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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Why are you called a Christian?
Text:LD 12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 125:1,2                                                                                      

Hy 1

Reading – Exodus 19:1-9; Acts 11:19-30; Acts 13:1-5

Ps 110:1,2,3,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 12

Hy 69:1,2,3

Hy 52:1,2,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, some years ago there was book published which was called “365 Devotions on the Names of Our Lord.” You probably know that in the Bible, our Saviour is known by quite a number of different names and titles, well into the hundreds—at least 365, according to that book. Admittedly, some of the names in that devotional are kind of obscure, but a few are especially well-known.

For example, our Saviour is called “Immanuel”—God with us—for He brings us back into the presence of God. He is “Jesus,” because He saves us from our sins. He is “Alpha and Omega,” holding together everything in the universe, from beginning to end. And in its lessons on the Apostles’ Creed, the Catechism explains a few other names and titles, how Jesus is the Christ, He is the Son, and He is Lord.

These names of our Saviour are like precious gifts. In these names, we find our comfort, our strength and our hope. There’s such a power in his names that through them our own identity gets transformed. In Christ, we are given great privilege and glory. We keep those names given by our earthly parents, of course. But our mighty Saviour gives his redeemed people a new and more important identity—for we’re named after him!

We’re not called “Immanuel-eans,” or followers of Immanuel. We’re not called “Jesuits,” or disciples of Jesus. No, we are called Christians. And like those different names for our Saviour, this precious name describes something vital about us. This name speaks of our new status. It speaks of our new purpose. And the name “Christian” receives its full meaning from our Saviour. Because of what He did, we bear this name. Because of what He gives, we bear this name. Because of what He calls us to do, we are called Christians. I preach to you God’s Word as summarized in Lord’s Day 12,

I am a Christian—a member of Christ!

  1. the origin of this name
  2. the calling in this name
  3. the glory of this name


1. the origin of this name: God has always had a people. There was never a time that He was without worshipers. Even when it was just Adam and Eve, there was a people for God. Even when the church has seemed ready to die out in times of great evil or persecution, God has been preserving a people for himself.

Back in those days B.C. (Before Christ) God’s people weren’t known as “Christians,” or even as “the church.” They were called “Israelites,” or they were known as the “children of Abraham” or “sons of Jacob.” In places like Exodus 19, they are called God’s “special treasure,” and “a kingdom of priests” (vv 5-6). But they weren’t called “Christians.”

That might be perfectly obvious, but it should be said. For even though Christ hadn’t yet appeared on the earth, He was still the one and only reason that God had mercy on his covenant people. Christ has always been the foundation of his church, even from the beginning of time! God always forgave the sins of his people and dwelled with his people for this one reason: Jesus Christ. Even when He was centuries from appearing, Christ was why God accepted a people as his own possession.

And then Christ came. In the fullness of time, He came to the people of God, and He revealed himself as the one promised: as that long-awaited Prophet, Priest, and King. When He was on earth, Christ continued his church-gathering work, for He collected an ever-growing band of followers around Him. For three years He was busy calling disciples to him, training them, and reaching out to the crowds with his message.

When we read the four Gospels, there’s no indication that this group of people around Jesus went by a special name. In the eyes of most, Jesus and his followers were just another example of a wandering Jewish teacher and his collection of students. There had been such groups before, and there would be again.

If anything, observers might’ve guessed that Jesus and Company were something like the Zealots. This was a fringe group at that time in Palestine. The Zealots wanted to rise up against the Romans and chase them into the Mediterranean. They wanted to restore the old kingship in Jerusalem, and resurrect the throne of David. Not that Jesus ever said much against the Romans, but He did talk a lot about some new “kingdom.” So were they Zealots? Or were Jesus and his followers something else?

Really, those men and women who trailed behind Jesus were hard to label. As a group, they hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary. There was no revolution, and no commune out in the wilderness. They hadn’t attracted any attention from the Romans, and only a little from Israel’s religious leaders.

And this was probably because Jesus hadn’t given his followers a whole lot to do just yet. If anything significant would come of Jesus and this “movement,” they needed to do something really special. They needed something that would give this group of people a real identity, something that would bind them together and motivate them.

Which brings us to the cross… By the third year of his ministry, Jesus has become a real nuisance to the Jewish leaders. At the time of the Passover that year, He is arrested, quickly tried, and executed by crucifixion on Golgotha.

But then something else takes place. In those days after the cross, the memory of Jesus doesn’t fade away, as the Pharisees had hoped, or as the Romans might have expected. Neither did his disciples melt away into the rest of the population, rebuked and embarrassed. For just three days after his death, Jesus is said to have arisen from the grave. Even before his supporters have begun to come to grips with their grief, they receive incredible news. Their Master is alive and well! They see him again, speak with him again, and are again taught by him.

