Christians In Name Only

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If you listen to certain conservative political commentators, you will likely hear the term “RINO” used to describe a particular kind of politician. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it is an acronym that means “Republican In Name Only.” These individuals are often criticized for claiming to be Republicans, while often siding with the Democrats, thus giving the Republican party as a whole a bad name.

I bring up this example because there are too many who are like these RINO Republicans, but in a matter that is far more important than politics. The ones I am referring to are “Christians In Name Only.” These individuals not only jeopardize their own soul, but also have a negative impact upon the cause of Christ.

Characteristics of One Who is a Christian in Name Only

Those who are Christians in name only will try to blend in with other Christians (at least when it is convenient or advantageous for them to do so). They will make the claim to be Christians, though we know that it is possible to claim the proper name, but in reality be spiritually dead (Revelation 3:1). These individuals may assemble with the church and even keep their Christian friends. But their devotion to God is superficial and shallow. What exactly is it that causes them to present themselves as Christians, but not fully commit to following Christ?

The problem is that these Christians are friends of the world. This is why their spiritual life is largely a show. Deep down, they are more like the world than they are like Christ. They love the world and the things in the world (1 John 2:15-16). They set their mind on things of the earth more than they do on the things above (Colossians 3:2). They try to serve two masters – God and the material things of this life – even though Jesus said that it is impossible for one to do this (Matthew 6:24). James warned, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). We must choose to follow either God or the world. Those who are Christians in name only have chosen the world while trying to present themselves as ones who have chosen God.

Just as in the political example I used at the beginning, those who are Christians in name only reflect poorly on devout, faithful Christians. If you were to use one word to describe the type of person discussed in this article, that word would be hypocrite. Hypocrisy is when a person claims to be one thing, while demonstrating by their actions that they are something different. The charge of hypocrisy is often used to discredit Christians and the gospel. But this term does not accurately describe faithful Christians. It is for those who claim to be Christians but do not live like Christians. They are like the Jews who boasted in the Law while also breaking the Law. Paul told them, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:23-24). One who presents himself as a Christian, but does not conform his life to the image of Christ, is giving our Lord’s enemies an opening to attack the gospel, while also discouraging those who need the gospel from listening and responding to it.

“Christian” is More than a Name

Those who attempt to be Christians in name only have missed the point about what it means to be a Christian. The term Christian is more than a name; it is also a description of the one who wears it. The term means Christ-like and should describe everyone who wears the name.

The term Christian is used three times in the Bible. If we notice these passages briefly, we can begin to get a picture about what a Christian should look like.

And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And 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).

Agrippa replied to Paul, ‘In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian’” (Acts 26:28).

But if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (1 Peter 4:16).

There are three lessons we need to take from those verses. First, a Christian is a disciple of Christ. This requires that one has a willingness to “deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow” Christ (Luke 9:23). To be a disciple, you must “present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). This requires a total and complete commitment of one’s life, not just three hours a week to assemble with the church.

Second, a Christian is different from the world. Various translations differ when it comes to Agrippa’s response to Paul. But they all have something in common – Agrippa acknowledged Paul’s attempt to persuade him to become a Christian. Why was persuasion necessary? It is because being a Christian involves more than one deciding to claim to be a Christian. One who would be a Christian must “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed” (Romans 12:2). Jesus said we should stand out as “the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). Christians are not to blend in with the world, but are to be clearly distinguishable.

Third, a Christian will face persecution for his faith. Paul also affirmed the certainty of this (2 Timothy 3:12). To what degree we will be persecuted is uncertain, but we must be prepared for it. Therefore, the decision to become a Christian, or to continue to live as a Christian, cannot be made based upon our own personal convenience. There will be difficulties and challenges. We must prepare to face them, rather than shrinking back and compromising when it is convenient to do so.

Are You a Christian in Name Only?

Those who are Christians in name only will often (but not always) be able to fool others. Through their outward displays of righteousness, they mask the corruption and worldliness that is entrenched in their heart. So I extend the same challenge to you that Paul gave to the Christians in Corinth: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Examine your life. Are you acting, talking, and thinking like a faithful and devout Christian? Or are you a Christian in name only, claiming to follow Christ while being – for all practical purposes – no different than the world? If it is the latter, then identify and admit the problem and make the changes that repentance demands. You should live your life in such a way that you can affirm, as Paul did, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).


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