Is “Christian” A Junk Drawer Word?

Rick went to a rummage sale, where he found a box of nature photos.  He paid $45 for them.  That’s steep for places where used baby clothes and chipped ceramic figurines sell for under a dollar.  But these were glass negatives with a certain antique allure.  Rick took them home and kept them in his house for ten years, the typical fate of many things purchased in front yards or driveways.

Bitten by the bug of curiosity, he later had the negatives appraised.  That’s when the big reveal came.  Rick’s kinda’ cool old photos were a collection of missing Ansel Adams negatives.  Experts had assumed these shots had been destroyed in a warehouse fire back in the thirties.  Estimated worth:  $200 million.

Suddenly the initial $45 investment wasn’t so steep after all.

When you don’t know the worth of something, you always feel you gave too much for it.

Think about the easy way we self-identify as “Christian.”  What’s that word worth, anyway?  It has been used to designate everything from manners to politics.  Maybe the confusion is best summed up in something a naïve roommate once said to me:  “Of course I’m Christian.  I’m an American!”

Problem is, when we use “Christian” as a junk drawer of different meanings, the word itself isn’t worth much.    It’s easy to see why some Christians are careful not to give up too much, or to suffer for their “faith.”  Somewhere down deep inside, we wonder if the inconvenience is worth it.  I’ve visited that place of doubt myself, when the pain of life gets a little too real and something has to give.

At those times, “Christian” needs to have connotations more profound than character development or of one day playing golf in heaven.

Let’s reassess the word “Christian.”

First, throw out the “ian” and isolate “Christ.”

If we don’t know the meaning of “Christ,” we’ll have no idea what a Christian is.

In Matthew 16:16, Peter called Jesus “the Christ,” which literally means “the anointed.”

In Old Testament times, oil was poured out on a person or object to signify God’s approval and use of it. Three categories of people were anointed.

  • A prophet whose main function was to reveal the heart of God through words given by God.  (1 Kings 19:16, Ps. 105:15).
  • A priest who served and sacrificed for the people so God would find them acceptable (Ex. 29).
  • A king whose rule would represent God’s authority and kingdom on earth (1 Sam. 16:13)

Sometimes the anointed person might double up on offices.  Priests could sometimes be prophets, and kings might sometimes also be prophets, but we can’t find anyone who was formally a Prophet-Priest-King.

The Old Testament promised One who would come, though. In hundreds of places and in different ways, the ancient Scriptures spoke of One who would perfectly encapsulate the Word of God, sacrificial service, and heavenly authority.

In the meantime, godly miniatures show up in the Scriptures—anointed folks like David, Aaron, and Elisha, who give us glimmers of “The Anointed.”

Meeting these smaller guys is like going to the county fair and meeting a Queen—the County Corn Queen.  She’s eighteen and her name is Brenda. She dates Wayne and wants to dedicate her crown to fighting world poverty and saving the whales.  Yes, she’s a Queen, a small one.  But suppose an entire nation is promised a visit from the Queen.  Nobody expects Brenda to be the one they’re talking about.

Likewise when the Christ is promised for thousands of years, we’re not looking for some provincial holy man.  We expect someone immensely more valuable and worth the wait.

Eventually Jesus came.  He didn’t look like much at first, but the Scriptures unfurl His identity as the archetypal prophet, in fact, the very Word of God itself (John 1:1, 18).  He came as the Great High Priest, servant of God and the sacrifice for the souls of men on the cross (Heb. 7).  Finally, as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 19), He possesses all authority in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18).

There you have it—the anointed prophet-priest-king.

That day, Peter stood in front of Jesus and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”  Not only did he identify Jesus, but in making this confession, he identified with Him.

The Bible tells us that when our hearts believe in Christ and our mouths confess it, we immediately attach to His reality.

And this is where we need to return the “ian” onto the end of Christ and reconsider the worth of the word “Christian.”  A Christian is one who is “of Christ” and I’ve also heard some suggest the word even means “little Christ.” Although the term was originally intended as an insult, we believers eventually accepted it because, in essence, it refers to a person attached to the reality of Christ, and identified with Him.

Think of the way a passenger identifies with the reality of an airplane. You get in it.  You leave the runway and climb to 30,000 feet, even though you haven’t flapped your arms at all.  You take a nap while moving at hundreds of miles per hour.  How?  Because you’re strapped into something that does it all for you with a power far beyond you.

That’s the best reason for echoing Peter’s confession of faith.  Like him, You want to make sure you’re attached to the Anointed One.

You want to be a Christian.



Photo credit:  Liz West


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