And from that moment on—right up to the present time—the followers of Jesus have a clear identity, an unmistakable character. It’s an identity in Jesus Christ. We’re not just a group of like-minded people, or the students of a long-dead teacher. No, we’re members of Christ. We belong to the Saviour who was crucified, who rose from the grave, and who now is Lord over all. By his death, He won the blessing of salvation. And with his resurrection, He returned to present this gift to his people. We are the people who know Jesus as the infallible prophet, as the perfect High Priest, as the mighty and victorious King.

Later, having seen their Saviour ascend into heaven and having received his Holy Spirit, the disciples go out with his message. Now they can bring the whole story, announcing that through faith in Jesus, all sinners can have true peace with God! Through this life-giving gospel, the covenant people of God will be gathered together.

We don’t know how big the church was when the apostles first went out. But whatever the exact number, it was growing. From those first twelve men, to at least five hundred at his resurrection, to the three thousand at Pentecost—“more and more,” Luke tells us in the book of Acts, “were added to their number daily.” With ever-increasing numbers, this was a group that few people could ignore. Certainly the Jewish leaders were painfully aware of their existence. That Jesus fellow hadn’t gone away, and his movement had not withered and died!

So they needed a label, a name. That’s always how it is with new movements and groups—the general public needs an easy way to refer to them. For example, today those who are all about protecting the environment are known as “greens.” That’s what we call them, and everyone knows what we mean.

At first the disciples of Jesus were known as “the Way.” We come across that name a few times in Acts, like in 19:23, “At that time there arose a great commotion about the Way.” In a sense, it’s a good description for the church. Jesus had called himself “the Way” (John 14:6), because with his sacrifice He’d opened a new “way” to God. Those who follow this “way,” live by faith in Jesus Christ, and they seek to obey him as Lord.

It seems like this name stuck for a while, but then it disappeared and in Acts we start hearing another name for this group of people. The followers of Christ are known as “Christians.” This is what we read in Acts 11, “The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (v 26).

There’s a good reason that this name arose there, and not somewhere else. Luke says that Antioch was the first church with a large population of Gentiles, a congregation mostly made up of ex-pagans. This meant that Antioch was the first place where the public would have to distinguish between the followers of Jesus, and the Jews. After all, “regular” Jews and the disciples of Jesus share many of the same beliefs about the LORD. They believe in the one true God, in the holy Scriptures, in the possibility of atonement for sin. But it was only these ones—these men and women and children—who believe that Jesus is actually the Christ, promised of old. They who prayed in the name of Christ. They had meals in remembrance of Christ. They tried to live according to the teachings of Christ. Constantly, these people talked with each other and to strangers about Christ.

They were all about Christ—so let them be called Christians. If we compare this to similar names from the first century, we see that “Christian” basically means a helper of Christ, a supporter, or perhaps even a soldier “of Christ.” As an example from that time, the emperor Augustus had a group of supporters who were known as “Augustian”—the same kind of name. A “Christian” then, is someone who lines up behind Christ. A Christian fights under Christ’s banner, and promotes his cause.

Nobody knows for sure who coined the name “Christian.” Some say that the believers at Antioch invented it, in order to honour their Saviour; they wore the name like a badge of pride. Others say it was made up by the unbelievers in that city, who used it to make fun of the “Christ-fanatics.” They say “Christian” was first a derogatory term, an insult. And there are some secular writings from the first century which show this. You can read that cultured and important folks in that time didn’t want to be labelled as a “Christian.” It was only low-class people and slaves who went by that name.

Isn’t that something we see today too? Being known as a “Christian” today often makes you suspect. It’s like you’re a little odd. If you’re known as a Christian at university or in the workplace, you might be considered narrow-minded. You’re probably naïve about a lot of things, and people might think that you’re judgmental. So maybe we’re sometimes ashamed to admit to people that we go to church and that we read the Bible. It’s not a new thing, that the name “Christian” has a lot of baggage with it.

But even if it was first meant as an insult, and even if many are allergic to Christians today, it’s an appropriate name. For we are Christians: our identity is completely wrapped up in Jesus Christ. He is our crucified and risen Saviour, and our life is through him! As his followers, we receive his abundant grace and mercy. We belong to Christ, and we’re taken care of by him, in body and soul. And as his servants, we now get to lead a better life, by faith in him and obedience to his Word.


2. the calling in this name: If you’re a Christian, a follower of Christ, then you’ve got work to do! As Jesus said in Matthew 10, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master” (vv 24-25). As Christians we need to be like Christ, and we ought do the same kind of things as Christ.

So what did Jesus do? In short, our Saviour gave his whole life in the willing service of the LORD! Though He was the Son of God, He submitted himself to the holy task that God the Father had assigned him. God even laid upon him all three Old Testament offices: He was a prophet, a priest, and a king (Q&A 31).

And now these are the same tasks that we get to carry out in the power of his Spirit. We aim to serve God with the same devotion, the same faithfulness, the same obedience as Christ. Like the Catechism teaches, we are his members by faith and we share in his anointing, so that we may glorify Him in all we do (Q&A 32).

You might know that there used to be a fad where Christians would wear a colourful bracelet, on which was asked a simple question, “What Would Jesus Do?” Even though it’s not in style anymore, in many ways this is exactly the right question for Christians to ask. As the apostle John tells us, “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6).

