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 Vol. 8, No. 6 

June 2006

~ Page 14 ~

The Meaning of the Word "Christian"

By D. Gene West

Image Since words are vehicles by which thoughts and ideas are conveyed from one mind to another, it is of vital importance that one understand the meaning of words. Written words do not mean what we want them to mean, rather they mean what the original writer intended for them to mean. One of the badly misunderstood words of our time, in the realm of religion, is the word Christian. Today we wish to examine the meaning of the word, and by doing so we can better understand what it means to be a Christian and to live the Christian life.

The word "Christian" is found only three times in the Bible. All the instances of its occurrence are in the New Testament. The references at which one will find the words are: Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16. In Acts 11:26 we read, "And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." The first instance of the disciples of our Lord being called "Christians" was in the ancient city of Antioch of Syria. Their being called by this name was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 62:2 in which the prophet quoted God as saying the Gentiles would see righteousness, that is, they would become followers of Jesus after which the followers of Christ would receive a new name which would be given by the mouth of the Lord. If one recalls the history of Acts, he will remember the first Gentile converts to the faith of Christ were made in Acts 10. Almost immediately thereafter the new name "Christian" was given to the disciples in Antioch. With this wee bit of history in mind, we turn to a discussion of the meaning of the word.

The English word "Christian" comes from the Greek word "cristianos," as we would spell it in English. The ancient Greek word meant "a person belonging to, one who is the property of, or a slave of Christ." This definition gives us great insight into what a Christian is. He is not just a religious person, he is not someone who occasionally thinks of Christ or one who renders some of his time and substance of Christ when he chooses. He is one who belongs to Christ by right of purchase. The price Christ paid to purchase us was his own blood. Paul made this abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. The Christian does not belong to himself because Christ purchased him from the slavery of sin by paying the ransom price of his own precious blood.

Paul often introduced himself in the various letters that he wrote to the ancient churches as the "servant" of Christ. When one looks up the word "servant" in the language in which the New Testament was written, he finds it refers to a special kind of a servant, one which we would call a "slave." Paul did not consider his life his own to do with what he pleased, but the life he lived in the flesh he lived according to the faith of the Son of God who loved him and gave himself for him (Galatians 2:20). Paul realized he belonged to Christ, his Head, Master and King.

It is difficult for us to understand the concept of slavery being connected with Christ, nevertheless, it is true that we are the slaves of Christ. Christ is not a hard and cruel taskmaster, but a tender, loving, caring, concerned Shepherd. There is no disgrace in being bound to Christ in the slavery of love! On the contrary, it is a great honor to be slave to the Master of the universe, the One who gave his all for us, even his life's blood on the cross. One need feel no shame that he is a slave of the Son of God.

No person can find an honor greater than being a slave to Christ. To belong to Christ, to be owned by Christ, to be joint-heir with Christ to the riches of heaven is the greatest of all honors and privileges. Let us all revel in being owned by the King of kings and the Lord of lords. We thank Christ for paying the price of our slavery and for giving us the honor of serving him as faithful slaves. As rejoicing slaves we praise and serve our perfect Master.Image

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