I want to be a Christian. What does that mean? It depends on who makes that statement. If the person making the statement has not entered Christ, has not made the commitment to follow Christ, the statement means that he or she has decided to enter Christ and commit his or her life to Christ. His or her faith in the crucified, resurrected Jesus has reached the point that he or she is ready to be born into God's family by baptism.

To the person who, because of faith in the crucified, resurrected Jesus, has been baptized into Christ, that statement means something else. When he or she says, "I want to be a Christian," that statement means, "I want to be what God through Jesus made me. By God's forgiveness, mercy, and grace, He made me His son or daughter when I was baptized into Christ. By His power, through Jesus' blood, He saved me. I agreed to be immersed, but He placed me in Christ. I want Christ to teach me how to live, how to think, and how to act. Only by Jesus teaching me can I learn how to live and conduct myself as God's child."

  1. While the word "Christian" is a very biblical name for the person who is alive in Jesus Christ, it is not the earliest name or the only name for people who have entered Christ.
    1. The earliest name the people who through faith were baptized into Christ sounds like a strange name to us today: collectively these people were called "the Way."
      1. People we would call Christians were known as the Way in Jerusalem before non-Jews were ever converted to Christ.
        1. Before Saul was converted to Christ and became the apostle Paul, he was the leader of the Jerusalem persecution that tried to destroy the men and women who belonged to Jesus.
        2. He was not content to persecute Christians in Jerusalem--he asked for authority from the High Priest to travel to Damascus, Syria, for the purpose of arresting any Jew who met at the Jewish synagogue but belonged to "the Way." (Acts 9:2)
      2. Several times the book of Acts refers to people that we would call Christians as "the Way."
        1. In Acts 18 Apollos was preaching and teaching about Jesus fervently and powerfully.
          1. Verse 25 states that what he taught about Jesus was accurate--he had been instructed in "the way of the Lord."
          2. However, he had not learned about baptism into Jesus Christ.
          3. So verse 26 says Aquila and Priscilla explained to him "the way of God" more accurately.
        2. In Acts 19:9 Paul was in Corinth teaching about the kingdom of God.
          1. He had opponents who strongly opposed everything he said.
          2. It says that they addressed the same multitude that Paul was teaching, and they spoke evil of "the Way."
        3. In Acts 19:23 we are told that a riot broke out in the city of Ephesus--the idol worshiping people in that city were upset because of "the Way."
        4. In Acts 22:4 when Paul was arrested in Jerusalem but allowed to speak to the Jewish multitude in the temple courtyard, he declared, "I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons."
        5. In Acts 24:14 when Paul was defending himself in the governor Felix's court, he acknowledged, ". . . according to the Way which they call a sect I serve the God of our fathers."
        6. Acts 24:22 states that the governor Felix had an exact knowledge about (or was well acquainted with) "the Way."
      3. "The Way" was truly an appropriate designation for people who belonged to and followed Jesus Christ.
        1. The last night of Jesus' life in this world he told the apostles, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me (John 14:6)."
          1. He was answering his disciple Thomas who had just said, "We do not know where you are going, and we do not know the way."
        2. Jesus had also stressed earlier in his ministry in John 10 that he was both the good shepherd and the door into the sheep cote: "I am the door; if anyone enters through me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture."
          1. The shepherd leads his sheep and shows them the way.
          2. The door is the way into the security of the sheep cote.
      4. The first time that people who were known as the Way were called Christians was long after the first people were baptized into Christ in Acts 2.
        1. That first happened in the city of Antioch in Syria--it was at Antioch that followers of Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).
        2. People who were called the Way called themselves disciples.
    2. The designation, disciples, was the earliest name for people who followed Jesus.
      1. In the gospels it was the common way to describe people who committed themselves to follow Jesus during his lifetime.
      2. And it continued to be the common name for people who believed in Jesus' resurrection and committed their lives to Jesus.
        1. When Acts 6:1 speaks of the church in Jerusalem growing in number, it says that the disciples were increasing in number.
        2. Acts 9:19 states that after Paul's conversion and baptism, that he was with the disciples in Damascus.
        3. When Paul later traveled to Jerusalem, Acts 9:26 says that he associated with the disciples, but that they were afraid of him.
        4. Acts 9:38 tells us that the disciples in Joppa sent for Peter when they heard that he was in Lydda--they wanted him to come quickly and raise Dorcas from the dead.
        5. Acts 13:52 tells us that the disciples in Iconium were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
        6. Acts 14:21 tells us that Paul preached in Derbe and made many disciples.
        7. Acts 14:22 states that Paul visited the area of Lystra to strengthen the souls of the disciples.
        8. And Acts 14:28 states that he spent a long time with the disciples in Antioch.
    3. There is a significance in all of this that we need to see and understand.
      1. The earliest common name for what we refer to as the church was "the Way."
      2. The earliest common name for believers who had repented and been baptized into Christ was disciples.
      3. The significant fact we need to understand is that both designations focused on Jesus.
        1. Jesus was the way.
        2. A disciple was the follower of a teacher--Jesus was the teacher, and they followed their teacher.
        3. The later word, Christian, means Christ-like.
          1. It, too, focused on Jesus.
          2. The concept of Christian focused on the Savior.

