Monday Sermon Idea
To Be a Christian
(Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; and 1 Peter 4:16)

By Franklin L. Kirksey, Pastor, First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort, AL

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These expositions by Dr. Kirksey are offered to suggest sermon or Bible study ideas for pastors and other church leaders, both from the exposition and from the illustrative material.
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Introduction

To be a Christian is a contradiction in many ways.  Dr. A. W. Tozer shares in That Incredible Christian:

Let us . . . simply observe the true Christian as he puts into practice the teachings of Christ and His apostles.  Note the contradictions:

The Christian believes that in Christ he has died, yet he is more alive than before and he fully expects to live forever.  He walks on earth while seated in heaven and though born on earth he finds that after his conversion he is not at home here.  Like the nighthawk, which in the air is the essence of grace and beauty but on the ground is awkward and ugly, so the Christian appears at his best in the heavenly places but does not fit well into the ways of the very society into which he was born.

The Christian soon learns that if he would be victorious as a son of heaven among men on earth he must not follow the common pattern of mankind, but rather the contrary.  That he may be safe he puts himself in jeopardy; he loses his life to save it and is in danger of losing it if he attempts to preserve it.  He goes down to get up.  If he refuses to go down he is already down, but when he starts down he is on his way up.

He is strongest when he is weakest and weakest when he is strong.  Though poor he has the power to make others rich, but when he becomes rich his ability to enrich others vanishes.  He has most after he has given most away and has least when he possesses most.

He may be and often is highest when he feels lowest and most sinless when he is most conscious of sin.  He is wisest when he knows that he knows not and knows least when he has acquired the greatest amount of knowledge.  He sometimes does most by doing nothing and goes furthest when standing still.  In heaviness he manages to rejoice and keeps his heart glad even in sorrow.

The Best of A. W. Tozer: Book One, compiled by Warren W. Wiersbe, Chapter 20, (Camp Hill, PA: Wingspread Publishers, 1978, 2000) [Originally published, A. W. Tozer, That Incredible Christian: How Heaven”s Children Live on Earth (Harrisburg, Pa.: Christian Publications, 1964)] © 1978, 2000 by Zur Ltd..  Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

It is my prayer that we will be able to say with that Puritan of old:

I am mended by my sickness, enriched by my poverty and strengthened by my weakness. . . .  What fools are we, then, to frown upon our afflictions!  These, how crabbed soever, are our best friends.  They are not indeed for our pleasure, they are for our profit.

Abraham Wright, The Golden Treasury of Puritan Quotations, compiled by I.D.E. Thomas, by permission of Banner of Truth (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000), p. 17.

 

Dr. John Thain Davidson, author of Talks to Young Men (New York: A. C. Armstong & Son, 1885), shares the following in an article titled “The Christian”:

The word “Christian” occurs but three times in Scripture.

In the first we read of being “called” a Christian; in the second, of being persuaded to “be” a Christian; and in the third, of “suffering” as a Christian.  There is thus here an ascending graduation: first, the name; second, the reality; and third, the suffering or experience.

Up to the year of our Lord 42 or 43–that is, the period indicated in our first text–the followers of Jesus had no distinctive title by which to separate them from the world around; that is to say, they had no appropriate designation accepted by themselves, and recognized by those who did not belong to them.  Not till this time, indeed, as I shall presently show, had such a designation been necessary.

But, as it may be interesting to trace the appellatives applied to the followers of Jesus from the commencement of the Christian era, let me, in a single sentence or two, enumerate them.

The very first name given to them was that by which their Divine Master Himself was pleased to designate them, viz., “disciples,” a word which means learners and followers, and which occurs in the gospels more frequently than any other, e.g., “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” [John 8:31].

The second name was “believers,” which was given to them on account of the faith they professed; e.g., “and believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes,” [Acts 5:14] etc. This name, however, as we learn from profane writers, was sometimes applied by way of reproach, though of this we have no instance recorded in the New Testament.  It was not unusual for the Greek philosophers to nickname the Christians credentes, that is, “believers,” because they did not exercise their reason, but took things on trust.  Augustine used to say, “Let them jeer us for our faith; let us nevertheless believe.”  In human and earthly concerns belief comes after knowledge, but in spiritual things it often goes before: e.g., John says, “We believe and are sure (lit. know) that thou art the Christ,” [John 6:69] etc.; not “We know and believe.”

