Shelby G. Floyd
Today, I’m studying with you about the new name Christian. When God called his people Israel, he gave them a new name. He changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Down through the ages, when God has given people a new commission or a new work, many times he has changed their names and has given them a name which signified some new work upon which they were about to embark. So it seems logical and likely that God would give his people a new name when Jesus established his church, and this he actually did, and that name is Christian.
The name Christian today though is a term which is used with so much latitude, so much liberty, and so much looseness that it hardly describes at all the people or the way it is used in the New Testament. If you will look at any unabridged dictionary, you will find that the word Christian has several meanings in our usage today. One of them can mean that a Christian is a person that is distinguished from the lower animals; and so you might say that everybody is a Christian in that sense. Then we will hear people talk about a Christian nation: that is, if a large percentage of the nation believes in Christ, they will call that nation a Christian nation.
I once heard the story of a little boy, a school boy that asked his teacher, “Teacher, was Hitler a Christian?” The teacher replied by saying, “Well, he certainly didn’t act like one, did he? But, we can only hope that he believed in Jesus when he was a little boy.” That is how the teacher answered her student. The idea of the teacher was that if he believed in Jesus when he was a little boy then he was a Christian.
So, the word Christian today has a much broader meaning than is found in the New Testament. Our purpose then is to find out who is a Christian according to the New Testament, and why we should be a Christian and how we become a Christian. These are questions that will concern our inquiry.
THE NEW NAME IN PROPHECY
In the first place, I want to point out that the term Christian is a name that was spoken of, and anticipated, in Old Testament prophecy. Isaiah was inspired, and he was looking down about seven centuries before Christ and in Isaiah 56: 5, we read, “Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an ever¬lasting name, that shall not be cut off.” Then we turn over just a few chapters later in Isaiah 62, and the prophet said,
“For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and. thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name. Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God. Thou shalt no more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married” (Isa. 62: 1-4).
1. The New Name Was Given In God’s House
Now let’s analyze these two statements from Isaiah and see what he was talking about. First, we notice that Isaiah says that God is going to give his people a name within his house and within his walls. Now what does this tell us? He is talking about the church for in 1 Timothy 3: 15, we find that the Lord’s house is the church. Now since Isaiah says that God is going to give this name within his house, and within his walls, then obviously he means that the new name will be given in the church which is the pillar and the ground of the truth. The church was established in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, according to Acts 2; therefore, this name that God would give his people would have to be given sometime from Pentecost and not before, since God was going to give this new name within his walls and within his house. So from Pentecost on we may look forward to the fulfillment of that statement.
2. The New Name Would Be Better Than Human Names
Secondly, Isaiah says that this name will be a name better than the sons and daughters of men. What does he mean by that? He means that this name that God will give within his house will transcend the names that are given by men to men. It indicates that it will be a name from heaven and not from the earth. It will be a name of divine origin, and not a name that will be of human or earthly origin, because it will be a name that will be better than any name that has been given to the sons and daughters of men.
3. The New Name Will Be An Everlasting Name
In the third place, Isaiah tells us that it will be an everlasting name, and that it shall never be cut off. God gave his people the name of Israel, a wonderful, beautiful and a meaningful name, but that name was to be cut off. This new name would be a name that would be everlasting. That simply means that it would last as long as time will continue.
4. The New Name Would Be Given When Salvation Went Forth As A Burning Lamp
In the fourth place, In Isaiah 62: 1-4, we have some additional statements that are indicated. He said, “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.” Now what is the picture here? It is the picture of a man that will not hold his peace or his rest until righteousness and salvation will go forth as a lamp that burns with brightness. Righteousness and salvation are convertible or interchangeable terms here. When that righteousness or that salvation would go forth as brightness, then God would give this new name. When did the salvation and the righteousness of God go forth as a flame of brightness? It began on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. That is when salvation was preached in the name of Christ for the first time in all of its fullness. So again we may look for this new name to be given from Pentecost in Acts 2, and not before.
5. The New Name Would Be Given To Jews And Gentiles
In the next place, we notice that this new name was to be given to Gentiles and Jews, and not Jews only. In the Old Testament, God segregated a people for his possession. He called Abraham out of the Ur of the Chaldees and he took Jacob aside and. blessed him and his sons. They were God’s chosen people, and God showered them with blessings and honors. But this new name would be for Gentiles as well as Jews, and not exclusively for the Jews only, for he says, “And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory.” So this alludes to the fact that the gospel was to be universal in its scope and its blessings designed for all men, for the Jew and Greek, for the same God is rich unto all that call upon him. So he says that this name and this righteousness are for everyone including the Gentiles.