  2. When I say that I want to be a Christian, I mean that I want Jesus to teach me how to do God's will and to teach me how to teach God's will.
    1. He is my Savior, my Redeemer, my Advocate who pleads for me before God, my High Priest who represents me before God, my sin offering, and my sacrifice.
    2. He lived in an evil society and an evil world in a time of great wickedness.
      1. Some powerful, devout religionists who were totally convinced that they followed God had completely missed the point of following God.
      2. These men were his bitter enemies, his active enemies, and his vocal enemies.
      3. They were determined to destroy him in any way they could--accusation, misrepresentation, or disguised traps.
      4. They were so unscrupulous that they finally decided that they could actually achieve God's purposes by having him killed.
    3. Jesus could have spent all of his teaching ministry fighting these wicked enemies.
      1. He could have spent his entire time revealing and documenting their wickedness and error--but did he?
      2. Was he reactive or proactive?
      3. Did he react to the situation they created or did he take the initiative to accomplish his purposes?
      4. Did he allow what these people were religiously doing and saying to determine his focus, his actions, and his teachings, or did his purposes determine his focus, his actions, and his teachings?

  3. Let's use a specific example: turn to Matthew 12:1-8.
    1. The incident:
      1. It was the Jewish Sabbath day, or Saturday.
        1. Saturday had been the holy day of rest throughout the centuries that Israel had been a nation.
        2. Sabbath observances were commanded when Israel left Egypt.
      2. Jesus and his disciples were walking on a path through some ripe grain fields on Saturday.
      3. The disciples were hungry (you were not allowed to cook food on the Sabbath), so, as they walked along, they stripped raw grain from the heads of wheat or barley and ate it.
      4. The Pharisees, who were following to watch, immediately declared that the disciples were violating the Sabbath commandment.
    2. Look carefully at the mission of these Pharisees, devoutly religious men.
      1. They were following Jesus and his disciples in a determined effort to catch them in a mistake.
      2. They were looking for something wrong; they were looking for reason to accuse.
      3. Jesus could have responded by exposing them and condemning their hearts, attitudes, motives, hypocrisy, pride, spirit, and judgmental nature.
      4. But he did not attack them as they were attacking him.
    3. What was the basis of their accusation?
      1. They were saying that the disciples had performed an act of work which violated the Sabbath command, the fourth commandment in the ten commandments (Exodus 20:10).
      2. That commandment specifically states that an Israelite, his family, his servants, his guests, or his animals could not perform any act of work on the Sabbath.
      3. To make that commandment obeyable, the Pharisees defined work, and by their definition, the disciples were guilty of violating the commandment.
    4. The thing I want you to see is this: Jesus did not attack them.
      1. Instead, he tried to teach them by using the authority that they honored and respected--the scriptures.
      2. He pointed to three problems in their accusation.
      3. First, their definition of work did not take into consideration everything the Old Testament taught.
        1. It did not deal with the fact that David ate the bread of presence--the bread which represented each of the twelve tribes in the tabernacle (1 Samuel 21).
        2. It did not deal with the fact that only the high priest and his sons were allowed to eat that bread (Leviticus 24:5-9).
        3. It did not deal with the fact that the priests worked on the Sabbath day every time they offered a sacrifice on the Sabbath.
        4. Thus, their concept and definition of work considered only the parts of scripture that they wanted to emphasize.
      4. Second, they did not realize his significance.
        1. God's purpose in him was greater than God's purpose in the Jewish temple (that is a statement that exceeds our comprehension).
        2. He was lord of the Sabbath.
      5. Third, they had failed to understand God's priorities.
        1. He quoted Hosea 6:6, "I want mercy (or compassion) not sacrifice."
        2. They did not understand that obeying God's commands was not enough; God wanted them to understand purposes and accomplish his purposes.
      6. In contrast to the Pharisees:
        1. Jesus did take all of scripture's teaching into consideration.
        2. Jesus did understand God's purposes in himself.
        3. Jesus did understand God's priorities in this world.

That is why I want Jesus to teach me how to be a Christian. That is why I want Jesus to teach me how to teach others. I want him to teach me how to teach instead of just reacting to evil. I want him to teach me how to see and understand God's full will and purposes in the Bible. I want him to help me understand what it means for him to be Lord of the Sabbath. I want to understand God's purposes in Jesus, and God's purposes for us.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 15 June 1997

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