A third name given to Christ’s people was “the brethren” [Acts 6:3].  This they were called because of the spirit of love that bound them together, and the recognition of their oneness and equality.  “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren” [1 John 3:14].

The fourth and only other name, so far as we can learn, by which they were know among themselves, was “saints” [Acts 9:13,32,41 26:10].  This they were called because of their holiness, and separation from the ways of the world; e.g., “Salute all them that have the rule over you (that is, the office-bearers of the church) and all the saints” (that is, the members) [Hebrews 13:24].

The names I have now mentioned, “disciples,” “believers,” “brethren,” “saints,” were all honourable and pleasing titles, and were given to the early Christians by their Divine Master, by the Apostles, and by each other; but, you will observe, there is nothing in any of these designations to mark them out, in the eye of the world, as a distinct and separate people.

As their numbers increased, however, and they became as a body more consolidated, it was to be expected that some generic title would come to be attached to them; and so it happened.  And as the name “Christians” became the distinguishing appelation of the followers of Christ, the fact itself, and the place where the name originated, were worthy of record.

By whom or in what spirit this name was given to them is not certainly known, and yet we have some glimpses of truth in regard to the matter.  Undoubtedly it was not the Jews who originated the title; for as the word “Christ” means simply “Messiah,” to call the followers of Jesus “Christians” or “Messianists,” would be giving up the argument to them altogether, and acknowledging that their Master was indeed the true Christ.  No; the ground of their reproach against the disciples was not that they believed in a Christ or Messias, but that they accepted Jesus of Nazareth (or of Galilee) as the Christ.  Hence, whom they wished to designate the disciples contemptuously, they called them “Galileans,” [Acts 2:7] or more frequently “Nazarenes” [Acts 24:5].  Thus we read (chap. xxiv. 5) that one of the charges which Tertullus (a legal orator engaged bye the Jewish party) brought against Paul before the governor Felix was, that he was “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes,” which just meant a leader of the Christian body.

And as their name was not given them by the Jews, neither, we have reason to believe, was it directly given them by God.  Some have taken up this idea, and imagined that the title was a matter of special divine revelation.  To this I reply, that there is not hint given of such a thing; and as the word occurs only in two other places, and is not once used by Paul, it is extremely unlikely that it came from divine suggestion.  It was given to them, no doubt, by the citizens of Antioch.  Those Gentiles could not enter into the spirit or meaning of such words as “disciples,” “believers,” “brethren,” or “saints,”  nor could they enjoy the paltry spleen which the Jews exhibited in their contemptuous title “Nazarenes;” and as Antioch was the first place where idolatrous Gentiles were converted and real missionary work began, and the infant church was therefore becoming less and less identified with the Jewish nation, what more natural than that they should call the disciples after the name of their great Master, especially as that name was doubtless continually on their lips?

It is possible, indeed, that they may have been a vein of derision in the origination of this title, but eventually this passed away; and it is a singular thing that most of those names which are now honoured and respected in the Christian Church, were framed at first as terms of reproach and contempt.  I need only mention the words [Huguenot], Puritan, Methodist, and even Protestant, to show how names that were derisive in their origin may afterwards be gloried in as titles of true nobility.

Such, then, seems to have been the origin of the name “Christians;” not given by God, nor by themselves, nor by the Jews, but by their heathen neighbours, to mark them as a new sect, and designate their relation to Him whom they acknowledged as their Head. The honoured name we accept; let us seek to be worthy of it.

“The Christian: A Weekly Record of Christian Life, Christian Testimony, and Christian Work,” Thursday, April 28, 1870, (London: Morgan & Scott, 1870).

 

As we have noted, we find the term translated “Christian” three times in the Bible.  After reading each passage we will ask a question.

