Ques. 32. But why art thou called a Christian?
Ans. Because I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am partaker of his anointing; that so I may confess his name and present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to him, and also that with a free and good conscience I may fight against sin and Satan in this life: and afterwards reign with him eternally over all creatures.
Heid. Catechism, Lord’s Day 12
Why art thou called a Christian?
This question can arouse many and varied answers. Someone might answer, I am not a pagan idol worshipper, but live in a Christian community. Another might answer, I am no scoffer or lawbreaker, but live a decent, respectable life. A third might say, I believe in the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man; I am a follower of Christ in dealing kindly with all men. A fourth might insist, I am a Christian because I accepted Christ as my personal Savior, and am now repaying Him for all that He has done for me.
But you, why are you called a Christian? This question demands of us a bit of serious soul searching.
It must be granted that we are side-stepping a bit from the main thought of our Book of Instruction. Our Catechism is treating the Apostolic Creed step by step, and is therefore discussing the names of the Son of God mentioned in the Creed: Jesus, Christ, and Lord. It is in connection with the name of Christ that our fathers, in harmony with the practical viewpoint of the Catechism, pause a moment to confront us with the pertinent question: “But why art thou called a Christian?”
It appears that the enemies of the church, likely the Jews, branded the followers of that contemptible Jesus with the name Christian. We are told that the believers in Antioch were first called Christians. Peter writes to the churches that if they are reproached for the name of Christ they must consider themselves blessed, for they are partakers of the sufferings of Christ, and God is glorified through them (I Peter 4:13-14). Therefore we with the church of the past gladly assume for ourselves this association with the Christ of God. For that reason our Catechism lays in our mouths the confession that for us the name Christian means that “I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am partaker of His anointing.”
What a glorious privilege that is, to be reckoned as a member of Christ! We are immediately reminded of the fact that we would have no right to such a grand privilege if it were not for sovereignly free election that makes us a separate people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood. God has given us to Christ, in order that by His atoning blood of the cross we may be brought into the family of God as heirs of eternal life. God has raised Christ and exalted Him to His own right hand in glory, in order that Christ may bless us with every spiritual blessing unto everlasting glory. Christ unites us to Himself by the bond of living faith, whereby we become partakers of His blessings, and whereby we may realize and confess in deepest humility: I belong! I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. Or, to express it even more fully with the triumphant cry of the apostle Paul, “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me.”
I am a member of Christ and a partaker of His anointing. It is in the church, and therefore as member of the church, that I receive the added privilege of sharing in Christ’s anointing. Never apart from the church and the ministry of the Word and sacraments is that privilege granted. In the old dispensation a few men were called from among the people to a special office, either as a prophet who spoke God’s Word, or as a priest who served in the sanctuary, or as a king who ruled over the theocracy. In the new dispensation we are all ordained, called, and qualified by the Holy Spirit to the special office of believers. We are stewards in God’s House who must labor while it is day, to give account of our stewardship in the final judgment. The church is not an old people’s home, as one might conclude from seeing some of the modern churches. Nor is the church like an airplane that is soaring toward the heavenly abode with a few individuals who serve as pilot, navigator, and stewardess, while the rest sit leisurely enjoying the trip and hoping that their plane will not arrive at the terminal too soon. Every member of the body of Christ is an active, living member functioning by faith out of the Head, Christ Jesus. Everybody is a somebody with individual gifts and talents, and an individual place and calling to serve in his or her capacity as only he or she can serve.
“Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen” (Isaiah 43:21). A faithful witness must be devoted to his Lord in love. First of all, he must have an attentive ear. He must listen. He must listen as the Lord speaks to him from the Holy Scriptures and by the Holy Spirit in his heart. He must be willing to learn, to remember. And then he must speak. Any evil communication that comes out of his mouth is unworthy of his high calling and dishonoring to his Lord. If he is silent, he denies. For the word of Jesus applies, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). This witnessing begins at home between husband and wife, extends to the children in the home, and also to the church whenever and wherever the opportunity arises, and even to all those with whom God brings us in contact from day to day. Our very life must be a confession of Jesus Christ as our Savior and our Lord. This includes our family devotions, our church worship, our conversation in the home, on the job, out on the street, and wherever we may be. We must let our light shine as children of light in an evil world that wanders in darkness. We must be “ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15). We do not throw our prophetic mantle about us on special occasions, but we are prophets of God seven days a week, twenty-four hours of each day, and sixty minutes of every hour. This is our privilege, but also our calling.
“Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5). Therefore our personal confession can be, “that so I may present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to him (Christ). ” In the old dispensation the priest stood in the Holy Place with his face directed to God as the incense arose from the altar and his prayers for the people were presented to Jehovah. Only then could he turn about to face the people and bestow Jehovah’s blessing upon His people. We need no priest, no altar, no visible temple, for our Mediator and Advocate is in heaven. We also stand with our faces constantly directed to God, praying without ceasing, making all our needs known to God in prayer and supplication, with all thanksgiving and praise to the overflowing Fountain of every good and perfect gift, the ever blessed, adorable God. Likewise we are the instruments of Christ to bestow God’s mercies upon our neighbor. When we ask, what shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits bestowed on me? there is but one answer: Myself, with my whole life and being, with all my time and effort, with all the means God has placed at my disposal to be used in His fear. Our priestly office requires of us that whether we eat, or whether we drink, or whatever we do, we do it to the glory of God as stewards in His House. We are privileged to show the mercies of Christ. We can forgive one another, even as God has forgiven us. We can help the Lazarus that God places at our doorstep, comfort the weary and distressed that we meet on our way, and show our proper use of God’s gifts by supporting the affairs of God’s kingdom. Freely we receive; freely we can give. God says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).
“Ye are a royal priesthood,” a family of priests that reign as kings. It may not seem so, for sin still wars in our members, forcing from us a bitter complaint of our own depravity and of the guilt of sin that weighs so heavily upon our consciences. We are but pilgrims and strangers on the earth, wending our way through the enemy’s country, so that we must be prepared for battle and anxious struggle every day. Yet even so, “with a free and good conscience I may fight against sin and Satan in this life.” This is a matter of conviction for us. We can not, may not, must not, and will not compromise at any cost. We are called to contend for the faith delivered unto us from the fathers. The truth of God’s Word is our only sure guide, the only trustworthy lamp before our feet and light upon our pathway. We need the breastplate of righteousness, the girdle of truth, the helmet of salvation, the shoes of preparedness, the shield of faith, and last, but by no means least, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Jesus says, “He who is not with me is against me,; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” We see that in our own homes and families, in the church, and in the world around about us. As good soldiers of Jesus Christ, standing and fighting in the power of the Spirit, we march onto victory with the Captain of our salvation leading the way, triumphantly assured that more than conquerors are we!
From this follows the reward of grace that we shall “reign with Christ eternally over all creatures.” Christ rewards the cup of water given to Him, or the visit paid to Him with an eternal “well done.” As we lay aside our running shoes and cast away our sword and shield, Christ bestows on us garments of righteousness, palm branches of victory, and a crown of glory. We take our own place, eternally appointed for us and prepared for us by Christ, that in the assembly of the saints we may be entrusted with power and authority, according to our full capacity, to live and reign with Christ over the angels, over the heavenly creatures, yea, over all the works of Gods hands. We shall show forth the glorious power of the King of kings and Lord of lords, that all glory may be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, world without end!
Is that why you are a Christian?