According to a study by the Pew Research Center, Christians make up the world’s largest religious group, with an estimated 2.3 Billion people, or 31.2% of all people identifying as one.
The term “Christian” encompasses a wide range of denominations, with Roman Catholicism making up roughly half of the 2.3 Billion and the rest primarily comprised of Protestants, Orthodox, and others.
But what does it mean to be a Christian? What is the defining character trait that all 2.3 Billion people (and counting) have or should strive to live by?
The Real Definition
The original Greek word for Christian is the word Χριστιανός Or “Christianós,” which is the combination of two greek words for “Christ and tian”
Christ translates to “anointed” & tian translates to “little.”
So the word “Christian” directly translates to “little anointed ones.” And if you take that a step further and look up the meaning of Messiah, which also means “anointed one,” you’ll soon realize that:
Christian simply means: “Little Messiahs” or little versions of Jesus.
The Real Meaning
By identifying as a little version of Jesus, along with the 2.3 Billion others in the world, what does that mean for the life Christians are supposed to live?
In Matthew 22:34-40 We see a religious leader in the time of Jesus ask him, “What is the most important commandment…” that we should obey to follow God. And Jesus replied in simple terms, “You must Love God…and Love People”.
Actions Speak Louder than Words
It’s also easy to see that the impact of Jesus’ love is felt most tangibly through actions, and Jesus modeled that to perfection throughout his life.
Jesus elevated women so they felt a new sense of purpose, which no religious leader at the time did. Jesus promoted the dignity of children by publicly embracing and blessing them when others didn’t.
Jesus crossed ethnic and racial lines investing in the lives of those who weren’t Jewish. In a world where the pervasive mindset was that if someone suffered or was sick or struggling, it must be because God was punishing them for something, Jesus stepped in and healed those people and loved them.
Again and again, Jesus transformed good intentions to love others into acting on their behalf.
The Greatest Act of All
In 1 John 3:16 says, “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters”.
We will never see a more explicit depiction of what true love in action is than to look at the cross and see the Messiah, the anointed one dying an undeserved death ought of love and nothing else.
Central to understanding what it means to be a Christian is the belief that God is generous and loving to the core, The kind of love that gives and sacrifices.
For Christians to make their love easy to see, it will mean laying something down to lift someone up.
Maybe this means laying down your agenda to spend time with someone or your right to get back at someone for what they did to you. It could mean laying down your ability to talk over someone so you can listen or being okay to lose an argument to preserve a relationship.
In verse 17, John pushes even more practically, saying, “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person?”
So, What Does it Mean to Be a Christian?
Let’s not overcomplicate it: when you see someone in need, and you can meet that need, show some compassion and complete it.
Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other: let us show the truth by our actions; 1 John 3:18.
What set those first Christians apart wasn’t just what they believed. It was how those convictions moved them to show the truth of their love in action. What set those first followers of Jesus apart was they were willing to make their love easy to see and to love others in ways nobody else was willing to love.
And the same is true today.