I. The first mention of the term translated “Christian” is in Acts 11:26.

Let us begin reading in verse 19, where Dr. Luke writes,

Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only.  But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.  And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.  Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch.  When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.  For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  And a great many people were added to the Lord.  Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul.  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 (Acts 11:19-26).

 

Are you frequently perceived as a Christian?

Based upon your actions and attitudes do people regularly perceive you as a Christian?  Are you “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) with flavor?  Are you the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14)?  Are you “a city set on a hill [that] cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14)?  Does “your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16)?

II. The second time we find the term translated “Christian” is in Acts 26:28.

Let us begin reading in verse 24,

Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are beside yourself!  Much learning is driving you mad!’  But he said, ‘I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason.  For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner.  King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets?  I know that you do believe.’  Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You almost persuade me to become a Christian.’  And Paul said, ‘I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.’  When he had said these things, the king stood up, as well as the governor and Bernice and those who sat with them; and when they had gone aside, they talked among themselves, saying, ‘This man is doing nothing deserving of death or chains.’  Then Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar’” (Acts 26:24-32).

Are you fully persuaded as a Christian?

Paul forcefully witnessed to Agrippa.  Unless you are fully persuaded you will never be persuasive.  Paul was fully persuaded as he writes in 2 Timothy 1:8-12,

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God,  who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,  but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,  to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles   For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:8-12).

 

Paul writes in Romans 8:31-39,

What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?  Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is he who condemns?  It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; / We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Several months ago, my good friend Scott Ward, with GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, sent an article titled, “Young adults less devoted to faith.”  In it Cathy Lynn Grossman states, “Most young adults today don’t pray, don’t worship and don’t read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows.

If the trends continue, “the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources.  In the group’s survey of 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% say they’re “really more spiritual than religious.”

Among the 65 percent who call themselves Christian, “many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only,” Rainer says.  “Most are just indifferent.  The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith.”

Key findings in the phone survey, conducted in August 2010:

•65% rarely or never pray with others, and 38% almost never pray by themselves either.
•65% rarely or never attend worship services.
•67% don’t read the Bible or sacred texts.  Many are unsure Jesus is the only path to heaven: Half say yes, half no.

“We have dumbed down what it means to be part of the church so much that it means almost nothing, even to people who already say they are part of the church,” Rainer says.

The findings, which document a steady drift away from church life, dovetail with a LifeWay survey of teenagers in 2007 who drop out of church and a study in February by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which compared the beliefs of Millennials with those of earlier generations of young people.  . . .

Even among those in the survey who “believe they will go to heaven because they have accepted Jesus Christ as savior”:

•68% did not mention faith, religion or spirituality when asked what was “really important in life.”
•50% do not attend church at least weekly.
•36% rarely or never read the Bible.

Neither are these young Christians evangelical in the original meaning of the term — eager to share the Gospel.  Just 40% say this is their responsibility.  Even so, Rainer is encouraged by the roughly 15% who, he says, appear to be “deeply committed” Christians in study, prayer, worship and action. . . .

The 2007 LifeWay study found seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30, both evangelical and mainline, who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23.  And 34% of those had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30.

The Pew survey found young people today were significantly more likely than those in earlier generations to say they didn’t identify with any religious group.  Neither are Millennials any more likely than earlier generations to turn toward a faith affiliation as they grow older” (Cathy Lynn Grossman “Young adults less devoted to faith”, USA TODAY, Available from: http://www.usatoday.com/NEWS/usaedition/2010-04-27-1Amillfaith27_ST_U.htm Accessed: 08/12/10).

III. The third time we find the term translated “Christian” is in 1 Peter 4:16.

Let us begin reading in verse 12, where Peter writes,

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.  If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters.  Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.  For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?  Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, / Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’  Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:12-19).

Are you fiercely persecuted as a Christian?

One pastor lamented after reading the Book of Acts, “You know wherever the Apostle Paul went, there was either a revival or a riot.  Everywhere I go they serve tea.”

From 2 Timothy 3:1-12, we read,

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:  For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.  And from such people turn away!  For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts,  always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.  Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.  But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance,  persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured.  And out of them all the Lord delivered me.  Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

 

In an article titled,

“American missionaries gunned down for ‘preaching Christianity’”, Kathy Gannon shares the following:  “KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban terrorists have declared they shot and killed a team of missionaries, including six Americans, because they were ‘preaching Christianity.’”

