Indeed this is a question that has found itself in conversations within the Christian community, just what is a Christian. It is a question that invites introspection, and in the traditional context, an adherence of rules and laws set forth by the church, or based on the Bible. When asked what a Christian is, how does one define it? There are varied answers, some common themes and characteristics; but as with all discourse set off by the human search for perfection, there will be inputs of opinions, experiences and hence perspectives that give rise to dissonance.
The Origins of Christian
I would like to set off this short discussion by tracing back to the root of the word, ‘Christian’. Where did this term come from? From the book of Acts in the Bible, we learnt that “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Chapter 11, verse 26) Said to be written between 60-70 AD, the book of Acts records how Christianity spread from the apostles of Jesus in Jerusalem, to Judea, Samaria, Rome and ‘the rest of the earth’. The people who followed Jesus were labelled ‘Christians’, or ‘Christiano’ in Greek, which was the language used then by the Romans in Antioch, Greece. This word originated from the word ‘Christos’, which means ‘anointed’ or ‘Messiah’, which Jesus claimed to be in his years on earth—a saviour. Back then, Christians were persecuted and ridiculed, and the term itself was actually used in mockery, its literal meaning being ‘followers of Christ’ or ‘belonging to the party of Christ’. But this still does not answer what truly a Christian is.
The Story of Jesus
As you can see, it wasn’t very fashionable being called a Christian at that time. Let me backtrack a bit to explain why Christians were made fun of. The Bible (and all Christians, for that matter) will tell you the story about Jesus, and how he came as a Saviour and a King. When Jesus came (he was a real man who roamed the earth, the history books will confirm that), he preached of a love and fulfillment of scriptures never heard before. Man was once in an intimate relationship with God, a father-son sort of relationship, but because Man did wrong, he could not be near an all-perfect God. Jesus said he was the Son of God, sent by God to be the ‘bridge’ to restore this relationship. To do that, he had to sacrifice himself by dying on a cross; though he would come back to life three days later and reign with God in heaven. Sounds bizarre? That’s what the people in Antioch thought too. The Bible records that on the third day after Jesus had died and was buried in a tomb, there was a major earthquake, the stone that covered the tomb was rolled away, and his body never found. It also records that after that, Jesus appeared to “more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:6). People told of encounters and miracles, and word spread of this Jesus who claimed to be King of the Jews when he was alive, and seemed to be still alive though he was supposed to be dead!
What is a Christian during the old times
What did the term, ‘true Christian’, mean to these people living at that time? What is a Christian to them? It must have entailed firm perseverance despite persecution. These people did not give up their faith, but stood firm living as Jesus did, showing acceptance and love to the people who shunned them, and to those shunned by society—the widows, the orphans, the crippled, the sick, and even the tax collectors. And they were joyful! It must have been an embodiment of great faith, believing firmly in the face mockery (and imprisonment, among others), continuing fearlessly to spread the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation to those who have never heard of it. These Christians had strong conviction in their hearts of a God who cared enough to send his son to live a hard life on earth, and to die for mankind. Their central message was this, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
What is a Christian now
The standards of being a true Christian shouldn’t change with the times. Loving God above all else shouldn’t be a shameful thing when it’s not trendy. What is a Christian should not be about trends and popularity. And more importantly, this love should translate to actions that show people love and acceptance. Every time you ask yourself what is a Christian; a true Christian learns to love, even when it’s hard. When you love someone, you love what he/she loves. Loving God doesn’t stop at loving only him; it includes loving (showing compassion for, having an open heart towards) the people around you, helping them when they’re in need, forgiving them when they’ve done you wrong. The Bible writes that the two greatest commandments are these, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27). Being a true Christian doesn’t just mean going to church every Sunday. It means living every day of your life believing that this faith that you’re living for is worth every single ounce of your strength believing that this great love of God will save the world. This, my friend, is what a Christian is.