nevertheless is unto purification and wrought through the blood of Christ. It proves so complete that not one shadow or stain will be seen upon the saved one—even by the eyes of infinite holiness—throughout eternity. Divine forgiveness is not based on the leniency of God, but rather on the fact that the condemning power of every sin has spent itself upon the divinely provided Substitute. God's forgiveness is a legal recognition of the truth that Another has borne the judgment for the one who is forgiven. The purification is thus as complete and perfect as the ground upon which it is wrought.
2. A New Creation. An actual and wholly legitimate sonship relation to God is divinely engendered when a soul has been saved. The one who is saved becomes the offspring of God. He becomes therefore an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ. The Apostle John testifies of Christ that to "as many as received him, to them gave he" sonship standing (John 1:12)—not a mere option or choice in the direction of regeneration, for He causes them to become in the most absolute sense the sons of God. As such they are fitted and destined to take the honored place in the Father's family and household in heaven. God is now "bringing many sons unto glory" (Heb. 2:10).
3. A New Standing. Because of the perfect identity and union of the believer with Christ which is wrought by the Holy Spirit, it may be said of the one saved that he has been "made ... accepted" (Eph. 1:6). This standing is not a fiction or fancy, but such that by it the believer becomes at once not only clothed in the righteousness of God, but himself the very righteousness of God. This immeasurable reality depends wholly on the one fact that the child of God being blessed is in Christ. Such a limitless position before God is made legally possible through the sweet savor aspect of Christ's death when as Substitute He "offered himself without spot to God" (Heb. 9:14), thus releasing all that He is in Himself to be the portion of those whom He saves. This provision through His death is actualized and sealed unto eternal reality by a vital union with Christ.
A Christian, then, is not one who does certain things for God, but instead one for whom God has done certain things; he is not so much one who conforms to a certain manner of life as he is one who has received the gift of eternal life; he is not one who depends upon a hopelessly imperfect state, but rather one who has reached a perfect standing before God as being in Christ.
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