Who Is Not a Christian?
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is a radio sermon delivered by Bill J. Humble on station WHB, Kansas City, Missouri, September 15, 1956).
Six centuries before the birth of Christ among men, the prophet Isaiah foretold that a new name would be given to the people of God. The prophet wrote, "And the nations shall see thy righteousness and all kings thy glory: and thou shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of Jehovah shall name" (Isa. 62:2). The Lord was going to give his people a new name! This prophecy is not fulfilled until we come to the New Testament, to the eleventh chapter of Acts. By this time, Christ has come, has given his blood for the sins of the world, and has been resurrected from the dead. The church has now been established and the gospel is being preached among the nations. Thus, the stage is set for the giving of this new name, and in Acts 11:26 we read, "The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch".
The name Christian is not a term of derision. Rather, this is the new name which God gave to his people, a name to be worn with joy and with thanksgiving. The apostle Peter wrote, "If a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name" (I Pet. 4:16). The name Christian glorifies God and honors Christ, for the name Christian cannot be spoken without pronouncing the name of Christ, our blessed Savior.
The name Christian is also an exclusive name, for, the disciples were called Christians at Antioch. To be a Christian, one must be a disciple, a follower, of Christ. But in order for us to learn what discipleship means, we must go to the Bible; and thus, the Bible and the Bible alone tells us who a Christian is.
When we study the name Christian in the Bible, we find that the name is used in a narrow exclusive sense. The world uses the term broadly to embrace anyone who gives even lip service to the principles of Christ, but not so in the Bible. Let us study rather, "Who is not a Christian?"
(1) The Bible teaches that not all good people are Christians. Goodness is certainly a characteristic of the Christian, and without goodness one cannot be a Christian, but still not all good people are Christians. Morality is an obligation of a Christian, but morality does not make one a Christian. An atheist or unbeliever may live a good moral life, but would anyone say that the atheist or unbeliever is a Christian? Surely not!
Look at the example of Nicodemus, the ruler of the Jews who came to Jesus by night. There is nothing to indicate that Nicodemus was anything other than a good man, and yet, Jesus taught that he had to be born again. The Lord said, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). When Nicodemus failed to understand the new birth, Jesus explained it more fully by saying, "Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Nicodemus was evidently a good man, but he was not a Christian. Only through the avenue of the new birth could he enter God's kingdom!
Look also at the example of Cornelius. Cornelius was certainly a good moral man, exemplary in many traits of character, but he was not a Christian. The New Testament describes Cornelius as "a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always" (Acts 10:2). It is also said that he was 49 well reported of by all the nation of the Jews" (Acts 10:22). Look at the moral character of this good man. He was devout, God-fearing, prayerful, benevolent and of good reputation. How many could claim such moral goodness today? Not many! And yet, Cornelius was lost! When an angel of the Lord appeared to him, the angel told him to send for Peter, "who shall speak unto thee words whereby thou shalt be saved, thou and all thy house" (Acts 11:14). Cornelius was a good man, but he was not a Christian. He was lost and only the gospel of Christ could save him!
No, not all good people are Christians.
(2) The Bible also teaches that not all religious people are Christians. Certainly, all Christians are religious people, but there are millions of religious people who are not Christians. One may be a heathen and yet be very religious. When Paul preached at Mars Hill in Athens,he stood at one of the centers of Greek paganism, and yet he said, "Ye men of Athens, I perceive that ye are very religious" (Acts 17:22). They were religious, but they were not Christians.
The Bible also speaks of the Jews religion in Gal. 1:13, 14, but this is not Christianity. One may be religious, a Jew, but not a Christian.
The conversions which the Holy Spirit has recorded in the book of Acts tell a revealing story, for in nearly every case, they are the conversions of religious people. The people who were converted on the day of Pentecost had come from all parts of the Mediterranean world to worship God at Jerusalem (Acts 2). Lydia was a devout Jewish woman who had met with other women for prayer on the sabbath day. The man from Ethiopia had travelled many hundreds of miles to worship at Jerusalem, and he had started back home when he heard the gospel and was converted (Acts 8). Saul of Tarsus was a zealous Pharisee before he became a Christian.
No, not all religious people are Christians.
(3) The Word of God also teaches that none of the Old Testament saints were Christians. Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, David and Moses and Isaiah, certainly were great men, men of faith and action. Their lives may even serve as examples for us. These Old Testament saints are a great cloud of witnesses who encourage us to "run with patience the race that is set before us," (Heb. 12:1) but these great men of the Old Testament era were not Christians. They lived and died before Christ came, before the church was established, before the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. Those who lived after Moses served God under the law given at Mt. Sinai, just as we serve God under the law of Christ; but they were not Christians.
By the same token, the thief on the cross was not a Christian. This thief was blessed by the Savior before the law of Christ went into ef f ect, for Paul taught, "Where a testament is, there must of necessity be the death of him that made it" (Heb. 9:16). Whatever may be said of the blessings which the thief received, no person can be saved like the thief on the cross today. He was not living under the law of Christ, but today, we are. He was not a Christian, but we enjoy the privilege of becoming a Christian if we choose to obey the gospel.
(4) The Bible also teaches that not all church members are Christians. Joining some denomination does not make one a Christian. Having one's name on some denominational membership roll does not make one a Christian.
The New Testament does not recognize denominationalism, but it does recognize the one body of Christ. The Lord promised, "Upon this rock I will build my church" -- not "my denominations" (Matt. 16:81). This church was established on the day of Pentecost, and the Lord added the saved to this church (Acts 2:47). Denominationalism and division are contrary to the spirit of New Testament Christianity. They are contrary to the letter of the New Testament, for Paul says, "There is one body" (Eph. 4:4), and this body is the church (Eph. 1:22, 23). Every member of the body of Christ is a Christian, but this cannot be said of denominations founded by men.
No, not all church members are Christians.
(5) The New Testament teaches that not all believers in Christ are Christians. You may believe in Christ, that he is the Son of. God, and still not be a Christian, for the faith that saves is a faith that obeys. James wrote, "Even so faith, if it have not works is dead in itself" (James 2:17). Can one be saved by a dead faith? Does a dead faith make one a Christian? James also said, "But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar? Thou seest that faith wrought, with his works, and by works was faith made perfect; and the scripture was fulfilled which saith, And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith" (James 2:20-24).
Certainly, we are saved by faith, but not by faith only. The apostle Paul writes of "the obedience of faith" in the first chapter of Romans. He also says, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumsion availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6). A saving faith is a working faith. When a faith does not express itself in obedience, it is dead, barren and vain! And can a dead, barren and vain faith make one a Christian?
No, not every believer in Christ is a Christian!
The only person who can rightly wear this glorious name, Christian, is the disciple of Christ, the person who has obeyed the gospel and has become a member of the body or church of Christ. Just before the Lord ascended back to his Father, he gave his disciples the great commission saying "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:15, 16). As a result of that preaching, men were saved, and the disciples were called Christians at Antioch!
Truth Magazine I:2, pp. 1, 18-19