This article is part of our weekly series, “Our Life’s Comfort: One Year of Being Shaped by the Scriptures.” Read more from the series here.
(31) Q. Why is he called “Christ,” meaning “anointed”?
A. Because he has been ordained by God the Father and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our chief prophet and teacher who fully reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our deliverance; our only high priest who has delivered us by the one sacrifice of his body, and who continually intercedes for us before the Father; and our eternal king who governs us by his Word and Spirit, and who guards us and keeps us in the deliverance he has won for us.
(32) Q. But why are you called a Christian?
A. Because by faith I am a member of Christ and so I share in his anointing. I am anointed to confess his name, to present myself to him as a living sacrifice of thanks, to strive with a free conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for eternity.
“I believe in Jesus Christ.” This is the beginning of the second credo of the Apostles’ Creed, the second fundamental belief of Christianity. Jesus is the special, personal name of the second person of the Trinity. But Christ isn’t like his last name. To believe in Jesus Christ is to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one of God (John 1:41). And if you truly know the Christ, you are becoming a different person.
Not long after Jesus died and rose again, those who trusted in him became known as Christians (Acts 11:26). Those who “belong to Christ” (1 Cor. 15:23) are firmly bound to him and delivered from the penalty of sin and receive the gift of eternal life. Belonging to Christ also redefines how we should live out our days on this side of glory, having been delivered from the power of sin (Gal. 5:24). To know ourselves, believers must know Christ.
Why Is Jesus Called “Christ”?
The title Christ helps reveal the identity of God’s Son who came to earth as Jesus of Nazareth. Peter says that the Christ was “foreordained before the foundation of the world” to be our redeemer (1 Pet. 1:20). Before we ever sinned, God determined that his lamb, “without blemish and without spot,” would wash away our sins with his precious blood (1 Pet. 1:19). The actual coming of the Christ was anticipated by God’s “anointed ones” in the Old Testament. God promised forgiveness through priests, spoke his will through prophets, and ruled through kings—they were types and shadows of the Christ. But because of human weakness (Heb. 7:28) these offices clearly needed fulfilment by a perfect prophet, priest, and king. At just the right time, our Redeemer was publicly anointed by the Spirit (Matt. 2:16–17) at his baptism; the world saw that the long-awaited Christ is Jesus. Christ was “manifest in these last times for you” (1 Pet. 1:20) as God’s agent of salvation.
The title Christ also helps reveal the calling of God’s Son. First, Jesus is our chief prophet and teacher. He is the one Moses promised God would raise up like him from the midst of the people, whom everyone must hear (Deut. 18:15; cf. Acts 3:22; 7:37). Jesus quoted Isaiah prophesying about him: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Is. 61:1; Luke 4:18). Jesus is not simply to be admired but to be heard and obeyed. The great prophet pronounces a curse on those who trust in the law (Matt. 23:27), and declares the forgiveness of sins to those who seek pardon from the law’s condemnation (Matt. 9:12).
Second, Jesus is our only high priest. On the cross Jesus paid the price—“once for all” (Heb. 7:27)—to free his elect from slavery to sin and death. Having been raised to glory, Jesus makes continual intercession for us (Heb. 7:25), pleading his innocence as a perpetual covering for our wickedness. “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). As he prayed for Peter he prays for all his beloved, that our faith may not fail (Luke 22:32). And his prayers are always answered.
Third, Jesus is our eternal King. Jesus governs us by his word and Spirit. We are not our own (1 Cor. 6:20). Because Jesus has bought us with the price of his blood (21), he governs our work and our play, our private life and relationships, our thoughts, words, and deeds. And he never loses a subject but defends and preserves each one in salvation.
Jesus is the Christ, the one true believers had been waiting for from the beginning. In fact, he defines believers.
Why Are Believers Called “Christians”?
The title Christian reveals the identity of believers. By faith Christians are members of Jesus (1 Cor. 12:27). Faith isn’t just what we think or feel about him. It’s the instrument by which we’re united to him and all his benefits. Because believers are married to Jesus and become one body with him (Eph. 5:30–32), we share in his anointed calling. “The anointing that you have received from him abides in you” (1 John 2:27). Believers share the same mission as Christ only because he has gained for us the life that we could not achieve on our own, and constantly supplies the power for us to reflect his work.
The title Christian also reveals the calling of believers. First, believers are prophets. We must confess his name in word and deed. No matter our age or maturity level we must help those around us better understand God’s holy will. We must repent when we pervert our prophetic calling through destructive words, and ask God to embolden us to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
Second, believers are priests. The Old Testament priests brought to God the peoples’ offerings to thank him for enfolding them into his family. Now we have become priests (Rev. 1:6) who use our whole lives to thank God (Rom. 12:1), and pray that others may also bow before him in joyful worship.
Third, believers are kings. We must, with free consciences “fight against sin and the devil in this life.” Kings enjoy great blessings. They also bear great responsibilities, going to war against enemies. Jesus made this promise: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:21).
We don’t make ourselves Christians by simply declaring it so. God makes us Christians as he causes us to believe the gospel, receive Christ, and take up his mantle in the world. Just as God sent his Son to earth as prophet, priest, and king, so God sends us (John 17:18). And he sends us fully equipped. Christians have a beautiful relationship with the Father through the mediation of the Son in the comfort of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:16). We have hearts that love God, mouths to speak for him, and bodies to commit to his service in the great fight against evil. Those who share in Christ’s anointing will certainly share in his victory (Rev. 17:14).