The Divine Designations of the
By Eddie Cloer
“…for an entire year they met with the church, and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" (Acts 11:26).
We often use the expression "It depends on how you look at it." This popular saying reminds us that subjects should be considered from different points of view.
One really does not have in mind the total picture of a subject until he unites into one picture all the different aspects of that subject. For example, one can look at a college education from different viewpoints. Some see it as a necessary step to being successful in the world of business, others see it as an opportunity to improve one's life, and still others see it as a social experience. Most of us believe that the best approach to a college education takes in, to some degree, all three perspectives. In other words, it is not until one brings all these separate facets of a college education into one picture that he has an accurate picture of what takes place during a college career.
Some facts concerning a subject may be missed entirely unless the subject is studied from several points of view. The church is no exception. We should study it from all viewpoints to get the total picture. The church is like a diamond. Any angle of view will reflect the beauty of its multicolored radiance.
That God intended for us to look at the church from various perspectives is indicated by His numerous ways of referring to the church and His people. One cannot see the true nature of the church without considering all of its distinct features. The designations the Holy Spirit used for God's people assist us in looking at the nature of the church. Each divine designation expresses a characteristic that should be true of members of Christ's church. When we bring these traits together, we can see more clearly what God intended His church to be.
First, the New Testament designates members of Christ's church as "Christians." Inasmuch as we are followers of Christ, we are Christians.
The name Christian was first given to the disciples at Antioch: ". . . And it came about that for an entire year they met with the church, and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch" (Acts 11:26). The circumstances of the giving of this name are unclear, but we can be certain that God chose it for His people. As a designation, it is found three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). The word highlights our relationship with Christ. We are followers of Him, and therefore, we wear His name.
Paul described his religious life after becoming a Christian in the now famous words, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). Christ was not just first in Paul's life Christ was his life! The sum and substance of Paul's life was Christ. He was truly a Christian.
AS CHILDREN OF GOD
Second, the members of the church are referred to as "the children of God." In our relationship with God, we are God's children.
At conversion, we were adopted as God's children (Ephesians 1:5). God sent His Holy Spirit into our hearts, and He cries, "Abba, Father" (Galatians 4:6). As His children, we have an eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1: 11) and the strength and support of His earthly family (1 Timothy 3:15; Ephesians 2:19 22). In this spiritual, heavenly family, God is our Father (Matthew 6:9), Jesus is our elder brother (Romans 8:17), and all Christians are our brothers and sisters (2 Peter 3:15; 1 John 2:8 11).
Since we are God's children, God has a special love for us (1 John 3:1). He protects us from the Evil One and provides for our daily needs. Jesus taught that if an earthly father gives nice gifts to his children, how much more can we expect Almighty God, our perfect Father in heaven, to give beautiful gifts to His children when they ask Him (Matthew 7:11)!
Third, the New Testament refers to the church as "disciples" (Acts 11:26). When we consider our commitment to following Christ, we see ourselves as disciples.
A disciple is one who has committed himself to someone greater than he, one who claims to have learned from the greater one, and one who continuously seeks to learn more from the greater one. He is not just a listener; he is a learner, an understudy.
The word "disciple" is especially used in the Gospels, appearing 238 times in them. It is found twenty-eight times in Acts, and it does not appear at all in the Epistles or Revelation. Perhaps the reason for the obvious change in terminology as we go from the Gospels to Acts to the Epistles is that during Christ's life on earth, His followers were called "disciples" in reference to Him. Afterwards, in Acts, the Epistles, and Revelation, they were called "saints" in reference to their holy calling or "brethren" in relation to one another.
The church is Christians, children of God, disciples, servants, citizens, friends, and saints. ______________________________________
Christ told His apostles before His ascension, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19, 20). In this way, He gave a continuing use to the word "disciple," even though it is not often seen in the latter part of the New Testament.
A disciple is a doer of the Word. James said, "But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers (James 1:22). A disciple is more than a student; he is an imitator of Christ, a follower of Christ.
Fourth, the members of the church are described as "servants." When we think of our submission to Christ, we are servants.
When the New Testament was written, the slave/master relationship was intertwined in the society of the Roman Empire. A slave was totally under the control of his master. He had no rights and no real possessions. He did not even own himself. No wonder this term and relationship is used to illustrate our surrender to Christ and our life under His Word. Paul wrote, "If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10). He further said, "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Someone has said that every heart has a throne and a cross in it. When we put ourselves on the throne, we place Christ on the cross. But when we put Christ on the throne where He should be, we must place ourselves on the cross. Paul said, "But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14). He further said, "From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand marks of Jesus" (Galatians 6:17).
