‘Being human’ was what God wanted us to be at the outset. According to the Bible, humans were created in God’s image, but damaged their nature when they revolted against God. They lost the innate capacity of being human. People needed redemption, which is why Jesus came and died for humans, and restoration can take place when people accept Jesus as their Saviour. So now the new phrase is ‘Being Christian’.
Humans didn’t get being human right. How can we make sure that we get it right?
The first thing we need to understand is that while we were created human, we are not born Christian. Being Christian is not a genetic condition. It comes with choosing Christ as Saviour: “to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (Jn.1:12,13 NIV).
We were born human; to become Christian, we must be ‘born again’. That’s what Jesus said (Jn.3:3,5). He said this to Nicodemus, an enquirer. Puzzled, Nicodemus asked whether a grownup could go back into his mother’s womb to be reborn. Jesus clarified that He was speaking of a spiritual birth. “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So, don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again’” (vv.6,7). The note on this phrase says that the phrase ‘born again’ can also be translated ‘born from above’. Jesus went on to say that belief in Him would bring eternal life (vv.15,16), which He later on defined as the relationship with the Father and Jesus (17:3).
We need to remember that birth is just the beginning. A life-time of living follows birth. That rule applies to the new birth too. That’s why we need to explore being Christian.
The word ‘Christian’ is used only thrice in the New Testament. Each usage of the word says something significant about what it means to be a Christian.
The very first time anyone was called Christian was in the city of Antioch (Acts.11:26). It was obviously a nickname. Today the epithet ‘Christian’ carries some respect.
In his novel The Shoes of the Fisherman, Morris West has one of the characters say that the church is losing its grip for reasons of its prosperity and respectability: “We’re not persecuted anymore. We pay our way. We can wear the faith like a Rotary badge—and with as little social consequence.”
It was not to show respect that people were called Christians. It was to mock and tease (not with good-natured teasing, but cruel). It is good to be reminded that the name was a sign of the scorn heaped on people who followed Jesus.
The sacred historian Luke notes that ‘the disciples’ were the ones who were called ‘Christians’. Most times we subconsciously think of the term ‘disciple’ as a religious word. It simply means ‘follower’ or ‘learner’.
A disciple obviously has a teacher. But he or she has one by choice. Unlike institutions of learning where one finds oneself assigned to a class and has no choice in who will teach him or her, a disciple is one who chooses who will be his teacher.
Once the disciple chooses his or her teacher, he doesn’t simply acquire head-knowledge. He has chosen a master to obey. The master can command and can expect absolute and total obedience. Jesus said to His disciples, “Learn from Me” (Matt.11:29). The antiquated language of the KJV says, “Learn of Me”—not just some words, but a total life, a lifestyle.
Gurus and old-style masters were clear about one thing: you can’t have another master. You can have only one. You can choose who will be master, but once you choose one, you cannot choose another. That’s because you cannot live by two sets of rules. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt.6:24).
The second instance of the word ‘Christian’ is in Acts 26:28. Paul was on trial. In his defence, he told the story of his conversion to Christ. He waxed eloquent about his reason for being a follower of Jesus. As he spoke, Herod Agrippa, who was listening to him, exclaimed, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul’s reply was, “Whether it is a short or a long time, I pray to God that not only you but every person listening to me today would be saved and be like me—except for these chains I have” (v.29).
A Christian is a disciple, and a disciple is in the business of making disciples for his or her Master. He doesn’t miss out on any opportunities to talk about his new-found Master or to share his Master’s teaching or philosophy of life.
Often Christians plead that they are not preachers and think that they are excused from sharing their faith with others. Not so, because anyone can do what Paul did. All he did was to tell the story of how he himself had come to follow Jesus.
We must, of course, have a story. We have to be sure that we ourselves have come to Jesus, that we have asked Him into our lives, that we have committed ourselves to following Jesus as Master.
There is another thing to note. We have to look for the openings that allow us opportunities to share our story. Often, we miss out on openings, because we give the credit to something else. For instance, when people have experienced God’s power in rescuing them from some danger or trouble, while telling people about their miraculous escape, some have said, “Touch wood,” in order to ward off ‘misfortune’ that may come their way because they have talked about their escape. Why not say instead, “Praise God for His mercy in my life”?
Or, when some people need healing from sickness, they do ask for others to support them in prayer, but when the healing does come, they can be heard praising the skilfulness of the doctor or the modern facilities and good care at the hospital. I am not saying that doctors, nurses, hospitals and medicines don’t count. But we do know that people die in spite of all that doctors and medicines can do, which is the reason we ask people to pray for us. For the Christian, every experience of healing should prompt first and foremost an acknowledgement of the grace of God. Doctors and medicines are secondary.
Everything that happens in our lives should be seen as an opening to tell others that God has been good to us, that He is active in our lives, and blesses us—and it’s all because of Jesus clearing all that blocked us from God and His grace.
The last time the word ‘Christian’ appears is in 1 Peter 4:16, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
One of the things that Christians will have to increasingly accept is that we are not Christian ‘for the good times’. You cannot read the teachings of Christ Jesus and conclude that disciples will escape trouble at the hands of those who do not believe in Christ. “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt.5:10-12). “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). See also Matthew 10:16-22.
Following in Christ’s footsteps, His apostles taught that persecution was guaranteed in the lives of those who follow Jesus. As a college student, I was struck by the words of Philippians 1:29, “For it has been given to you on Christ's behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him.” And 2 Timothy 3:12, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Before he wrote about suffering as a Christian, Peter wrote that we should not think it strange (1Pet.4:12 KJV) when we are persecuted. It is an honour that we have, because we share in the sufferings of Christ (v.13). The Spirit of God and His glory is on us (v.14). We are to glory in the name of Jesus (v. 16).
Suffering in the name of Christ is not to be avoided. Because, we cannot stop bearing the name.
Of course, our suffering should not be for any kind of wrongdoing, but for doing right (2:19-20;3:17). We are to suffer, because Jesus suffered and has left us an example (2:22-23;3:18).
Peter pointed out that this kind of suffering for Christ gives us an opening for giving people an explanation about what motivates us and what our reason for hope is (3:15). Of course, we can explain why we are different, only if we are different.
Being a Christian, then, is being a disciple who chooses Jesus as Master, and makes disciples for Jesus; he suffers like Jesus because he or she is different like Jesus.