(March 6, 1991)
“In Communist days, Christians were called ‘repenters’... and they were persecuted, so the last thing I wanted to be was a repenter.”
The little pastor from Romania glowed with joy as he described how God changed his mind and his life: he did become one of those repenters.
The change was so definite that even though he witnessed horrible atrocities in his homeland and was even himself a victim, he became a pastor and preached the gospel wherever and whenever he could. Finally, he became such a threat they tried to kill him in a deliberately planned automobile accident. He not only survived, but his life was so committed to Christ that he further amazed his persecutors by continuing to preach.
Eventually, this changed man was used to bring great changes to his homeland. For the first time in many years, carols were sung last year in Romania on Christmas day and Christians are now free to worship Christ without abuse. Surely, “repenters” was an appropriate label for him.
In other parts of the world the Christian is not so easily marked. In fact, the label “Christian” is often slapped on a member of any religious group, whether they follow Christ or not. Some cults use it and at least one military faction in the Middle East calls themselves Christian. Canada used to be called a Christian nation. Some groups call themselves Christian rock stars. I suppose there are people who consider their dog or cat Christian.
The label “Christian” came into use after the New Testament church was organized. Thousands had repented, believed and surrendered their lives to Christ. Soon persecution began and believers were scattered all over the known world including north of Israel, where a church was formed in a city called Antioch. It was from there the Apostle Paul launched out on his missionary journeys and from there the, “disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26).
Oddly enough, this is the only place in Scripture where that label is used, likely because historical accounts indicate that CHRISTIANOS, a Roman term, was used in a derogatory way in those days. The writers of the Bible would not use a word that others used to ridicule them. Even “believer” is an uncommon title, used only two times in the Bible.
Jesus and the New Testament writers seemed to prefer “disciple.” It is used over 250 times. It means “a learner or one who follows.” In the gospel story, some “learners” left Jesus and turned back to their own ways. Only a few repented and went on to a genuine change of lifestyle.
Obviously the twelve disciples (except for Judas) had truly turned from their sins and were changed. In Acts 4:13 it was said that the people “saw the courage of Peter and John and realized they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”
Peter and John changed. Peter had been a brash, undisciplined, overly self-confident fisherman who denied Christ when the crunch came. He became a bold but humble preacher who proclaimed the gospel in the face of persecution.
Even though the Romanian label was also used with some scorn by those who opposed the Christians, I like “repenters.” It says it all. When a person comes to Christ in faith, this is what happens. They repent: turn, change direction, reject the reign of sin, and place themselves under the lordship of Jesus Christ. It is essential; in fact, Jesus even said that unless a person repents, they are excluded from forgiveness and from God’s kingdom.
Repentance is also essential to going on in the Christian life. Jesus taught that if a person does not depart from sin and obey Him, that person is only fooling themselves. The evidence of being one who believes in Him and follows Him is the change in our lives, not in our name tag.
The label “repenter” is more difficult to live up to than “Christian” or even “disciple” because it is a title that describes change. But, as that pastor from Romania illustrates, when a person truly does turn to God, those changes have exciting and far-reaching possibilities.