Fifth, the church is described as "citizens" of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:18, 19). When we think of our part in the kingdom of God, we see that we are citizens.
"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ," Paul said (Philippians 3:20). He also wrote, "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone" (Ephesians 2:19, 20). Christ is our King (1Corinthians 15:24, 25), and only those who live under Christ's rule are in His kingdom (Matthew 7:21).
The kingdom in which we are citizens is the eternal kingdom of which Daniel spoke (Daniel 2:44). The writer of Hebrews described it as an "unshakable" kingdom: "Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, . ." (Hebrews 12:28). The next time you ask yourself where you will be one thousand years from today, if you are a Christian, you can tell yourself, "I will be in the eternal kingdom!" God's kingdom is not here today and gone tomorrow it is eternal.
The church is made up of "friends." Christians stand together in a beautiful comradeship. They are the highest type of friends.
John concluded his third epistle by writing, "Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name" (3 John 14). He called the Christians around him "friends," and he called the Christians who would be receiving the letter "friends." Jesus called His disciples friends, and John is no doubt using this term after Jesus' example. Jesus had said to His disciples,
"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends, if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:13 15).
Someone has said, "A friend is someone who stays with you when everyone else leaves." Jesus is this type of friend. When no one else could help us, He laid down His life for us. Christians are to be this type of friend to each other (1 John 3:16). Christians are "friends."
Sixth, the church is made up of "saints," those who have been sanctified. Christians are people who have been set apart as God's chosen people.
Paul addressed the Ephesians by saying, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and who are faithful in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 1:1; emphasis mine). The KJV has "peculiar people" in Titus 2:14. The NASB renders this phrase "a people for His own possession." The basic meaning of "holy" or "saint" is "set apart for God." God's church is "a people for God's own possession," a holy people, a people set apart for God. Christians have been called with a holy calling (2 Timothy 1:9); we are to live in holy conduct and godliness (2 Peter 3:11); we seek to appear before Him on the last day "holy and blameless and beyond reproach" (Colossians 1:22).
Some translations of the Bible have "Saint" in the titles of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and have entitled Revelation "The Revelation of St. John the Divine." These titles to these New Testament books came from man, not God. The New Testament labels everyone in Christ as a "saint." The church is even referred to as "the churches of the saints" (1 Corinthians 14:33). We were set apart for God when we became Christians.
The members of Christ's church are referred to in the New Testament in various ways. These are beautiful and attractive designations.
Who is "the church"? The inspired answer is a many sided one: The church is Christians, children of God, disciples, servants, citizens, friends, and saints.
When someone asks, "What is 'the church'?" it is necessary to picture the church from several viewpoints as a kingdom, as a relationship with Christ, as the family of God, in terms of submission to Christ, and in relationship to God.
If someone asked you, "What is an elephant?" how would you answer? You would most likely give an answer which included different characteristics of the elephant. You would mention his size, trunk, tail, legs, ears, and maybe other traits. Your answer would be inadequate if you only described his trunk. Likewise, we must see the whole picture to understand what God wants the church to be.
To be the true New Testament church today, we must strive to be all that the New Testament church is.
Are we what "the church" is?
STUDY AND DISCUSSION
1. Why should a subject be viewed from different viewpoints?
2. What advantage do we gain when we study the church from
3. What is the basic meaning of the word "Christian"? How does
one live when he lives as a Christian?
4. How does Paul describe his life as a Christian in Philippians
5. What does it mean to be a "child of God"? Give characteristics
of this relationship with God.
6. How often does the word "disciple" appear in the New
7. Why is there a decreasing use in the New Testament of the word
"disciple"? Give the characteristics of a disciple.
8. What does it mean to be a "servant" of Christ? Give an
illustration of someone living as a servant of Christ.
9. In what way is a Christian a "citizen" of heaven? Give the
characteristics of a citizen of heaven.
10. How enduring is the kingdom of God?
11. How did Christ use the term "friend" concerning His disciples?
Give an illustration of a Christian living as a "friend."
12. Give the basic meaning of the word "saint." When do we become
13. Should we call one another "saints" today?
14. What are the characteristics of a saint?