When my coworkers announced that our office was participating in the campus-wide dodgeball tournament, I had only been married a few months. I was excited to have a game to play during lunchtime. But the first morning of the tournament, my husband Kevin held me by both shoulders and looked intently into my eyes. Very seriously, he said, “You’re an Adelsberger now. And Adelsbergers don’t lose!” I resisted the urge to laugh, because I had been a “Matz” the majority of my life. And “Matz’s” are okay with losing, as long as we played a good game.
Without intending to, Kevin pointed me to a spiritual truth in that moment. By marrying him, my identity had changed. I was no longer “Renae Matz” but now “Renae Adelsberger.” A similar identity shift occurs when we believe Jesus is Lord. We become “Christians” by name. Today, we’re going to look at Acts 11:19-26, the passage where believers were called “Christians” for the first time. By studying these early Christians, we will better understand what it means to take on the identity of Christ. Taking Christ’s name means so many things for us. For starters it means:
The Lord’s Hand Is With Us
Sisters in Christ, what a beautiful way to begin today’s study – God’s hand is with us! Verse 21 tells us that we are not on our own. God has not abandoned us in this sinful world. Unfortunately, teachers today have twisted promises like this one and have taught that if the Lord’s hand is with us, we will prosper financially and flourish emotionally. When you dissect this belief, that forces us to say the Lord’s hand is then against us in times of poverty and illness. This belief, quite simply, is not what the Bible teaches!
Our new identity in Christ has instead given us adoption as children of God. In Romans 8, Paul explains the life that is given to those who live by the Spirit. He twice calls it “adoption,” three times refers to us as “heirs,” and five times calls us God’s “sons/children.” And yet, Romans 8:17 says we are “… heirs – seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” Our new identity in Christ may not promise us a life of luxury and ease, but it gives us something even better – the hand of the Lord with us no matter our ever-changing circumstances. Taking on the name Christian also means:
We Rejoice When Others Come to Faith
Who is the most mean-spirited, spiteful, cruel person you know? Maybe it’s someone at school who has bullied you or that person who spread a rumor about you that was so bad it ruined your reputation. How would you feel if you walked into church this Sunday and that very same person was at the pulpit speaking? They share how God softened their heart over the weekend and how they are now following Him. Would you be able to stand and applaud with the rest of the congregation? Or would you remain in your seat, unwilling to let go of the bitterness and unable to believe that God would save someone like them? I think we would all like to believe that we would celebrate, but truthfully, bad feelings are hard to overcome. We can easily be entangled in a feeling of superiority and, before we know it, a subtle sin of believing that God’s grace is only for “us church kids” has taken root in our hearts.
A similar sin issue arose in Acts 11. Many of the Jewish people strongly believed that salvation was only for the Jews. They looked down upon the Greeks (AKA non-Jews) because those were the people God warned them about repeatedly in the Old Testament. They worshipped foreign gods, sacrificed their children to idols, and their women prostituted themselves. So in Acts 11:19, we see that even though believers had been scattered across many lands, they were “speaking the message to no one but Jews.” They believed that identifying with Christ was reserved for their elect group.
But verse 20 explains that others began to teach the Gospel to non-Jews. And do you know what? A large number repented and believed in the Lord! God was at work in the early church showing that anyone who believes in Him will receive this same adoption as His child. And this is a terrific blessing for you and me personally, because, most likely, we are not Jews by birth. Yet we, too, find our new identity in Christ. Finally, taking Christ’s name means:
We Are Full of the Holy Spirit and of Faith
Barnabas was sent to Antioch to encourage these new believers. Verse 24 tells us that he was “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” Our new identity in Christ makes us completely new creatures by God’s design. He fills us with His Spirit so that He can guide us through this life on earth and help us understand His will for us. When we are full of the Holy Spirit, there is no room for sinful bitterness, jealousy, or selfishness. Rather, we are empowered by His presence to tell others around us how they can find their identity in Christ as a Christian.
Here in Acts 11, believers were first referred to as “Christians” – a title that followers of Christ have clung to for two thousand years. Just like me taking the name “Adelsberger” changed my identity, taking the name of “Christian” changes our identity as well. When we find our identity in Christ, we follow in the path of these faithful men and women. And we discover that the Lord’s hand is with us, we rejoice when others come to faith, and we’re filled with the Holy Spirit.
Lord, thank You for loving us so much that You have made us Your children. Help us to understand our identity as Christians so that we can rightly live out Your love to the people around us.
Acts 7 (Stephen, his sermon & his death)
Perfectly Unique by Annie F. Downs