As any adult can verify from personal experience, words change meanings over time as their contemporary usage changes. What used to be “groovy” in my older siblings’ day became “radical” in mine, then “cool” or “bad,” and now “sick” or “tight.” As fewer and fewer people use the word “sick” in the way it was used even 5 years ago, so fewer and fewer people use the word “Christian” to simply describe someone who is Christlike. In fact, most of us probably have never considered that the two words should be synonymous.
To the English teachers reading this, I know—the former is most often used as a noun, while the latter is an adjective. But think about this for a moment. Wouldn’t the term “Christian” be more meaningful when used as an adjective, rather than a noun? Shouldn’t “Christian” describe someone’s behavior, not just be a label on some box we want to put them in? Isn’t that what the whole “salt, light, and a city set on a hill” thing is all about? What’s the point of labeling someone as a Christian who does not, in fact, act “Christian?”
Before Christians were first called such in Antioch, they did exist in the eyes of God and men without that name. The term was later applied to the Jesus-followers who were already in existence, but it’s not like God created a “Christian” label. Men did, and the writers of the New Testament scriptures adopted it in its common usage. The first Christians were first described as disciples, or followers of Jesus. A Christ-follower, or disciple of Jesus, ought to be one and the same as a Christian. In fact, it would be a misuse of the term “Christian” to apply it to someone who did not at least attempt to pattern his life from top to bottom—including thoughts, words, and actions—after the Master.
So it turns out that “Christlike” is the forgotten synonym for “Christian,” and where we find a Christian in name (used as a noun), we ought to find a Christlike person in deed where “Christian” can be used as an adjective to describe him. This means a person called a Christian should not engage in unchristian activities. Gossip, slander, and backbiting should be put away from our lips. Every word spoken should be done with the motivation to encourage someone in Christ or bring them to Him.
We can probably all attest to the fact that this is not always the case. I myself fall short of my own goals for goodness every day. As C.S. Lewis so brilliantly pointed out, humans almost instinctively know right from wrong, and still as instinctively, usually choose the latter.
Rather than write in the safety of the third person, I’ll take a big dose of this medicine by asking myself how many years I’ve been a noun-Christian without necessarily being an adjective-Christian? Have I always made a concerted effort to emulate Christ’s character traits such as love, compassion, forgiveness, and patience? It’s my life’s regret that I can’t answer in the affirmative. But I can say without hesitation that I want it to be the primary focus of my life–to pattern my life after Jesus Christ.
I fail at it miserably on a daily basis. It’s a high standard to hold to. But I truly want to become More Like the Master, not just sing that old hymn every once in awhile. I want the word “Christian” to mean more than just the fact that I’ve obeyed my five point checklist of things to do. I don’t want to use it as a noun, but as an adjective. Sure, I’m a Christian. But I hope to be more than that and actually be Christian.