Praise God We Bear the Name
- part 1 of 4 - Overview
1 Peter 4:16 "However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name."
In the past, God spread the gospel though the courageous witness of the early followers of Jesus. Despite great opposition and temptation to blend in, the early church stood up, refusing to compromise. And in these days God speaks to the world through our faith, especially in the midst of trials. We can enjoy our heritage of how the world was transformed, but we should remember with honor the great challenges and opposition pre-Nicene believers endured. Jesus' followers were not killed for merely believing Jesus was a good guy. Rather, while their bodies were battered, bruised, broken, and burned; their heads were unbowed to any other gods.
Pliny the Younger was a Roman governor who put early believers to death, and this is what he wrote about them to Emperor Trajan in 112 A.D. "They [Christians] were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to do any wicked deeds..."
They were ridiculed for their faith, such as by the 2nd century satirist Lucian: "The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day - the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account...You see, these misguided creatures..." (Death of Peregrine 11)
Those in the church were not only killed and ridiculed, but they were also seduced to compromise. Couldn't you still follow Christ and also turn back to the Law of Judaism? The Book of Galatians answers that a definitive "no". Could we still call ourselves followers of Christ, but turn our backs on our Creator and believe in other gods too, as Gnostics taught? Satan's lies could be tempting, not just from the standpoint of personal comfort, but the lure of many more people listening to your message, if you just mix the message with other religions. It would seem that you could bear burdens better if you consent to be yoked with unbelievers, but then whose burden would you be bearing?
But as great as all these challenges were, the faith of the early church was even greater. They recognized these dangers and stood fast against them. They knew whose they were, and why they were there.
Our Identity in Christ
We must pay more attention, therefore, to who we are, lest we sabotage our own witness. We were all sinners, no better or worse that other people, who hated or ignored God. We were all deserving of God's wrath. But God in His mercy sent Jesus, His only begotten Son, to die on the cross for our sins. He did not escape the cross by "switching out" as many Muslims say; rather because of His great love for us, Jesus choose to "switch in" to take our load of guilt upon Himself, because it was too heavy for us to bear. We have died with Christ and we are raised with Christ. Our identity to ourselves has died, and now our identity is wrapped up in His life. When some accept Christ God lets them go to Heaven right away - as martyrs. Others of us stay here, because God has a job for us to do, not just to do witnessing, but for us to be His witness.
Who are we? The Bible says we are ambassadors, we are brothers, children, kings, and priests. However other people can be those things too. But distinctly and uniquely, we are called Christians.
Bearing the Name in Scripture
Acts 11:26b "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." Very early on, the followers of Christ were known as Christians.
Acts 26:27-29 'King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.' Then Agrippa said to Paul, 'Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" Paul replied, 'Short time or long- I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.'" If you stand up for Christ, non-believers will see you are a Christian.
1 Peter 4:16-17 "However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name." (17) For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" Even if you suffer for bearing the name, Peter the apostle commanded us to praise God for bearing the name Christian. Some people may have objections to being called a Christian, and part 2 discusses those.
Despite persecution, and despite counterfeits, let us look to God's word and have courage to bear the name we are commanded to praise God for - Christian.
Early Believers on Bearing the Name
Couldn't we silently be Christians and hide the truth of what we are? But if we are to be a witness, then of what would we be a witness? Here is what early writers who claimed to follow Christ said.
Ignatius, disciple of the Apostle John (100-116/7 A.D.) Ignatius asked the Ephesian believers to pray, "that I may be found in the lot of the Christians of Ephesus, who have always been of the same mind with the apostles through the power of Jesus Christ." Letter of Ignatius to the Ephesians ch.11 p.54.
Evarestus' Martyrdom of Polycarp (c.169 A.D.) ch.10 p.41 "And when the proconsul yet again pressed him, and said, 'Swear by the fortune of Caesar,' he [bishop Polycarp] answered, 'Since thou art vainly urgent that, as thou sayest, I should swear by the fortune of Caesar, and pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and thou shalt hear them.'" Polycarp was also a disciple of the apostle John.
Tertullian (198-220 A.D.) "For he who confesses himself to be what he is, that is, a Christian, confesses that likewise by which he is it, that is, Christ. Therefore he who has denied that he is a Christian, has denied in Christ, by denying that Christ is in him, while He denies that he is in Christ, he will deny Christ too." Scorpiace ch.9 p.642
The anonymous Constitutions of the Holy Apostles is even stronger. In book 5 ch.4 p.438 it says, "But he that denies himself to be a Christian, that he may not be hated of men, and so loves his own life more than he does the Lord, in whose hand his breath is, is wretched and miserable, as being detestable and abominable, who desires to be the friend of men, but is the enemy of God, having no longer his portion with the saints, but with those that are accursed; choosing instead of the kingdom of the blessed, that eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: not being any longer hated by men, but rejected by God, and cast out from His presence."
Are you of the same faith as the early Christians? Part 3 has many more quotations from the 41 pre-Nicene writers who used the word "Christian" of themselves.
It is not enough to believe, we must stand firm and persevere. Like the Christians addressed in the book of Hebrews, we should not lose heart but stand firm in the name of Christ.
More than being brave, let us be obedient and don't deny who we are.
All Bible verse quotations are from the NIV.
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by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.