The Term “Christian”
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
“No man is a true Christian who does not think constantly of how he can lift his brother, how he can assist his friend, how he can enlighten mankind, how he can make virtue the rule of conduct in the circle in which he lives.”
Woodrow Wilson (1914)
George Washington said these words to his troops at Valley Forge, “To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.” At one time it meant something to be a Christian. It was greater than patriot, soldier, politician, or celebrity. Today the title “Christian” has been so overused that it has lost its original meaning.
The Bible tells us in Acts 11:26 that the term “Christian” was first used in Antioch to describe the followers of Jesus. It has been suggested that it was not Christians themselves that coined the term but others trying to describe them, it was not long however before the followers of Christ happily applied this term to themselves.
In those days to accept the title “Christian” as a description of who you were, would surely mean a death sentence. Emperor Nero would walk in his garden every night. To light his path as he walked through the garden he would have Christians dipped in tar and hung from poles and set on fire so he could see. It was truly not a popular thing in society to be called a “Christian”.
Today that is not the case. It is popular, especially in America, to call oneself a Christian. Presidents, politicians, worldly entertainers, and sports celebrities have loosely used the term to refer to themselves. It is not uncommon to see a football player interviewed and say something to the effect, “I made that touchdown for Jesus”.
Much has been “Christianized” in our society, supposedly to make it more palatable to all of the “Christians” living here. We have Christian Gyms, Christian Workouts, Christian Little League Baseball, Christian Rock & Roll, and even, God forbid, Christian Nightclubs. Just slap the name “Christian” on the activity and it sanitizes it for our consumption.
Because of the popular use of the word “Christian” today, the word has basically lost its meaning. Frequently I find myself having to explain what I mean when I refer to a person as a “Christian”. Due to my position as a Pastor I often find myself having to preach funeral services, and at these meetings I find myself referring to a deceased person, that I know was a “Christian”, as a “Real Christian”, or a “Holy Christian”, “Committed Christian”, or a “Genuine Christian”. Real, Holy, Committed, or Genuine - as opposed to what? Well, obviously from all of the other “Christians” out there.
The word “Christian” is a noun. I am finding myself having to add an adjective to the front of the noun more and more often. Why? Because almost everybody in America claims to be a Christian. Obviously everyone is not. The pollsters tell us that over 90% of Americans claim the title Christian. If this country was 90% Christian then it would be a spiritual utopia of mammoth proportions. If it is 90% Christian then who is filling our prisons? Who is committing all of the murders, rapes, and crimes? Who is buying all of the liquor (yes, liquor!) and drugs? Why is pornography and gambling two of the fastest growing industries in our country? Is only 10% of our country fueling all of this sin? Or is there a large group of people that “Talk the Talk” but do not “Walk the Walk”?
Someone may ask, “Can there be such a thing as a “False Christian”? First let me say that there is a large body of Biblical evidence saying that there can and will be, especially in the Last Days. The Bible also teaches there will be an Anti-Christ. If there can be an Anti-Christ then why do we think it would be strange for there to be Anti-Christians? Let me put in a word of caution here: there are many well-meaning religious people out there that are not deceivers, and are not trying to lead anyone astray, but are themselves victims of deception. They are very religious but they have misplaced their faith in their religion or denomination when it should be in Christ. It is possible to be Religious without having a relationship with Christ. There is great danger and self-deception in that area.
What Does it Mean to be a Christian?
38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
“By a Christian, I mean one who so believes in Christ, as that sin hath no more dominion over him.”
John Wesley (1703-1791)
The term “Christ” was applied to Jesus and it means “The Anointed One”. For anyone to take the name “Christian” is to place oneself under the authority of the “Anointed One”. It means that you follow Christ as your example, you emulate His life and strive to imitate it in every way, and that you have placed your life completely under His Lordship.
Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). We see here that in order to be a follower of Jesus we must first deny ourselves. In America every appetite of the flesh is sated, from drugs and alcohol, to sexual perversion and every other kind of deviant behavior. All of these are clearly condemned in scripture.
