On Page seven of the book Slave: the hidden truth about your identity in Christ, John MacArthur is telling of the early martyrs of the Christian faith and writes this: “The Young man said nothing else as he stood before the Roman governor, his life hanging in the balance. His accusers pressed him again, hoping to trip him up or force him to recant. But once more he answered with the same short phrase. ‘I am a Christian’”. When this young man said that he was a Christian it had a very specific meaning. The man did not have to clarify what he meant by being a christian — he just simply answered his accusers with the phrase: “I am a Christian.”
In our world, very much unlike the first couple hundred years of the existence of the Christian faith, the phrase, “I am a Christian” carries a variety of meanings. For some the claim to be Christian is cultural or traditional. Perhaps one was raised in the “Bible belt” or in an area of the country that has a rich Christian tradition — for many to be a Christian is to be more associated with culture or tradition then the Christ of the Scriptures. For others being a Christian is about moral values and politics — it is more about defending that what they believe is moral than embracing the Christ of the Bible. For others being a Christian is about a past religious experience that really has no bearing on the present. Some might associate being a Christian with a general belief in Jesus and some might call themselves a Christian meaning that they desire to be a person with high moral standards. There are many people who fall in one of these or a combination of these categories. The fact is, that today calling one’s self a Christian carries a wide range of meanings that really render the term inadequate in a variety of situations without more explanation.
Another concern when it comes to the term ‘Christian’ in our world is that many who claim that label for themselves have little or no idea what they are claiming. The term has lost a great deal of its meaning over the years. The martyrs in the early church were crystal clear about what being a Christian meant — in fact they were so sure of it's meaning and sure that others understood it, that they were willing to die for being a Christian.
When it comes to being a Christian the Bible uses a great many terms to identify the followers of Jesus, like children of God, sheep, or members of His body. After going through these, John MacArthur says this, “Yet, the Bible uses one metaphor more frequently then any of these. It is a word picture that you might not expect, but it is absolutely critical for understanding what it means to follow Jesus. It is the image of a slave.” The image of slave makes one thing very clear that really places a dagger in the heart of many contemporary ways people understand what it means to be a Christian. Many today believe that being a Christian is primarily about us. Think of it this way, many expressions of the gospel are like a puzzle with a great number of pieces that represent your life and some people have a picture that is still in a lot of pieces and others have almost put their together but everyone has one thing in common — the puzzle cannot be finished without Jesus Christ. Jesus is the piece of the puzzle that we all need to complete us — to fulfill our ambitions and make our dreams come true. The problem with this, and John MacArthur says it well is that, “True Christianity is not about adding Jesus to my life. Instead, it is about devoting myself completely to Him—submitting wholly to His will and seeking to please Him above all else. It demands dying to self and following the Master, no matter the cost. In other words, to be a Christian is to be Christ’s slave.”
This is, I believe, what the early Christian Martyrs understood being a Christian to be — following Christ at all cost — seeking to please him above all else. When the Roman government said that being a Christian was illegal and punishable by death — these Christians gladly chose death because obedience to their master was far more important than life. Today this is not the case, and I believe that it is our task as the church to begin to restore meaning to the word ‘Christian’. The obvious question that follows a statement such as that is: How do we as the church go about restoring meaning to the word ‘Christian’? For our church — I would suggest that it begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian ourselves. What does it mean to be a Christian farmer? What does it mean to be a Christian Father? What does it mean for me to be a Christian? I think we need to deal with questions such as these for ourselves, and by doing that we will intern give meaning to the word Christian. One way we will start dealing with these questions is by working our way through the book of Romans. Even in the first verse of the epistle we see how Paul describes himself. Paul introduces himself to the Romans as a servant (doulos) or slave of Christ Jesus. Paul understood what it meant to be a Christian and he understood Christ Jesus to be his master — he was completely devoted to Jesus and longed above all else to please him by doing His will. If that is what it means to be a Christian — it has tremendous ramifications for our lives doesn’t it? Paul — we learn at the onset of Romans was crystal clear on what being a Christian means — are we?
Pastor Coalt Robinson