So what would Jesus do? He spoke God’s Word as a prophet. As Christians, we must do the same. When we’re asked by someone about what we believe, we need to speak up. When there’s a person who needs encouragement, we should speak gospel comfort. When it’s time to sing in church, we should raise our voices to God. Because we’re prophets!

What would Jesus do? He presented himself wholly to God his Father in obedience, as a priest. So as Christians—as those who share in his identity as priest—we must do the same. When we’ve received spiritual gifts from God, we need to use them for the good of his people, by showing mercy and teaching and leading and serving. When we’ve received material blessings from God, we need to give him real tokens of our thanks. As priests for Christ, we can serve constantly in obedience. This is even what Israel did long ago, for already then, God’s people were “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6).

What would Jesus do? As King, He fought hard against Satan. He turned him away with the truth of what God said. And as his soldiers, we have to do the same. When Satan confronts us with his temptations, when he undermines us with his doubts, turn him aside with the Word of Christ! When sin invades, fight against it, and defend each other against Satan’s power. Because we’re kings!

Beloved, being Christians means that in everything we are under the command of Christ. What path does He want us to take? This is to be the question we ask in our daily decision-making. What is Christ’s way? In our working, in our family relations, and in the church, we want to know: How does Jesus Christ call me to live? What is the will of Christ for your thinking, for your speaking, and your doing?

That’s how those very first Christians lived as well. The early believers at Antioch weren’t just called Christians, they showed that they were Christians. They showed that they lived in him and for him.

First, they were prophets. In Acts 13, we read how the believers in Antioch had received the gift of prophecy. These Christians weren’t content to keep the Word of God to themselves. Notice how even though they had just received it, they immediately send out Paul and Barnabas to preach the gospel in Seleucia and Cyprus. There’s an urgency to share it. In the same way, we have a prophetic calling to bring God’s Word! Christ calls Christians to spread the good news, in every way that we can, in distant lands and faraway cities, and here among our neighbours.

Those first Christians were prophets, and they were also priests. We see it in how they respond to the prophecy of Agabus in Acts 11. He predicts that a severe famine would come to the Roman empire. So what do the Christians do? “The disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea” (v 29). As priests, they’d present these thank-offerings in service of God. In the same way, we ought to be priests. We should take what God has given us, and present it to him as sacrifice.

Finally, those first Christians showed themselves to be kings. For they fought against sin, and they made their mark in that unbelieving world. As the Jewish persecution spread north to Antioch, these Christians could’ve taken the easy way out—they could’ve compromised, they could’ve aligned themselves with the Jews, or stopped talking about Christ. But they held fast. We too, are called to carry on the fight of faith. We can feel like caving in or compromising, but in the power of Christ we can stand fast. Stand as a king, as a queen, as one who’s already been given the victory in Christ.

This is our calling, as servants of the Master. And in this calling, let’s be fully aware of something: God sees us, and other people see us. If we say that we’re Christians, that we go to church on Sundays and that we believe in the Bible, people will be watching. The people at work, or those at school, or on our street—they’re watching, to see how you act. Will these Christians really be different from other people, from those who don’t believe? Or will we be different from those who follow other religions? Will these Christians live up to the name of their Saviour, and show humility, and love, and kindness, and speak the truth? Will you be a faint reflection of Christ himself? May God help us do so. For that’s our calling, and that’s our glory.


3. the glory of this name: When you’re insulted for being a Christian, should you be embarrassed? When it’s easier sometimes not to be a Christian so that you can embrace your temptations, should you forget who you are? No. There is a great glory in being called by the name of Christ. Says Peter, “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Pet 4:16).

Listen to what Peter says: Praise God that you bear that name! Even if others laugh at you, praise God. Even if your heart struggles hard against Satan, praise God. You can praise God, because when you believe in Christ, your new name isn’t just an empty label. No, as Christians we are clothed in Christ. We are united to him. We are in Christ, and He is in us!

The whole glory of the name is rooted in the One who saved us. Because we belong to him, Christ will preserve us. Because we belong to him, Christ will guide us in step with his will. Because we belong to him, even our failures in the faith don’t make us suddenly stop being Christians. This is what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2, “If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown himself” (v 13). Christ will be faithful to us, because we’ve been called by his Name—because we’re the members of his body, and He is our glorious Head.

No matter what the world says, no matter what Satan whispers, no matter what way our flesh still inclines, there’s great glory in being a Christian! For in Christ Jesus we have the abundant life! He has set us free and saved us. He unites us to himself so that we can share in all his riches: life eternal, righteousness, and glory.

Today Christ gives us a calling that is more important than any other calling. Christ gives us a real purpose, in a time when so many are aimless and hopeless. And finally, Christ promises an entrance into his glorious kingdom when we can be with him forever.

That’s our name, then: It is Christian. It’s a name you can be proud of. It’s a badge of honour, a name to put on your sleeve and to share with others. It’s a name that’ll never wear out, but will endure like Christ, our everlasting Lord.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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