Who Is Not A Christian

James Boyd

The word "Christian" is commonly heard in everyday conversation. It obviously means different things to different people because so much is included by some with the word that is excluded by others. It is fair to say that the word is misused because positions that are opposite to one another cannot both be correct, the philosophy of Humanism notwithstanding. We would contend that many in ways that the Bible never suggests use the term. "Christian" is used as a noun, name, adjective with reference to people, attitudes, spirits, behavior, actions, churches, and all sorts of doctrines and religious positions, even political groups. Generally speaking, the world is far more liberal than what the Scriptures allow.

As we investigate to learn how Scripture uses the term, we must remember to “speak as the oracles of God.” (First Peter 4:11). We must keep in mind that the term is a designation of divine origin. In Isaiah 62:2, “And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.” This prophecy notes that when the Gentiles as well as Jews are included among God's people, God will designate a name for them. In Acts 11:26, “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” Antioch was the first congregation to include both Jews and Gentiles of which we read in Scripture.

This should forever silence the false contentions that the term “Christian” was given the disciples of Christ in derision by their enemies or as a nickname. Rather it is a divinely given name. The word translated “called” in Acts 11:26 has reference to that which Deity has done. This name was given apostolic approval by Peter in First Peter 4:16 and by Paul in Acts 26:28. It has been universally accepted by faithful followers of Christ from the time it was first given.

Nothing In A Name?

We sometimes hear people say, usually in defense of religious names for which there is no divine authority, “There is nothing in a name.” But nobody really believes that, It is just a way of excusing what is Biblically inexcusable. Nobody names their children after Judas or Jezebel, or even Fido. They want the correct names on their property deeds and paychecks. Companies demand proper labels on their products. Even religious people who say there is nothing in a name take a name unto themselves to designate them as distinguished from others.

The name “Christian” gives honor to the One we follow, Jesus Christ. It was used with reference to those who were in a saved relationship with God by and through the Son and Savior He sent into the world. The name by which disciples of Christ are called is a worthy name (James 2:7). But the name is often applied to that which is not of Christ according to the Bible.

The name “Christian” is, like all names, exclusive in nature. Your personal name, your family name, is meant to include only you or your family. When your name includes you it automatically excludes everyone else. The same is true with any name properly used and understood. So it is with the name “Christian.” It is inclusive but also exclusive. This should not surprise us. But we should learn whom God includes and whom He excludes in using the name.


Many object to this conclusion that it is being dogmatic. One's attitude on being dogmatic can be objectionable. But being dogmatic, per say, is not evil. There is nothing wrong in being dogmatic and narrow as Scripture. There is nothing bigoted, self-righteous, or judgmental in an evil sense about taking Scripture without addition or subtraction. We do not find people objecting to being narrow and dogmatic in others fields of thought and activity. Only in religion do some think it must be wrong to be right. This inconsistency is seen in following recopies, dialing telephones, filling medicine prescriptions and other matters. What many have not learned is that the way of Christ is far narrower than most realize.

Just A Good Man?

The term “Christian” is often used to include all “good” people. We hear people say, “He was a good, Christian man.” It may be that a person is exactly that. A Christian is to be good. But people can have many good characteristics about them and not be Christians. Morality is expected of a Christian, but one can be moral without being in Christ. There are many people who are upright in many ways as far as anyone can determine. They are good neighbors, good citizens, are helpful to those in need, fair and honest in dealing with their fellowman, even refraining from questionable behavior, using clean language and many other good things. But being morally good does not make one a Christian. We are not saved by our works of merit of which we can boast (Ephesians 2:8,9).

We all can be thankful for any good person. We have heard some thoughtless people say they had just as soon a person be a criminal as to not be a Christian. Well, count me out of that number. I much prefer to live next door to somebody who respects morality than someone who does not. Society is far better when people are good than when they are not. Life is more tolerable and enjoyable among good people. But the point is, we, like Cornelius (Acts 10), can be good and still be lost because being saved demands more than simply being good, as important as that certainly is. Nicodemus, Lydia and the man from Ethiopia all had many good things about them, but they were lost. Because being good is expected of a Christian many have become confused in thinking that being good is all that really matters in becoming and being a Christian.

Just Religious?

All religious people are not Christians, and none would deny that. Case after case of those who became Christians as recorded in the New Testament was first religious people. They were honest, sincere and zealous in their religious faith and practice, but they were not followers of Jesus Christ.

Not even all-church members are Christians. People can belong to churches that the Lord did not establish, and even claim to be a Christian. But they cannot become Christians by following the doctrines of men and failing to obey the gospel of Christ. The Lord does not teach us just to become members of some church. He teaches us to obey the gospel and He adds us to His church (Acts 2:47).

Denominationalism has historically confused people about the importance of the church. This is an age of hyphenated Christianity, which is not New Testament religion at all. People say they are Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, and any number of denominational names, but all claim they are Christians. The New Testament knows nothing of this kind of so-called but misnamed Christianity. The church is not a denomination, nor the sum total of denominations. Scripture has nothing to do with denominations except to condemn the error and division, which it propagates and upon which it feeds. That system of religion is entirely a concoction of men, and is not of God. A person is either a Christian, and he must be a faithful Christian, or he is lost. Christ is not divided (First Corinthians 1:13).

Not In Old Testament

Obviously people who lived in Old Testament times were not Christians because the faith of Christ had not yet come upon the earth during their lifetime. Those who lived under earlier dispensations, such as Abraham, Moses, Joshua, even john the Baptist, all ceased to walk among men before the will and way of Christ was inaugurated on the first Pentecost following His ascension.

Not Just Any Faith

What may come, as a surprise to many is that all who have faith are not Christians. One may agree with every word of the Bible, believe it that is, giving mental assent that it is true, but such “faith” standing alone saves nobody and makes nobody a Christian.

Saving faith is an obedient faith, and without works of obedience faith is dead and a dead faith cannot save (James 2:20,26) .One must obey for Christ to be his Savior (Hebrews 5:9). In no way does obedience earn salvation, but in no way does faith save until one obeys, including repentance (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38), confession of Christ (Acts 8:37; Luke 12:8,9; Romans 10:9,10), and baptism into Christ (Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3,4; Acts 22: 16; Acts 2:38; Mark 16: 16; First Peter 3:21). Those in New Testament times who heard the gospel, believed in Christ, and obeyed these commands were added to the Lord's church (Acts 2:47), and that church is composed of Christians. Those who have not yet rendered obedience in faith to what the gospel commands are not yet Christians according to the teaching of the New Testament.

To Be Faithful

Let us not forget that it is one thing to become a Christian and a lifelong activity to be a faithful Christian. One can obey these first principles of the gospel and thereby become a child of God, a Christian, but renounces his Father and family and is disinherited. While he can still be called a Christian in the sense that he has become a child of God, he is not a faithful child and salvation will not be his in eternity unless he does as the Father pleads and comes home again, being restored to God's family through repentance (Acts 8:22), confession of sins, (First John 1:9), and prayer to God for forgiveness (Acts 8:22).

Sometimes people Who are willing to accept just what the Bible teaches and will not allow more or less are criticized for thinking they are the only Christians. This is an unfair criticism. Nobody has the right to claim to be a Christian until he or she has done what the New Testament says one must do to become a Christian. It is neither bigoted nor self-righteous to simply “contend for the faith” as it is revealed.

We would that all were Christians after the New Testament order. We work to that end. But we cannot and will not Compromise with error to appease anything or anybody regarding who is and who is not a Christian. We have no right to do so. We must abide by the Biblical use of the Biblical term.