Why I use terms such as “follower of Christ” or “believer” more often than “Christian.”
The term Christian was first used in the Bible in the city of Antioch (Acts 11:25) and meant that the followers of Jesus were “Christ-like.” But over the centuries, the term has developed a cultural meaning, and as a result, people have been called Christians or called themselves Christians without understanding the original intent of the word.
During the early years of the Church, Christians were persecuted by the Jews and Romans. So, the name was only used by those who actually followed Christ. Otherwise, it was unsafe to describe oneself with that name. That changed when Constantine I issued the Edit of Milan in A.D. 313. Constantine had converted to Christianity and enacted laws that led to “Christianizing” the Roman Empire. This brought safety and even prestige to the formerly persecuted Church, but it also diluted the gospel.
Throughout history, rulers in Europe merged the church and state and called their subjects Christian even though individual subjects may not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Even the Puritans in Colonial American, to stop the decline of church membership, enacted the Halfway Covenant so that people could be members of the church without giving a personal testimony of faith. In certain regions in the US, such as the South, people will refer to themselves as Christians but rarely or never attend church. These people believe they are Christians because they were born in America and don’t realize that they need to have a personal faith to be a Christian.
To be a true follower of Christ, one must acknowledge he is a sinner in rebellion against God, repent of his sins, accept Jesus’ death on the cross as his payment for his sin, and believe Jesus rose from the dead. A follower of Christ allows Jesus to be Lord of his life and seeks to live according to God’s will. Being a follower of Christ, or a Christian, is a personal relationship with Christ and has nothing to do with one being born in a “Christian” nation or brought up in a “Christian” family or attending church.
So, I prefer to call myself a follower of Christ, and not necessarily a Christian, to make a distinction from those who are simply cultural Christians but live far from God.