The longing of God for all people is that we would be saved and live for Him. “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) Peter would later write by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to say, “God is not willing for anyone to perish but for all to come to eternal life.” (2 Peter 3:9) When Jesus sent out his apostles into the world the challenge was to carry the gospel message to every person, in every ethnic group in all the world. They were to be witnesses for Jesus to people in all kinds of situations, of all ages and all backgrounds. Jesus paid the price for all people to be saved, for them to have new life in Him no matter how far they may have fallen from him before.
Since every person who is accountable to God is guilty of sin and in need of salvation it is an amazing offer that “Whoever will may come and take of the water of life freely.” But what I want to focus most upon is this, what happens when we do come to the Lord for salvation? What do we become at that time?
When we become Christ followers there is a massive change in who we are and what we are. We become new creatures in Christ. Our sins are forgiven and we are clean no matter how filthy in sin we may have been. As new citizens in the kingdom of Christ we are priest for God, we are members of the body of Christ and part of the family of God with God as our father and Jesus Christ as our older brother. We become disciples or students in the school of the Lord, apprentices learning from Jesus how to be masters at the work of God.
One thing we do not become is a part of any human organization, cult or religious denomination. We become Christians which means a “Christ follower”. But we do not become any particular kind of Christian. Different brands of Christians are part of the denominational culture of our own time and bears no relationship to what was true in the Bible.
Think of the three times the word “Christian” is used in the Bible. In Acts 11:26 Paul and Barnabas had been meeting with the church in Antioch for the past year. It was a church made up mostly of Gentiles who had devoted themselves to the Lord. “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” Before this the primary word used of those who gave themselves to the Lord was “Disciples.” It was a common word used among religious leaders in their day for those who signed up to follow them and learn from them what they believed, taught and how they conducted themselves. So Christians are people who are disciples loyal to the Lord Jesus.
Later in Acts 26:28 Paul was in jail in Caesarea and had appealed to Caesar. The Roman governor, Festus didn’t know what to write to Caesar in sending Paul there and invited King Agrippa to listen to Paul along with his wife to see if he could advise him on what to say to Caesar. Paul was given the opportunity to speak to Agrippa and told him the story of his own conversion to Christ. He challenged Agrippa’s faith. Agrippa responded to Paul, “Do you think with so little persuasion you will convince me to be a Christian?” Paul then said to him, “I wish before God that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am – except for these chains.” With this verse Paul helps us to know what a Christian is by saying it was one like him. No one ever lived who was more devoted to Jesus than Paul. Being Christian means we are devoted to Jesus Christ.
The final time the word is used is in I Peter 4:16. Peter had just said that if one is reproached for the name of Christ, happy are they. “Let no one suffer as a thief, as a murderer, as an evil doer or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glory in that name.” Suffering as a Christian was not to be avoided but was something we are to feel good about doing. It certainly involves one following the pattern of Jesus and having a heart like his with others.
Branded Christians can’t have their loyalty solely on Jesus. They must be trying to push their brand and pulling people from other brands into their own. What are brands of Christians? They are different denominational bodies sold on following their determined doctrines and ideas to the exclusion of others who are just as loyal to Christ as them but from a different brand. But, one may say that when one becomes a Christian, don’t they become part of a church? Yes, it’s true that the same process that makes one a Christian makes them a member of the church that Jesus built. That church belongs to Him, it has no denominational name, creed or doctrine. It is loyal to Jesus and His will. This church has no specific name but was referred to in many different ways in the New Testament. It is often referred to as “The church”, “The church of God”, “The church of the living God”, “The house of God”, “The church of the firstborn” and “The churches of Christ.” The fact that all these different descriptions start the word church with a small letter indicates that the translators didn’t think these were names but descriptions. To take any of these and try to turn them into the name for the church is to turn it into another denominational body and misuse it completely.
When we submit to the Lord in faith, turning from sins to God and are baptized in the name of Christ for the forgiveness of sins we become part of God’s family and Christians. You can’t improve on that by becoming part of some human institution. What a great day it would be if we could all be united as Christ followers and leave the brands off completely.