Someone once asked me, “How is a Christian supposed to live?” The easy answer to that is “Live by the Bible”. Everything that is needed to live an overcoming Christian life is addressed in scripture. But first, according to Jesus, “Ye must be Born Again” (John 3:7). The “Born Again” experience is a supernatural experience. Jesus tried to explain this concept to Nicodemus in John chapter three but Nicodemus could not grasp the spiritual concept of being “Born Again”. The “Born Again” experience is not just about being forgiven for all of your past sins, though that is part of it, but it is about a “New Birth”. Suddenly you are a totally different person than you had previously been. You are now a new creature. You have new desires, new hopes, and a new mission in life. Christ is not just a part of your life, He is your life. Paul wrote of this experience in these words:
2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
Being a Christian means that you are an altogether different person than what you once were. Religion cannot do this for you. Religion can only hand you a set of rules to try to make the Old Man adhere to in hopes that it will make you a better person. Jesus does not want a better person, He wants a new person. Only Jesus can do that. This was the whole reason why He came and died on the cross and rose again the third day. It is only into the New Creature that God can pour his Holy Ghost so that He can live through you.
Defining What it Means to be a Christian Today
40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
“A Christian is God Almighty’s good gentleman.”
J. C. Hare (1827)
As I stated earlier, the term “Christian” has been misapplied so often in our modern society that most do not even know what it really means any more. It is our duty, as Christians to once again define the parameters of what it means to truly be a “Christian”. We find ourselves compelled to differentiate between the common person who claims to be a “Christian” and what we know a “Christian” really is.
Unfortunately we have allowed society to set the definition of what a Christian is when it should have been the Bible. This is why we are compelled to distinguish one so-called Christian from another with adjectives such as “Committed” and “Real”. Oh, how I long for the day when just “Christian” is enough. The best Biblical definition is the one that is lived!
We find ourselves in dilemma today! We must make a distinction between the Holy and the profane. We must clearly distinguish ourselves from the hypocrites, tares, and false brethren. No scripture says it better than this one in the New Testament:
14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,
18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
We Live in a World of Extremes
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
A maid, after she had been converted to Christ, was asked how she knew she was a Christian. “Because,” she replied, “now I do not sweep the dirt under the rugs.”
John Homer Miller (1946)
A few years ago I bought a pack of gum and when I looked at the wrapper it said that it had “Extreme Flavor”. Modern retailers and merchandisers have learned that people are polarizing to extreme positions and are now catering to that concept. No you can buy extreme gum, extreme sports drinks, and extreme sodas. People today do not just play football, now they play Extreme Football. This is the trend now: extreme sports, extreme basketball, extreme workouts, extreme mountain climbing, extreme boxing, extreme vitamins, extreme, extreme, extreme. People want to get an extreme bang for their buck.
What do they mean by “Extreme”? The word extreme is defined in the dictionary as, “Much more than usual, going to the greatest possible lengths, very strong or violent (as in, “He is extremely dangerous”), radical or fanatical, excessive, the highest degree, beyond ordinary or average”. It is clear from the definition of the word “Extreme” that what is meant is something done beyond normal. It is taking something to the maximum. It is exceeding what accepted as normal. If we live in a world of extreme sports and leisure then surely we need a Church that is Extreme. We need Extreme Christians!
Extreme Christians will have Extreme Faith. They will pray Extreme Prayers and live in Extreme Holiness. They will walk in the Extreme Love of God. They will be Extreme in Bible Study, and will be Extremely Faithful. In all areas of their life they will take their Christian Walk to the Extreme. This is what the world needs to see out of us today.
I am not talking about doing more than what the Bible says. No! Just doing what the Bible says will certainly seem in extreme among all of the lukewarm and half-hearted religious Christian out there. What society has accepted as the normal Christian life is nowhere near what the Bible teaches that a Christian is, and it is time for us to rock their concept Christianity. We can do this simply by living up to the exacting standard of God’s Word.
Let us face it. Normal is not enough. The ordinary is not going to get it. As a matter of fact the ordinary is probably not even saved in God’s eyes. We must go to the “Extreme” in our devotion and commitment to God. Anything less is not even falling into the Biblical definition of what it means to be a Christian. Remember many of our forbears that once carried the name of Christian were crucified, burned at the stake, sawn asunder, and tortured in thousands of horrible ways. Yet they held fast to the profession of their faith. I am tired of seeing lazy, bored, and uncommitted Christians. What we need today is Extreme Christians!
46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
“When a person is called to be a Christian he is at the same time sent to be a Christian.”
