I hate labels. I hate calling a group of people Boomers, Busters or Millennials. I hate labels like Republican or Democrat. I hate titles like liberal and conservative.
The reason I hate labels is that they are generally true but specifically false. I might be considered conservative on most issues, but also liberal on a few topics. I don’t align myself with all the items on the platform of any political party. My age, my location in the country, my school and even my family do not clearly define me.
I hate labels, and yet the New Testament calls the followers of Jesus “Christians.” The book of Acts states in chapter 11 verse 26 that “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Apparently, the people who were learning the way of Jesus decided to place his title on themselves. Like a bride taking her husband’s name, those who want to learn from and follow Jesus take his name. We are now members of Christ, we are Christians.
Even though I hate this label, I accept it willingly. I want to wear the name of Christ. I want people to know my allegiance. I want to equate my life with that of Jesus in every way.
The real problem is that it lumps me together with every other person who calls themselves Christians. This issue became very apparent to me over the past week as I have read three separate articles in which people used the name Christian in a negative manner. These reports claimed Christians were mean, judgmental, and supporting ungodly behavior.
As I read these stories I could not help but think, this applies only to a few of the people who call themselves Christians. It is not true for all of us. In fact, I believe it is not true of the majority of us. Please do not paint me with the same brush as you paint those people. I am different from them even though we wear the same name.
With all of that in mind, let me say a couple of things.
1. True Christians are committed to living like Christ. The passage in the book of Acts is used at the Church in Antioch. The whole passage describes people who are coming to faith in Jesus, who are studying their Bibles, learning from the Apostles, and having their lives changed to look like Jesus. These are not people who have a general acceptance that there might be a God. These are people committed to what they believe and are living it out.
2. Just because someone calls themselves a Christian, doesn’t mean they are. If your faith amounts to attending Church a couple of times a year, you are not a Biblical Christian. Sorry. True Christians are someone trying to love God with their whole being and loving their neighbor as a result.
3. All Christians still make mistakes. Even I have said some incredibly stupid and insensitive stuff. I let sin take over my mouth for a time, and I fail to represent Christ. Unfortunately, it happens. Please extend grace to other people in the measure you would want it for yourself.
4. No two Christians are alike. Each one of us is unique. We all have different personalities, different backgrounds, different experiences and different emotions. God calls the many together to form one community. We are not the same, but we have the same God and Savior.
5. Be careful with labels. Every time you say or type the word, Christian, stop and think about how generically you are using the label. Are your words true of everyone you know or just a couple? Is it a personality issue and not a faith issue? Put yourself in their shoes. Categorical statements are often specifically false, so be careful.
I know this is not easy. It is a tension that each one of us lives with as a believer. A friend of mine said he simply stopped using the name Christian and calls us “Christ followers.” It is just another label. Changing the label is not the solution.
The goal of a believer is following Jesus until we become like him. On this journey, we need to learn to work together in spite of our differences. Being called a Christian is not a bad thing if we are all doing it correctly.