"Christian": Noun or Adjective?
The word “Christian” has come to be used in the religious realm as an attachment to any- and everything that is desired of a person as their justification for that particular religious activity. Today, we read of “Christian” ministries, “Christian” fellowship, “Christian” schools, “Christian” weight loss centers, etc. Even the media’s use of the word evidences this. Any activity or endeavor that is religious in nature is identified as such by calling it “Christian.”
However, biblical usage proves these modern-day concepts to be in error, reflecting the attitude that prevails in religion — great zeal for God, but void of Bible knowledge (Romans 10.1-3). The word means to be “like Christ.” The root word is “Christ” and the suffix, “-ian” means “like or pertaining to.” The word “Christian” is never used in scripture as an adjective. It is always a noun. The term is found three times in our Bible, all in the New Testament:
- Acts 11.26 — “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”
- Acts 26.28 — “Agrippa said to Paul, ‘In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?’”
- 1 Peter 4.16 — “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”
The prophet Isaiah had prophesied of the time when whoever would “join himself to Jehovah” and “keep his covenant” would be given “an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56.5). Matthew quoted Isaiah’s prophecy that justice would be proclaimed to the Gentiles (Matthew 12.18; Isaiah 42.1-3). The apostle Paul cited Isaiah’s prophecy of the time when Gentiles would hope in Jesus in Romans 15.12 (cf. Isaiah 11.10).
This name for God’s people would be given after, not before, Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the Gentiles. This explains why the Jews who were converted to Jesus in Acts 2 were not called Christians, for this name was connected with the Gentiles by Isaiah. Until Gentiles had God’s justice proclaimed to them, they had no hope (Ephesians 2.11-12). Their hope could not exist prior to their salvation (which was also true of Jews). After Gentiles had been converted, then disciples were called Christians (Acts 11.26).
While faith in God and in his word had been commanded prior to Jesus, the faith that is associated with the new birth (John 3.3-5) pertains to something that is to be believed uniquely about Jesus. Specifically, there must be faith in the power of his blood. His blood was shed for the atonement of all humanity’s sins. The blood of animal sacrifices was never understood to be for the remission of sins (Hebrews 10.1-10).
Acts 2.36; Philippians 2.9-11
While acknowledgment of God has always been man’s duty, now, acknowledgement that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ must be confessed, not only by the "house of Israel,” but by “every tongue.” The reason: God has “highly exalted him (Jesus), and given him a name which is above every name…” Jesus is to be confessed as “Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
We are baptized into Jesus through immersion into his death. We were buried "with him through baptism unto death…if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection…whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered; and being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness." It is after obedience to this form of doctrine that freedom from sin occurs for both Jews and Gentiles.
We read in 1 Corinthians 12.13: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”
The term “Christian” is not to be used to justify what we desire to offer to God, but properly it defines for us only the things that Christ exemplified in his life. By this we can know what activities are acceptable for us to follow. A Christian seeks to be like Christ in all aspects of his life. Individually and collectively, we are obedient to him as he was obedient to his heavenly Father. Thus, the matter is determined by God, not man.