John B. Coburn (1963)
Rarely a day goes by that the news does cover a story about “Muslim Extremists”. It is not uncommon to hear about one of the “Extremists” strapping a bomb on their body and going into a mall and setting off the detonator and thereby killing themselves and as many others as they can take with them. These acts are despicable. Why can we not have some “Christian Extremists” go into the mall and love everybody?
The only answer to Islamic extremism is Christian extremism. The Muslims look at America and see a fat, lazy, pleasure-sedated mass of people that claim to be Christian. They see us as weak and compromising. We would sell our souls for a bigger home, better car, or more soft living. Because of this perception they despise America and what they believe is Christianity. This is simply not a true picture of what Christianity is all about but it is what they perceive it to be and to them it is the truth. We must stand up and show them true Christianity.
We may be horrified by the “Islamic Extremist” but one thing we have to admit about them: They are willing to die for what they believe in. At one time Christians were willing to die for their faith as well. Not a twisted death like the “Muslim Extremist” that takes his or her life and all those around them with a bomb, but a true martyr’s death by one unwilling to deny their faith.
True Christianity, when lived according to the Bible, is Extreme. When people are so in love with Jesus what others may think of them does not matter. Such was the case of the woman Mary that Jesus forgave of much sin. She came prior to His death and anointed his feet with costly perfume after washing them with her tears and drying them with her hair (John 12:1-8). Her love for Jesus was extreme.
I am reminded here of a story that a Missionary friend of mine, Mark Swinnea, related about his mother. When he was a teenager he was not committed to the Lord but he loved good Gospel singing. He heard that the Hinson’s were going to be in the area so he made plans to go hear them sing along with his mother. On the way to the singing he asked his mom to please not embarrass him with her exuberant worship because some of his friends would be there. The concert started and the Spirit of God began touching the lives of many of those that had come. You guessed it. It was not long before Mom Swinnea could stand it no longer and she was making laps around the auditorium filled with the joy of the Lord. Now that is extreme! Some that are not Pentecostal may be thinking here that that is not necessary but they think nothing about going to a football game and hooping and hollering when their team scores a touchdown (Read Psalms 47:1, Psalms 32:11, Ezra 3:10-13, 2 Samuel 6:13-16, Exodus 15:20-21, Acts 2, Acts 3 -among just a few references).
When I need prayer I am not going to call on some lukewarm, mediocre, half-hearted “Christian” to pray for me. I am going to call an “Extremist. That world is not going to call the one they see going into the casino to pray for them. They are not going to call the one that visits the liquor store. They are not going to call the one with a cigarette in their mouth. They are going to call an “Extremist”. If my child lay dying in a hospital bed do you think I want a pornographer to come and pray for her? No! I want the holiest Christian I can find. I want a “Christian Extremist”. The world at its worst needs to see the Church at its best!
People have often ridiculed the Pentecostal Church because we dress differently. Pastor Phillip Holloway related this story to me years ago about his family. He said they went to a park and he opted to sit on a bench to watch his wife and two daughters who went out to ride some of the attractions. A woman came and sat down on the bench beside him and asked him, “You’re a Pentecostal aren’t you?” He replied, “Yes”. She said, “I bet I could point out your family in the crowd out there.” He said, “I bet you could”. Why? Because they are “Extremists”!
At one time all who claimed to be Christians were uniquely different than everyone else. Peter said it this way:
1 Peter 2:9
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
The word peculiar means, “different, distinct, and holy” and this is exactly what a Christian must be. To be any less is lose what it is that makes us Christian.
The Muslim does not mind wearing a turban on his head. The women do not mind wearing scarves on their head. Why? Because they are “Extremists. They do not care if you like them or approve of them. They feel that it is a part of their devotion to their faith. When was the last time you met a “Christian” that was willing to sacrifice public opinion for their faith?
Increasingly we see other groups that do not have the truth willing to sacrifice temporal things for eternal things. Though their faith is misguided, and will surely end in destruction, it makes one think about how little is being sacrificed by those that claim to know the Truth.
In September 2007 my wife and I flew out to California for a little vacation. On the return flight, which lasted four hours, we sat next to a Muslim woman. The entire flight back to Houston she read her Koran and when it came time for her prayers, she did not care that there were hundreds all around her, she bowed and said her prayers to Allah. Now that is “Extreme”!
