In discussing what it means to be an honorable Christian man, it is helpful to first understand what each word means. Since the crux of the phrase is the word "Christian" we will begin there. What does it mean to be a Christian?
Acts 11:26 gives us the first occurrence of the word in the New Testament and tells us that the disciples of Jesus Christ were first called Christians in Antioch. This was about the year AD44.
When Paul spoke with Agrippa about 15 years later in Acts 26, the term had spread abroad into more common usage, where even Agrippa knew what it meant and who these people were. He said to Paul, “almost you persuade me to be a Christian.”
By AD64 the term grew into more common usage, when Peter wrote his first epistle. In that year, the great fire of Rome took place when Nero was Emperor. He blamed the Christians for this act and killed many Christians because of it. This makes Peter’s use of the term that much more powerful in 1 Peter 4:16, “yet if any man suffer as a Christian….”
Since that time, the word that was once meant as a pejorative term has been embraced by Christians. Unfortunately, though, this word has come to include a much broader spectrum of people than originally meant in the New Testament.
To say, “I am a Christian” means something. Depending on who you ask today, that term could mean different things to different people.
There is one thing that is common among all those who use this term. It is the root of the word itself. Anyone who calls himself a Christian is admitting to some kind of recognition about Jesus Christ.
But what we want to know, and what we need to know, and hold fast to, is this: what does the Bible describe a Christian to be? For we must have a biblical understanding of the word.
It is often helpful when defining something to do away with faulty notions first. So let's describe what a Christian is not.
First, a Christian is not merely a moral person.
Morality in a person is not necessarily a sign of his being a Christian. While all Christians are called upon to be moral people, not all moral people are Christians.
Matthew 19 mentions a moral young man who went away from Jesus sad and unconverted.
Perhaps you know some people who live moral lives. They are kind neighbors. They would do anything to help you out. Maybe they have been involved in the community in large ways, or given money to charitable organizations. We will often call them “good people,” or “wonderful people.” They are polite, thoughtful, kind, and giving. But just because a person is those things does not make them a Christian.
Second, a Christian is not merely a religious person.
Being part of some religious organization or church does not necessarily mean that the person is a Christian. You probably know some people who attend a church regularly, but they are not Christians.
Nicodemus is a classic example of a religious person, but not a Christian. When he comes to meet the Lord in John 3, he is a religious Pharisee who claims a love for God and a knowledge of God’s Word. While we believe he was converted some time later, it appears that in that text, he remained a religiously lost person.
One of the biggest tricks that we can fall for is to believe that just because a person attends a local church it must mean that he is a Christian. But that is just not the case.
Thirdly, a Christian is not merely a knowledgeable person.
By this I mean that just because a person knows a lot about the Bible, or about Jesus or Christianity does not necessarily mean that he is a Christian.
James 2 speaks to this point with regards to the demons. They have a lot of knowledge about God and Jesus, but they are obviously not converted.
Many people today, especially those who were raised in churches and heard the biblical stories growing up can develop a Christian language and demeanor because they have acquired a lot of head knowledge. However, knowledge about Christianity does not equal Christianity.
Fourth, a Christian is not merely a convicted person.
There is the truth that a person can be convicted of a sin, yet not be a Christian.
King Saul was an example of this in 1 Samuel 15:24 when he said, “I have sinned.” He sensed a conviction of his own sin of disobedience, but his conviction does not mean that he was a believer and true follower of God.
Conviction often is accompanied by emotions, generally grief with tears. Sometimes a person may make a profession of faith accompanied by profuse crying, apparently under great conviction of their sin. I have heard it said of such a person, “they REALLY got saved” because of the emotional outbursts that appear to accompany conviction. Yet a person can be convicted of sin, and even have remorse over it, but that in itself does not constitute Christianity.
Fifthly, A Christian is not merely an active person.
By active, I mean religiously active.
Matthew 7:21-23 speaks of people doing many wonderful things in the name of Jesus, yet they are cast into eternal condemnation.
Religious activity does not make a person a Christian any more than me giving medicine to my children when they are sick makes me a doctor.
Many people are actively doing things that are religious in nature, or in the service of their church, but those religious activities do not necessarily mean that these people are truly Christians.
Judas is the classic example of this. He did incredible things during his time with the Lord, but he was the Son of perdition. Completely lost!
Just because a person is moral, or religious, or knowledgeable about the Bible, or has some conviction of sin, or is religiously active does not necessarily mean he is a Christian. So what IS a Christian? Stay tuned.