We have trouble with defining words today. Our culture is uncomfortable with clarity and craves ambiguity. Even our leaders avoid exact definitions. Remember when President Clinton quibbled over the definition of the word “is?” We’re no better at it in religion. Take the word “Christian,” for example.
Let’s look to Jesus for an answer. If anyone can tell us what a Christian is, it should be Christ! In Mark 10:17-22 we read,
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
The question was, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Said Jesus, “You lack one thing.” He was not yet a Christian. He was not lacking in morals. He didn’t kill, commit adultery, steal, lie, cheat, or dishonor his parents (cf. vv. 19-20). The area where he was lacking was plainly pointed out by Jesus: “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (v. 22, emphasis mine). To Jesus, then, the definition of a Christ is “one who follows Christ.”
The term “Christian” indicates “one who follows Christ.” This is the etymological meaning of the word. A “Buddhist” follows Buddha, a “Confucian” follows Confucius, and a Satanist follows Satan. Why wouldn’t a Christian follow a Christian?
This is the historical meaning of the word. The first appearance of the term is in Acts 11:26. where Luke writes, “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” This is the popular meaning of the word. Even a non-Christian recognizes that a so-called “Christian” living at odds with Christ’s teachings is a hypocrite.
You are not a Christian unless you follow Christ. Are you following him in his kindness? Are you following him in his righteousness? Are you following him in his prayer life? Are you following his Word? Are you following him in his sacrifice?
Don’t call yourself a Christian if you’re not willing to follow him.