Why Were They Called Christians?


Acts 11:25-26

We live in a time of a reawakening of “spirituality.” Is this a good or bad thing? There is a great difference between the contemporary, formless spirituality and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives weight, substance, call, and identity to our vague spirituality.

For some years now we seem to be going through a resurgence of interest in the Spirit. Americans are becoming more spiritual. “I am not very religious, I’ll admit,” someone else said, “but I am very spiritual.” We have had programs on television about angels, even about the perils and pitfalls of pastors. It does seem, if popular culture is a valid indicator, that we are becoming more spiritual. But I feel duty bound to warn all these sincere folk that from our church experience, “life in the spirit” can be a great challenge. Be careful of the Spirit!

In one of his letters to one of the churches he helped to establish, Paul speaks about the need to “test the Spirit.” “Not every spirit,” says Paul is the “Holy Spirit.” Presumably, according to Paul, there can be good and bad spirits.
But I am not writing about that. I am writing about the way the Holy Spirit deals with us. I hear these people talking about how good a thing it is to be spiritual. Much of the talk implies that, if we just get a little spirit, we will receive help with our problems, more satisfying lives, a lowering of our blood pressure. If I read my stories correctly in scripture, getting more spiritual can get you killed. But I can say this, the Holy Spirit is a power, a power outside ourselves, that helps us in our weakness, yes, but also a power that pushes us, prods us, pokes at us, and rarely leaves us as we are. The Holy Spirit is not only a power, it is also a persona, that visage of the aspects of the nature of God.

I’ll tell you why the Holy Spirit is threatening. Am I only speaking for myself when I say that I like to be in control? Life can be disordered enough, and I like order. I like to get up in the morning, eat the same honey buns, brush the same teeth, move in the same direction through ritual, habit, and pattern. It is good to have a few things tied down, patterned, and predictable. The Holy Spirit is about none of that. Furthermore, I like to feel that I am in charge, in control, in the driver’s seat determining the direction of life. I like to make decisions, set goals, priorities, and move toward them, achieving them, checking off my list of projects. Life hits you with enough strange stuff. You can make, decide, create, achieve. The Holy Spirit is about none of that. I suppose rising out of my desire for predictability and control is my strong yearning to know. I want to understand why things work the way they do.
I want to be able to explain the incongruities of the world, to define, understand, explain. The world can be mysterious. Therefore, I like to get things explained, defined, understood – even God. The Holy Spirit is about none of that.

Antioch was in Syria, 16 1/2 miles from the Mediterranean and three hundred miles N of Jerusalem. It was founded about 300 B.C. The city was destroyed several times by earthquakes, one of which, A.D. 526, killed 250,000 persons.
Antioch was luxurious, it’s main street, four miles in length, was lined with magnificent mansions. It was highly cultured, but its social life was debased, sensual, and shocking. It became the third city in the Roman Empire, reaching a population of 500,000. Antioch was associated early with Christian effort.
It was there that the persecuted disciples fled after the demise of Stephen.
The name Christian was first applied to followers of Jesus there. All three of Paul’s missionary journeys began in Antioch.

Princeton University and the National Museum of France excavated at Antioch for six seasons during the years 1932-39. A street plan of a large part of the ancient city has been established. Numerous significant mosaic pavements were uncovered in churches. The Chalice of Antioch is a controversial art object found at Antioch in 1910 and now is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The chalice is of two parts: a plain inner cup of silver, about seven and a half inches high and six inches in diameter, and an outer gilded silver holder with twelve figures displayed on the outside. It has even been identified as the Holy Grail used by Christ at the Last Supper. Perhaps this chalice is an early piece of Christian art of some century later than the first.

Why were they called “Christian” at Antioch? We as believers are called by many titles – Disciples of Christ, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic. What is required to be called a “Christian?” A Christian is a believer in and a follower of Jesus Christ. Christian literally means “Christ Like.” However, it occurs in the Scriptures only three times: “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26); “and Agrippa replied to Paul, ‘In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian'” (26:28); “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed” (1 Peter 4:16). The term Christian is clearly a Gentile designation for believers because the word Christ, upon which the term was constructed, suggests recognition of the Messiah, which no unbelieving Jew was prepared to do.

Becoming a Christian, according to the New Testament, is a definite act with significant results. I was asked to do a funeral for a man I hadn’t ever met and while visiting with the family this is the information I was given: The family said, “He was a good Christian man.” What church was he a member of? None. When was he baptized? Never was baptized. Well, what church did he attend. Didn’t go to church. What was he like? Everyone knew of his temper. He had a bad habit of cussing. But he believed in God. I don’t have to be a minister to figure out that this man was not a Christian. Where is the fruit? Where is the evidence?

The “spirituality” that I see being established today is an “I believe in a God that is defined by me.” Christian spirituality isn’t just some projection of our various inclinations about God. Spirituality is not something vague within us. It is something that is brought to us, taught to us. Christianity is a revealed and revealing religion.

There are five things that are necessary to be a Christian.
FAITH: Do you genuinely believe that God is real? Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
REPENTANCE: Repentance is to know and accept the fact that we are sinners. Once we admit that we are sinner we are sorrowful for our actions.
BAPTISM: Baptism is a necessary part of accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior.
FORGIVENESS: Those who accept Christ are forgiven of their sins. No matter how many times we sin, we are forgiven.
THE HOLY SPIRIT: All who have accepted Jesus, have the gift of the Holy Spirit.

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