People were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26). The term Christian means, “Christ-like one.”
“Christ-like” can mean different things to different people. Does that mean a Christian is a miracle worker, a great preacher, a leader, one who dies for the cause, someone whose legacy will live down through history, or a combination of all the above?
In the grand scheme of things, while Christ did all the above and more, few Christians have performed a miracle, most will never preach a sermon or hold a position of leadership, and while millions have died for the cause of Christ, many more do not earn a martyr’s crown. The conclusion — the title “Christian” is not obtained in any of these ways.
If we look at what was going on in Acts chapter eleven, we can grasp why people started calling the believers in Antioch “Christians.”
After the death of Stephen, believers started spreading out from Jerusalem to other parts of the world. At first, they preached the gospel only to fellow Jews, but in Antioch, the gospel was preached to the Grecians as well (Acts 11:19-20). The believers in Antioch had a love for, and a desire to get the gospel to anyone. Race, family lines, nothing else mattered, the hearts of those of the church in Antioch wanted to see anyone, and everyone saved.
In Acts 11:21, we are told, “a great number believed.” Not everyone will believe the gospel message, Christ says the majority will not believe (Matthew 7:13-14). Therefore, the gospel was getting out to a multitude of people, possibly everyone.
Being called a Christian — Point number one – they were unashamed of the gospel. There were no barriers that could keep them from spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.
Also, in verse 21, we read, “the hand of the Lord was with them.” A simple phrase but powerful in meaning. Elsewhere in Scripture, we see what the hand of God being with someone means.
In 2 Chronicles 30:12, the hand of God enables the people to have unity to obey God.
Ezra 7:6-10 gives the story of how the hand of God guides us to pray specifically for God’s will. God’s hand also equipped God’s people with the skills needed to accomplish His work and prepared their heart to do His will.
Being called a Christian — points number two through four – There was unity among God’s people, they prayed according to God’s will; not their desires, and they understood God’s will well enough to work for Him in whatever fashion God desired.
There is more.
Barnabus is sent by the church in Jerusalem to see how things are going in Antioch. When he arrives, the Bible says, “Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God” (Acts 11:22-23). Seeing God’s grace is like watching the wind. You cannot see the wind, but you can see the effects of the wind. Sometimes, soft and gentle as the leaves moving and flowers swaying back and forth, or occasionally, strong and fierce as evidenced by fallen trees and downed power lines. God’s grace is the same way, you will not be able to see it directly, but you can see the effects.
What did Barnabus see?
If we allow it, God’s grace will change us, make us a new person. Barnabus witnessed changed lives. God’s grace will cause us to roll up our sleeves and work for God. Barnabus saw people doing God’s work (see 1 Corinthians 15:10).
God does not give grace to anyone unless they are humble; 1 Peter 5:5, “… God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” Barnabus witnessed tons of humility in Antioch.
Being called a Christian — Point number five – God’s grace will be noticeable. It is noticeable in the form of a changed life, God’s people accomplishing His work, all emerging from a sea of humility.
To every reader that calls themselves a Christian – how do you measure up? If you lived in the first century Antioch would others see you and say, “There goes a Christian!”
Living here in the twenty-first century, if you never stated the phrase, “I am a Christian!” Would anyone call you a Christian? Do you deserve to be called by His name? “If my people which are called by my name …” (2 Chronicles 7:14).