Since the very early days, Christians have been known by a variety of names. From the book of Acts we know that Christians were called: Those who belong to the Way, Disciples, Brethren, Saints, Believers, Friends, Nazarenes, and Christians.
The first name I want to think about with you is "One who belongs to the Way" (see Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).
The Christian faith was called "the Way.” Christians belonged to the Way.
The name described the Christian community and the message it proclaimed. "The Way" was a name for the Christian church and its declaration that Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again for the salvation of sinners. This proclamation included the call to repent, believe, and obey the commandments of God.
This special name for Christians and for the Christian faith and walk of life has a rich background, one aspect of which is the Old Testament.
The Old Testament often speaks about the way of the LORD. The word "way" simply means road. The way of the LORD is the road the LORD God takes. It is the way He takes as He approaches people. The author of Psalm 67 said that he wanted the people of the earth to get to know the way of the LORD. What is this way? It is the saving power of God (Psalm 67:2). As God approaches people, He comes with and in His saving power.
Man sinned. Man disobeyed God. Man rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden. When man sinned, he put up a big road block between himself and God. Until then, man and God had interacted. They had had fellowship. That ended when man sinned. But God immediately opened the way again. He came to man with the promise of a Saviour. He approached man in His saving power. Psalm 67 calls that God's way.
So, the first thing we've got to understand is that in the Old Testament, the way of the LORD refers to the saving power of God. It refers to the road God takes as He comes to sinful man with the promise of salvation.
But it means more as well. When God reopens the way towards us and comes to us with His salvation, then He demands that we embrace the free gift of salvation and turn away from sin. We must begin walking in the way of the LORD. We must begin travelling the road of salvation and of obedience. Psalm 1 speaks about that.
Psalm 1 teaches that there are only two ways to walk – the way of the wicked and the way of the righteous. The wicked, the unbeliever, rejects God's salvation. He wants nothing to do with it. He continues walking away from God in the way of sin. The believer, however, embraces God's salvation. He embraces God's way out of the mess of sin and begins walking in a different way. The believer walks in the way of obedience to God's commandments. He does that out of thankfulness for God coming to him all the way and powerfully saving him. The way God opened between man and Himself becomes a two-way street: God comes to man with His grace and love; man goes to God by walking in obedience to God's commandments.
There you have a bit of a sketch of the Old Testament background to the expression "the Way" as you find it in the book of Acts. However, the background has several more dimensions. The New Testament, and then specifically the teaching of Jesus Christ, provides part of the background as well.
The Lord Jesus Christ, basing His teaching on the Old Testament, taught very emphatically that there are only two ways to travel: one way leads to life, the other to destruction. In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:13-14, the Lord urged us to enter by the narrow gate. He warned that the wide and easy way leads to destruction. The narrow way which goes through the narrow gate, however, leads to life eternal.
This teaching of Christ is very similar to the Old Testament teaching of two ways; however, the Lord added a new and profound element. In John 14:6, He said:
"I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”
Ultimately, Jesus Christ is the way. In Christ, God approached us once and for all time. God's promise of salvation, as He spoke it repeatedly in the old Testament, finds its fulfilment in Christ. Jesus Christ is God's powerful way of salvation. Man sinned and blocked off the way to God. Jesus Christ paved the way back to God by His death on the cross.
Considering this background, it is no wonder that the early Christians called their faith "the Way.” They understood that Jesus Christ, the one who had died for their sins and arisen from the dead victorious over death, who had gone all the way for them, was the Way, the only Way to the Father. They understood that they had to go to Him to the one who had come to them.
They understood that they had to believe in Him. They understood that they had to love Him, serve Him, and obey Him. There just was no other way.
In the beginning of the book of Acts we read that Paul (also known as Saul) persecuted those who belonged to the Way. He organized a Christian holocaust (Acts 9:2). He rounded up those who belonged to the Way and led them to their deaths. Later in Acts we see and hear a different Paul. The Lord Jesus Christ threw Paul to the ground as he was on his way to Damascus. Christ took Paul the persecutor and powerfully changed him into Paul the preacher of the Way. Throughout the rest of Acts we follow Paul on missionary journeys and we hear him proclaiming the Way as the only way of salvation. In Acts 24:14-16 Paul explains to the Roman governor Felix exactly what the Way is.
- He said, first, that those who belong to the Way worship God. We adore God; we praise and glorify Him, because of His great love toward us. God came to us with salvation. Through Jesus Christ, God opened a way back to Himself. Therefore God is worthy of all service and love and praise.
- Second, Paul said that those who belong to the Way believe everything laid down by the law or written in the prophets. In other words, they believe the Scriptures, the Bible, the Word of God. Those who are of the Way believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. They stake their lives on it. They trust the Word of God. They depend upon the God of the Word. They believe that everything in the Bible is true. They doubt nothing.
- Next, those who belong to the Way have a great hope. Not only do they worship God and believe the Word. They also have a hope based on the Word of God, the hope of the resurrection. Paul said that we have a hope in God that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. The Lord Jesus Christ is coming again. He will come with great power. When he comes trumpets will sound. The dead will hear the noise and will rise from their graves. All people who ever lived since creation will appear before the judgment seat of Christ. He will judge them all. Those who hated Him, who rejected the gospel of salvation, who said NO to God's way of deliverance, Christ will send into everlasting perdition. But He will grant eternal life with Himself and His Father to all those who loved Him, who embraced Him as the only Way to the Father, and who believed the Word of God.
- Then, fourth, the apostle told Felix that there was one other thing he did as one who belonged to the Way. He took pains to have a clear conscience toward God and toward men. The hope of the resurrection is a powerful incentive to keep one's conscience clear. Who wants a conscience burdened by sin if he knows he's going to appear before a mighty judge? The judge before whom we all will have to appear is none other than Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords.
There you have it. That's what people of the Way are like. Does that sound familiar? Can you see yourself in this? Do you live as one who belongs to the Way? Do you follow Jesus Christ, the one who is the Way? Do you follow the only One who is the only Way to God the Father? Do you worship the only true God? Do you believe the Scriptures? Do you look forward to the resurrection? Do you always take pains to have a clear conscience toward God and men?
There just is no other way than the Way