The word “Christian” has amazing force when one considers that it appears only three times in the entire Bible.

Words like grace (122), faith (256) and church (73) are much more common, but it is the simple noun “Christian” that exceeds them all in meaning by virtue of its origin in the work of our savior and its application to his followers.

Christian is a proper noun that implies a descriptive meaning, having the original connotation of “Christ-like.” The disciples of Jesus the Nazarene were first labeled “Christians” in the city of Antioch while Barnabas and Paul labored there and taught a great many people (Acts 11:25-26). Some commentators believe that the word was originally used as a misguided insult, cast as those citizens who disavowed paganism or the Jewish party line, and confessed their faith in the resurrected son of Joseph the carpenter (First Peter 4:15-16). “The fact that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch probably reflects a label applied by the unbelieving public in Antioch and shows that the disciples were beginning to have an identity of their own apart from other Jews” (ESV Study Bible, 2106).

Christian is a noun that implies a description – a person who is striving to behave and think like his Master, Jesus the Christ. Christian, however, has come to mean any system or thing that is thought to be consistent with the teaching of Christ or the church. America was once a Christian nation, according to some observers, who are relieved that it is now also a Muslim and atheist nation, too. There are Christian colleges and universities, most of which bear little doctrinal or religious resemblance to the time of their founding and occasion of their naming. There is even a denomination called the “Christian Church” (I know because I was a member of it). Moreover, there are Christian weight loss plans, Christian works of art and Christian holidays that cannot be found in the Bible.

“Christian” is a special word because it references our savior and proclaims our loyalty to him as an exemplar of holy living. Applying it to matters that are carnal or simply beyond the scope of the church’s mission irreparably cheapens both it and the noble name that inspired it.