The Mormons (a cult) knocked on my door and witnessed to me and when they left they got on their bikes and peddled twelve miles back to Livingston. Now that is “Extreme”!
The Jehovah’s Witness (another cult) devotee may knock on fifty doors in a week so they can earn themselves a place in their kingdom. Now that is “Extreme”!
Every Muslim boy is required to memorize the Koran (their holy book) by the time they are twelve. Now that is “Extreme”!
Every Mormon young person is asked to give up two years of their life after high school and be missionaries – and most do. Now that is “Extreme”!
Keeping God in the Mix in 2006
24 And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
A Christian is a part of a whole, a citizen of the Kingdom of God, a child in the family of the Trinity, a cell in the organism of the Whole Christ and a member of the mystical body.”
Fulton J. Sheen (1935)
In early 2006 I was driving in Houston. A car passed by me with a bumper sticker that proclaimed, “Keeping God in the Mix in 2006”. I read this and thought about it and the more I thought about it the more it bothered me. This is exactly the problem that I am writing about in this article: God has become just another part in our “Mix”. God is not a part of my “Mix”; He is my “Mix”!
In the Book of Acts we read where Paul preached on Mars Hill and proclaimed to the crowd listening to him:
For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
Paul made it clear that God was not a part of his “Mix” but rather he was a part of God’s “Mix”. Paul said, “In him we live, and move, and have our being”. The Christian cannot exist outside of Christ; our being is bound up in His. When you become a Christian you do not make Jesus a part of your life, He becomes your whole life. Now that is “Extreme”! To do any less is not Christian.
Extreme Heroes of the Bible
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
“If a man cannot be a Christian in the place where he is, he cannot be a Christian anywhere.”
Henry Ward Beecher (1858)
Daniel was an Extremist. He was taken from his homeland at an early age and made a slave in Babylon. Instead of adopting the ways of his captors he maintained his unique Jewish heritage. When a decree was passed to prevent people from praying and petitioning anyone other than the King, Daniel went to his house, as was his custom, and prayed with the windows open. This act brought him in violation of the law and he spent a night in the lion’s den. We all know the outcome; God rescued Daniel and he came out the next morning alive.
The three Hebrews with Daniel: Shadrac, Meshac, and Abed-Nego, were Extremists. They also violated the law and would not bow down to an image. This brought the wrath of the king and they were thrown into a burning fiery furnace. They also were rescued. Some would probably think here; anyone could do that if they knew they were going to be rescued. The truth is, these men did not know whether or not they would be rescued. They made there choices prior to their rescue. There are many other examples of Godly people giving their lives for their faith in the Bible and throughout history.
Noah was an Extremist. Noah did what was completely unthinkable. He built a boat large enough to save his family and enough animal species to repopulate the earth after the flood. Noah did not have model to pattern his life after, he was the model.
I could go on and on here, for the Bible is filled men and women who took “Extreme” measures to effect their generation and society for God. Men like David, Samuel, Moses, Joshua, Joseph, and Isaiah. Women like Ruth, Esther, Hannah, Mary, and Elisabeth. These men and women set the example for us, but there really is no greater example anywhere greater than Jesus.
Jesus is an “Extremist”. He left the splendor of Heaven and became just like us. He was beaten unmercifully and carried a cross on his back up to Golgotha. He laid his hands and feet on the wood and allowed the Roman soldiers to drive nails through them into the cross. Jesus allowed them to mock him, spit on him, whip him, and put a crown of thorns on his head. At any given moment Jesus could have called legions of angels to rescue Him but he chose not to. Jesus chose to dies this horrible death of torture for us. Now that is “Extreme”.
1 Peter 4:16
Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.
Aristeides wrote in A.D. 150 of the Christians, “They walk in humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another. They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan. He that hath, distributeth liberally to him that hath not.”
It is my hope that these words will inspire all that claim to be Christians to be an “Extreme Christian”, and any that have not yet become a Christian to do so immediately. Remember what I said earlier in this article; “Ye must be Born Again”. This experience is supernatural and will only occur once you are repented of your sin and placed your faith completely in Jesus Christ as your Savior. Once you do so, then you must get into a good Bible-Believing Church that is full of “Extreme Christians” so we can come together to make up the Army of the Lord.