But the Gentiles did not see God’s righteousness until Acts 10. Cornelius was the first Gentile to see God’s righteousness. Therefore, we have narrowed our examination somewhat. We may look for this new name to be given sometime after Acts 10, and not before. For it was not until Acts 10 that the Gentiles entered into the church and were converted by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
6. The New Name Would Be Given Out Of The Mouth Of The Lord
Then our last point that we shall make on these prophecies is the fact that a new name would be given by the mouth of the Lord, and not an old name, but a new name which the mouth of the Lord would name. Now do you know of any other name that has been given to the people of God that is a new name—that was given by God other than the name Christian? I don’t know of any. That is the only new name that I know that has been given to God’s people, so it must be the new name which Isaiah speaks of in our passage under consideration.
THE DISCIPLES WERE CALLED CHRISTIANS FIRST AT ANTIOCH
Let’s go a little further in our investigation. Cornelius was the first Gentile to be converted to Christ. We know that he was the first Gentile because in Acts 15, when Peter was questioned for his association with the Gentile people, he defended his actions in this way. He said, “Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe” (Acts 15: 7). He said that God purified their hearts by faith, putting no difference between the Jew and Gentile. So Peter was the first man privileged to preach the gospel to a Gentile, and Cornelius was the first man privileged to hear the gospel and Peter said, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10: 48). So Acts 10 is a record of the conversion of the first Gentile.
Now is it just a coincidence, is it just circumstance that immediately in the next chapter that we find that the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch? Is that just a circumstance, is that something that happened to be, or is that by design, that God tells us that the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch? When Peter defended his actions in Acts 11, the Bible tells us that thereafter men of Cyprus, Cyrene and Antioch went out preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. They still hadn’t learned the lesson of Acts 10. They went out preaching to none but the Jews only, but there were some of the preachers that were bolder, and they preached the gospel to the Greeks and the Bible tells us that a great number of them believed, and the hand of the Lord was upon them and he blessed them. Then they went down to Antioch, and they preached the gospel there to Jews and to Greeks, and the number of the disciples multiplied.
It wasn’t long until the leaders of the Jerusalem church heard how the gospel was being preached to Jews and to Gentiles down at Antioch. So they sent a man down there to see what he could do to help them. This man’s name was Barnabas. Barnabas went down there and the Bible says that, “When he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.” The Bible tells us that Barnabas left Antioch and went to Tarsus to find Paul. He needed a helper, for the work was so great that he could not do it by himself. So he went to seek the association and the help of the apostle Paul. Then in Acts 11: 26, the Bible tells us that Paul and Barnabas assembled themselves with the church for a whole year and they taught much people and the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch:
“And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”
IS THE NAME CHRISTIAN A NAME OF DERISION?
Now I know that there are people today who tell us that the name Christian is a name of derision, just as we used to be called Campbellites. You don’t hear that much anymore up in this part of the country. Forty years ago it was a common thing for members of the church of Christ to be called Campbellites as a name of derision. We didn’t claim to be Campbellites, we didn’t call ourselves Campbellites, we repudiated that name then and we still repudiate any human name, but the enemies of the church of Christ called us Campbellites. I only bring that up to ask “Is the name Christian a name that has been given to the people of God like the name Campbellites was given to the people of God a few years ago?” No, I don’t believe so. I do not believe that the context in the first place bears out that idea.
Paul And Barnabas Named The Disciples Christians
Let’s look at the grammar and syntax of Acts 11: 26, to see if it bears out the human origin rather than the divine origin of the name Christian. Who assembled themselves with the church? Answer—Paul and Barnabas. Who taught much people? Answer—Paul and Barnabas. Then there is only one other question. The Bible says that the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. What is the subject of the verb “were called?” I propose that the same people that assembled themselves with the church for a whole year, the same people who taught much people for a whole year, are the same people that called the disciples Christians first at Antioch. Who are they? Paul and Barnabas, by inspiration and revelation, called the disciples Christians first at Antioch. #, ##
Now see what we have. The context not only bears out that they were given this name by divine inspiration through the agency of Paul, the apostle, and Barnabas, his fellow helper, but this fulfills Isaiah 56: 5 and Isaiah 62: 1-4 and also Isaiah 65: 15 which says, “And ye shall leave your name for a curse unto my chosen: for the Lord God shall slay thee, and call his servants by another name.”
God’s people were to leave the name that they had back in the Old Testament for a curse unto his chosen, and God would slay that people and call his servants by a new name. This name was given within God’s house and within his walls. This name is a name that is better than the names of the sons and daughters of men, and is an everlasting name. This name was given after the righteousness of God, and the salvation of God went forth from Jerusalem as brightness and as a flame that burns. This name was a name that was given to Gentiles, and not to Jews only; a name that God gave out of his own mouth and it came from heaven and not from the earth. This name is a new name and not an old name that had been used heretofore. Therefore, all of those points about the new name are fulfilled in Acts 11: 26.
