Is “Christian” an adjective?

Presently we are in the middle of a sermon series entitled: Recovery Road. This series is the brainchild of Andy Stanley and NorthPoint Ministries and they help you reproduce the series for your congregation by providing sermon ideas, graphics, videos, etc. (at a price) It’s an excellent resource and I believe as a church we’ve benefitted from it, I know I have personally been challenged in my preparation. However, one of the things Andy Stanley said almost in passing in one of these messages was this: “I’m not sure that ‘Christian’ is an adjective.” He didn’t go into detail as to why he said it but it sure got my mind churning.

We certainly use the word “Christian” as an adjective. We talk about “Christian music,” “Christian books,” “Christian films,” “Christian church,” and it’s often said that we live in a “Christian nation.” Recently I saw a TV ad announcing a “Christian match making service.” But does the word “Christian” really describe a product, event , or a place? While I don’t think there is any inherent evil in using the word to describe things I do see a certain distinction that should make us at least aware of a danger.

The word “Christian” as used in the bible does not describe something as much as it identifies someone, thus it is always used as a noun. “The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” (Acts 11:26) “Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28) Peter writes: “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (1 Peter 4:16) Each time the name refers to a person. Even in King Agrippa’s case in Acts 26 he asks Paul if in such a short time, or in one debate does Paul think he will change him into being a different person? A Christian?

Why does this matter? Because if we only see Christian as an adjective then we only see it as describing how something behaves or how it fits into a certain category among categories. People can behave morally, be a “good person” even live with a christian ethic, but not be a Christian. Nations can be built on Christian principles but not be filled with ardent, sold out Christ followers. Unfortunately those that follow Christ are often more comfortable being described as a “Christian” rather than being someone who is  “like Christ” (which is what the word actually means).Therefore, I’d much rather be a leader who is a Christian than just a “Christian leader,” I’d rather be a writer who is a Christian than just a “Christian writer,” and I’d certainly rather be “like Christ” than just be a person who acts Christian.

Because here’s the truth: I can never behave “like Christ.” I’ve already blown that with my first sin. But I can, by the grace of God, be ‘like Christ” because of his righteousness being applied to my soul. (Romans 3:19-21) Because I am a Christian I can, to the best of my ability and with God’s help, act in a way that honors my name sake, Christ.

So, one question (Is Christian an adjective?) brought me to a moment of assessment: which am I? An adjective Christian describing how I behave or a noun Christian, defining who I truly am?  Which are you?


About timothymsmith

Christ Follower Married 3 Children 8 Grandchildren Pastor Braves Fan
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2 Responses to Is “Christian” an adjective?

  1. Carmen Wren says:

    Whatever I will be, I am a Christ follower first! Loved the blog; this is all new to me.


  2. Very interesting details you have remarked, thanks for posting.


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