The New Name, Written In Glory
Six centuries before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah foretold that a new name would be given to the people of God. The prophet wrote, “And the nations shall see thy righteousness and all kings thy glory: and thou shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of Jehovah shall name” (Isaiah 62.2). The Lord was going to give his people a new name! This prophecy is fulfilled in Acts. By this time Jesus had come, given his blood for the sins of the world, and resurrected from the dead. The church had been established and the gospel was being preached among the nations. Thus the stage was set for the giving of this new name, and in Acts 11.26, we read, “The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”
The name “Christian” is not a term of derision. Rather, this is the new name which God gave to his people. It is a name to be worn with joy and with thanksgiving. The apostle Peter wrote, “If a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name” (1 Peter 4.16). A Christian is one who follows the example of Christ, both in word and in deed. By this behavior one is identified with Christ. We see this from what was said about Peter and John in Acts 4.13: “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” This is what it means to be identified with Christ. Many people followed after Jesus during his earthly ministry, yet few followed his words and his example. In fact, most feared to be identified with him.
To be identified with Christ is to be in a covenant relationship with him. Jeremiah had prophesied of the day when God would “make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31.31). Jesus was the mediator of that new covenant (Hebrews 12.24). His laws would be written upon the minds and hearts of his people (Jeremiah 31.33; Hebrews 10.16). This pointed to the fact that their consciences would be purged from sin (Hebrews 10.2; 2 Peter 1.9). Jesus would purge our sins and with his blood (Hebrews 1.3). This is why Jesus, after observing the Passover with his disciples, took a cup and said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26.28).
Entrance into this covenant relationship is by means of the new birth that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus of in John 3. The Lord said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3.3). When Nicodemus failed to understand the new birth, Jesus explained it more fully by saying, “Verily, verily I say unto thee, except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3.5). Notice from John 3.5 that Jesus spoke of the new birth in connection with entering into the kingdom of God. This indicates that the new birth could not occur unless the kingdom of God had been established. Jesus also taught in Matthew 7.21 that entrance into the kingdom was conditioned upon obedience to the will of the Father. He said, “Not everyone that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”
From these texts we learn several things. We see that the new birth is an act of obedience to the will of the Father and that entrance into the kingdom is by obedience to the will of the Father and the entrance into the kingdom is by obedience. Further, we see that entrance into the kingdom is identical with entrance into a covenant relationship. Therefore, entering into a covenant relationship with God is an act of obedience.
Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be “born anew.” There was something for Nicodemus to obey in being “born anew.” How would that happen? When would Nicodemus undergo this new birth? It would happen in the manner that Jesus explained to the apostles. The kingdom of God would come “with power” from on high. The apostles were to wait in Jerusalem until this happened. When this power came upon them (the apostles), they would preach words of repentance and remission of sins (Luke 24.47-49). They would explain how remission is connected to the blood of Jesus. Everyone who was saved in the book of Acts was "born anew” in like manner as Nicodemus.
In Acts 10, we find Cornelius, a good moral man who was not a Christian (Acts 10.2,22). Yet Cornelius had not been “born of water and of the Spirit.” An angel of God was sent to tell him words that pertained to being “born anew” (Acts 11.14). Cornelius was told the same words as Nicodemus, and just like Nicodemus, he would need to obey these words.
To exercise one's faith by obedience to these words is to obey the gospel. Those who will be eternally lost are those who do not obey the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1.8). While there are many who do not know God, many who know God have not obeyed the gospel commands that pertain to being “born anew.” Those who have are known in glory by this new name: Christian.