WHO IS A CHRISTIAN?
Now we want to be a little more practical rather than technical. So we ask the question, “Who is a Christian?” Well, some people have the idea that you are a Christian if you simply believe that Jesus is the Christ and you claim to believe what he taught. Now I know of a lot of people who claim to believe that Jesus is the Christ and even give their assent to the truth that he taught, but I don’t think that they are a Christian.
Is Every Believer A Christian?
You see it takes more than just faith to be a Christian. Every Christian has faith, but not every person that has faith is a Christian. Let me illustrate it like this. Suppose a young man and a young lady decide that they want to be married. The first thing that they must do is to go down to the courthouse and get a marriage license. Now a marriage license gives them the legal right to become husband and wife, but I ask you the question, “Are they husband and wife immediately after they receive a marriage license?” No, they must go on and complete the marriage arrangements by which the marriage license gives them the legal right. And until they have completed that arrangement they are still not husband and wife. And so it is with faith. If you are a believer, that only gives you the right to become a Christian. In John 1: 11-12, it says, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” Why not? It is because they believed on him, but they did not obey. So faith only gives you a right to become a Christian, but your faith must act or obey in order for it to be made valid or effective.
Is Every Moral person A Christian?
Someone else will say that anyone that is a good moral person is a Christian. Now I believe that every Christian is a good moral person, but not every good moral person is a Christian. If that were true, Cornelius would have been a Christian before Peter preached the gospel to him and before they were given this new name in Antioch. Cornelius was devout, prayed to God always and gave much alms to the people. He was of good report among the Jews, but he wasn’t a Christian. Why? Well, he was a good moral man, but it takes more than just being a good moral person to be a Christian. Every Christian must be of good moral character, but not every man that you see that is of good moral character is a Christian. Did you know that the word Christian is never used in the Bible as an adjective? It is always used as a noun, and all of us know that an adjective describes, but a noun designates a person, place or thing. A noun tells what something is, and an adjective describes that person, place or thing. So when we define a Christian, we’re talking about a being and not what that being is like.
Is A Christian Sinless?
Well, someone else will say, “I think a Christian is to be sinless and perfect.” No, that is not possible for anyone except the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, while the Bible teaches that sin is not to have dominion over us, and while the Bible teaches that we’re dead to sin and we cannot live any longer therein, that doesn’t mean that we will be sinless or perfect, because Christians will make mistakes and Christians will sin. It simply means that righteousness will rule in our lives and sin will be the exception, but even in the best of people those sinful tendencies remaining dormant in our lives are going to spring forth and cause us to sin from time to time. John writes that if a man says that he has no sin that he is a liar and the truth is not in him. If we say that we have not sinned we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8-10). Therefore to be a Christian doesn’t mean that you have got to be sinless and perfect.
Well then what does it mean to be a Christian? Who is a Christian? Let’s look at the word itself. It is really made up of two words— Christ and then there is the little ending—ian. Well we know what Christ means, that He is our Lord and our Master, our Savior who died for us and who was raised for our justification, but what is a Christian? If you will consult your dictionary, you will find out that Mr. Webster tells us that anytime the word “ian” is added to a noun it means “of or belonging to.” Now let’s give a few illustrations. What is an American? It is “ian” tacked on to America. What is a Canadian? It is “ian” tacked onto Canada. What is a Russian? It is “ian” tacked on to Russia. We know that an American is a person of or belonging to America. What is a Canadian? It is a person of or belonging to Canada. What is a Russian? It is a person of or belonging to Russia. Then in like manner what or who is a Christian?
A Christian Is One Who Belongs To Christ
A Christian is a person of or belonging to Christ. Every person who is of or belongs to Christ is a Christian. How do you belong to Christ? By obeying the gospel and becoming a child of God. Every person who by faith in Christ, repents of their sins, makes a confession of their faith, and is baptized in water for the remission of sins belongs to Christ. The blood of Christ has purchased every person that does that. Every person that does that is not his own, because he has been purchased with a price. So every person that obeys the gospel is a Christian. He is of or belongs to Christ. We encourage everyone to do that today!*
Copyright © 2018 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
*Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon February 5, 1975, at the Garfield Heights Church of Christ, 2842 Shelby Street, Indianapolis, Indiana. I was 37 at this time! Today, March 11, 2018, I delivered this same sermon, but not in the same order, at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main Street, Greenwood, Indiana.
#Please consult A New God-Given Name by Hugo McCord as found online in the Gospel Gazette for a discussion of “called—chrematidzo,” which means divine calling.
## Also the New World Translation in Acts 11:25-26 is a better rendering than many translations:
25 So he went to Tarsus to make a thorough search for Saul. 26 After he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year they assembled with them in the congregation and taught quite a crowd, and it was first in Antioch that the disciples were by divine providence called Christians (NWT).