Saints, Holy Ones, and Christians
January 11, 2023
It was on Sunday, January 1st that Pastor Luke Stephens preached through Acts 11. That’s where we learned from verse 26, Barnabas and Paul met with the church in Antioch teaching a great many people. There the disciples were first called Christians. There are only two other instances of the word Christian in the New Testament; Acts 26:28 when Agrippa said to Paul, Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian? Then again in 1 Peter 4:16, However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
In the New Testament, the disciples never used Christian to describe themselves. Instead, they used such terms as brothers or brethren in Acts 15:1 (simply believers in a few versions); and saints or your saints in Acts 9:13 (although a number used your holy people or your holy ones and a few stuck with your believers); and in Acts 9:2, those of the Way or belonged to the Way. Jews who were antagonistic about them, called them Nazarenes. And of course there is the description as disciples throughout the gospels and Acts, but nowhere else. In 1 Thessalonians 3:13 Paul calls those coming with Jesus, His holy ones or His saints in different versions. Concerning the use of holy ones, we should remember Jesus is described as the Holy One of God in Matthew 1:24 and later in Luke 4:34 a demon recognizes Jesus saying, I know who you are—the Holy One of God.
Along the way I found a writer, Theophilus of Antioch, who wrote about 170 A.D. who claimed the term Christian was used not because of a direct association with Jesus, but because it was derived from the Greek word for oil.
Looking first at disciples, any concordance will show that this name was employed almost exclusively during the time of Christ’s life upon earth.. As our Master we owe Him absolute submission. When He speaks, we have to accept His dictum, His teaching.
Thus we come to one of the first new names for us believers. There are well over 40 instances of Christians being called believers in the New Testament beginning in John 4:41 when in Samaria, because of Jesus words many more became believers. What were the believers? They were and are those who are not only in submission to the teachings of Jesus, but living out a trust in the person of the Redeemer.
What were the saints or holy ones? The name belongs to all Christ’s followers. It makes no claim to special purity, for the central idea of the word ‘saint’ is not purity. Holiness does not primarily mean purity, but separation. And men are holy, not because they are clean, but because by free self-surrender they have consecrated [dedicated] themselves to Him. Question: Have you consecrated yourself to God?
Now we come to the word brethren. It is found almost 200 times in the NKJV. The main thing about that name ‘brethren’ is not the relation of the brethren to one another, but their common relation to their Father.
Question: As Christian men and women, do you feel more at home with people who love Jesus Christ-as you say that you love Him-or whether you like better to be with people who do not? If you deeply feel the bond that knits you to Christ, and really live near to Him, you will be near to your brethren.
Now let’s return to the name Christian. Observe the circumstances under which it was given. A handful of large-hearted, brave men, anonymous fugitives belonging to the little Church in Jerusalem, had come down to Antioch; and there began preaching the Gospel to pure heathen Greeks; and so began the process by which a small Jewish sect was transformed into a world-wide church. Here was something that could not be called either Jew or Greek, because it embraced both. They called them ‘Christians’ – Christ’s men, Christ’s followers.
A plain lesson lies here. If you live as Christians it will be plain enough to outsiders. It is a poor comment on your consistency, if, being Christ’s followers, you can go through life unrecognised even by ‘them that are not.’
One more thing here, this name Christian suggests that the clear impression made by our conduct and character, as well as by our words, should be that we belong to Jesus Christ. We are Christians. That should be plain for all folks to see, whether we speak or be silent. Question: Is it so with you?
Do you think that, without words, if you, living the way you do, were put down into the middle of a foreign city, as these handful of people were put down into the middle of the heathen city of Antioch, the wits of the people there would have to invent a name for you, as the men of Antioch did for these people; and do you think that if they had to invent a name, the name that would naturally come to their lips, looking at you, would be ‘Christians,’ ‘Christ’s men’? If it would not, there is something wrong.
Many a man is quite willing to say, ‘I am a Christian,’ but that same man would hesitate a long time before he said, ‘I am a believer’ or ‘I am a disciple.’
Bottom Line: Are you a Christian worthy of the name of the description? Is Jesus truly Your Lord and Master? Does your life reflect your status as a Christian. Will you (as in 1 Peter 4:16) if you suffer as a Christian, will you not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name? If not, some real soul searching is called for and sooner rather than later.