Those of you who follow my writings know that I have a quirky manner of self-reference, and it is entirely deliberate. I rarely use the term “Christian,” choosing instead to say “follower after Christ,” or on other occasions, simply, “Christ-follower.”
The term “Christian” is found only three times in Scripture, the first reference being Acts 11:26b, “and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” As a young believer, I was taught that this application of “Christian” to the disciples was something of a disparagement, a slight. The truth is, there is nothing in the text to indicate that. It was just a descriptive term that fit their allegiance, so that’s what they were called, much the same way those who lived in Parthia were called Parthians, or those who lived in Ephesus were Ephesians.
Over time, however, the term Christian took on an increasingly negative tone, and it does appear to be used as a term of reproach. The second time we come across the term “Christian” was a several years following the Antioch reference above, and by this time, I believe the appellation was widely used and understood by the general populace.
In this second reference, the apostle Paul was on trial, and being bounced between Caesarean Governors Felix and Festus, and King Aggrippa. In this case, Festus, trying to impress and score points with Aggrippa, threw what was essentially a party, and there invited Paul to plead his case to the king.
As Paul made his defense before King Aggrippa, his presentation elicited two reactions, the first from Festus in which he shouted, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind” (Acts 26:24b), and the second from King Aggrippa:
And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” – Acts 26:28, ESV
The response of Aggrippa does indicate even the slightest tone of arrogance or superiority. Perhaps even incredulity. “It’s going to take a lot more than that, Paul, to persuade me!”
More time passed, and oppression escalated against those who wore the name of Christ. Persecution was widespread, and the term “Christian” was indeed a term of contempt and disgust. It is in this vein that the apostle Peter proclaimed that none should be ashamed to wear the name of Christ.
Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. – 1 Peter 4:16, ESV
It is difficult to imagine that Peter does not recall his own denial of Christ during Jesus’ mock trial, or the time the Sanhedrin had council had the apostles beaten for preaching in Jesus’ name, commanding them to speak no further in this man’s name (Acts 5:40-42).
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. – 1 Peter 4:16, ESV
In much the same way, Jesus cautioned us against being ashamed of him.
For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. – Mark 8:38, ESV
I do not self-reference using the term Christian, but it is not out of a sense of shame. There is scarcely anyone who is even loosely affiliated with me that does not know I am a follower after Christ. No, I do not use the term Christian because in today’s western society the word is so bastardized that it is essentially devoid of meaning.
Some of the most godless celebrities of our day wear the Christian label, and sport gaudy cross jewelry and tattoos, not out of any love for the cross or the crucified and resurrected Lord, but because it is fashionable to do so. Others, equally clueless regarding what the life of a disciple entails, identify as Christian simply on the basis of where they were born.
I choose to self-reference as a Christ-follower, or follower after Christ, because it is a deliberate, chosen, disciplined practice. A disciple is a follower, and following involves choice and commitment. There is nothing passive about my faith.
When others attempt to disgrace your for wearing the name of Christ, deliberately hold your head higher and rejoice that you are counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name.
One last word from Peter:
…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect – 1 Peter 3:15, ESV