Ten members of a medical team, including six Americans, were shot and killed by the Islamic terrorists as they were returning from providing eye treatment and other health care in remote villages of northern Afghanistan, a spokesman for the team said Saturday.

Dirk Frans, director of the International Assistance Mission, said one German, one Briton and two Afghans also were a part of the team that made the two-week trip to Nuristan province.  They drove to the province, left their vehicles and hiked for hours over mountainous terrain to reach the Parun valley in the province’s northwest.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press in Pakistan that they killed the foreigners because they were “spying for the Americans” and “preaching Christianity.””

Kathy Gannon further explains, “Among the dead was team leader Tom Little, an optometrist from Delmar, New York who has been working in Afghanistan for more than 30 years, Frans said.

Little was expelled by the Taliban government in August 2001 after the arrest of eight Christian aid workers – two Americans and six Germans – for allegedly trying to convert Afghans to Christianity.  [On September 11, 2001, Muslim extremists, known as al-Qaeda, coordinated a series of suicide attacks on the United States of America.]  He returned to Afghanistan after the Taliban government was toppled in November 2001 by U.S.-backed forces” (Kathy Gannon – Associated Press Writer – 8/7/2010 6:20:00 AM “American missionaries gunned down for ‘preaching Christianity’”  Available from: http://www.onenewsnow.com/Church/Default.aspx?id=1116150 Accessed: 08/12/10).

Conclusion

Dr. A. W. Tozer shared his pulpit once with Dr. Vance Havner (1901-1986).  After the message Tozer went up to him and said, “Finally, a man I don’t have to clean up after.”  Dr. Vance Havner wrote a book titled Why Not Just Be Christians? (Vance Havner, Why Not Just Be Christians? Available in electronic format from:  http://www.wordsearchbible.com/catalog/search.php?author=Vance+Havner Accessed: 08/14/10).

From The Best of Vance Havner we read, “The early Christians did not adjust to the situation, they adjusted the situation” (Vance Havner, The Best of Vance Havner, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1989). Dr. Havner shares the following in Hearts Afire: Light on Successful Soul Winning:

There is a lot of soft, sentimental talk about Him today that brings no conviction.  When Isaiah saw the Lord, he did not feel comfortable!  Neither did Habakkuk nor Daniel nor Paul nor John.  We want a picture of Him today that does not disturb us, that smiles at sin, and winks at iniquity.  I remember a man who told me he wanted to hear no hell-fire sermons but rather about the meek and lowly Jesus.  Yet the poor man did not seem to realize that the meek and lowly Jesus said more about hell than is reported from the lips of anyone else in the Bible!  We need a true and complete vision of God in His holiness and Christ in His glory that will bring us to repentance.”  Dr. Havner further observes, “But we are a pretty comfortable crowd of Christians, who seem to forget that for us the Gospel is not something to come to Church to hear, but something to go from the Church to tell.  The cause of Christ is not carried forward by complacent Sunday morning bench-warmers who come in to sit but never go out to serve.

Vance Havner, Hearts Afire: Light on Successful Soul Winning (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1952) Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.

 

Invitation

Allow me to ask three more questions:

First, do you have genuine Christian Faith?

“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).

Paul writes to Timothy, “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,  and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Christian faith is an evangelical faith.  It matters what you believe.  We must believe the good news as we read in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Furthermore, do you have warm Christian Fellowship?

John writes in his first epistle,

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us (1 John 1:5-10).

 

Paul warns, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).

Finally, do you have a sharp Christian Focus?

From Hebrews 12:2 we read, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

This verse calls to mind a hymn by Helen Howarth Lemmel (1963-1961) who was once a vocal music teacher at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois.  From the Refrain we read, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, / Look full in His wonderful face, / And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, / In the light of His glory and grace.”

Make certain that you have repented of your sin and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.  If not, may the words of the old African American spiritual be yours, “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart”  [Emphasis mine].

May each one of us truly know what it means to be a Christian.