What Is A Christian?

If you'd like to know more about what it means to be a Christian please continue reading.

Glad you asked!

Did you know that the word “Christian” is used only 3 times in the whole Bible (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16)? And yet it seems that this word is such a coveted label in every culture around the world. Millions of people, and hundreds of religions and denominations, self-label as “Christian”.

And yet ask someone to define it, and you can count on one thing… you will not receive one consistent definition!

So, give us a chance to prove that the Bible provides a clear definition of what a Christian is and how you can become one.

Where did the term come from?

The Bible tells us where the term Christian originated. It was in Antioch, Greece, in the first century (Acts 11:26). The label was probably created by the Non-Christian Greeks to help explain a new phenomenon that was called “the church.” Suddenly, among all the other gods that the Greeks worshiped, there was one God Who was different. This God was different because His followers were different. They weren’t different because they worshipped a different god, but because their God CHANGED them and they CHANGED for their God. Their lives were different. They met together on Sundays. They shared their possessions with one another. They truly seemed to love others as God loves. They stopped their evil practices of sexual perversion and deviance, drunkenness, filthy talking, anger, lying, idol worship, greed and all other forms of wickedness. They weren’t perfect by any means, but they were different. They cared about their God.

And their God was different too. He wasn’t like all of the other Greek gods. He was perfect. He was Jesus, the Christ (Messiah). He was God Himself. And so, in Antioch, people started taking notice. And they coined a term for these “odd folks.” They called them, essentially, “little Messiahs,” “little Christs,” Christians.

And that’s how people came to be known as Christians. But what is one exactly?

What about Living a Good Life?

A lot of people will tell you that all you have to do to become a Christian is “live a good life.” It seems simple enough. Do more good than bad, and “you’re in!” There is just one problem with that reasoning: Sin. The Bible says, “None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good not even one.”(Romans 3:10-12)

If that’s really true, then living a “good life” is impossible. We are stained and tainted from the get-go. We were born without any hope of living a good life. We all live bad lives, and we’ve been doing it since we were born. We’ve lied, cheated, stolen, been sexually impure, hated others, been prideful, been jealous, used God’s name in vain, and SO much more.

Now you might be thinking, “Wait a second, I do live a pretty good life. I’m not that bad.” But you’re only thinking that about yourself because of who you’re matched up against… the object of your comparison. If you are comparing yourself to the worst person on earth then yes, you may look pretty good in comparison. But understand that in that scenario, you’re the one choosing the scale. You are being the judge. But you don’t get to be the judge. GOD is the “chooser” of the scale. GOD is the judge. And on His scale, He compares you to Himself… big difference. Suddenly, you don’t look so good anymore.

This is what God says about your “good” life: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all of our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6). We are not “good people.” And this is what God says about His scale: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). See, that’s the problem. We all fall short. We don’t make it. Our good lives might win us brownie points with man, but brownie points won’t make us Christians. And they certainly won’t change how God views us.

Consider what Jesus said about us in Mark 7: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” If you’re being honest, you know it’s true. We do a lot of good things, but we’re not good people.

So, give up on the “good life,” because you just can’t live it.

But don’t we have to do good works to be a Christian? It’s not a free ride, right?

The opportunity to be a Christian was anything but a free ride. Jesus paid the truly ultimate price for our privilege of labeling ourselves a “Christian.” He left heaven, was separated from His Father, and He died (an excruciating death, mind you). So, it wasn’t free at all.

I think the question that people are really asking here is “How could I just say a few words, live however I want to live, and still make it to Heaven?” Good point.

So, what does the Bible say about good works? Well, certainly it says that they are important. Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” And Paul says in Ephesians 2, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Even in Acts 10, Luke said of Jesus, “He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

So certainly, good works are important to God. The question is, can you become a Christian by doing them? According to the Bible, no.

Not By Works

Paul said to the church in Ephesus, ”For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Here are a couple more verses to drive home the point. Paul wrote to the church that met in the city of Rome in regard to being a Christian: “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” (Romans 11:6) And then Paul said something pretty heavy to the church that was meeting in the city of Galatia: “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4) (If you want more proof that you can’t become a Christian by doing works, then examine these verses as well: Matt 5:20; Luke 18: 9-14; Acts 13:39; Rom. 3:20-30, 4:1-7, 8:3, 9:16, 9:30-32; 1 Cor. 13:1-3; Gal. 2:16, 2:21, 3:10-12, 3:21, 4:9-11, 5:2, 5:6, 6:15; Phil. 3:3-9; Col. 2:20-23; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:4-5; Heb. 4:3-10, 6:1-2; Jam. 2:10-11).

So, it’s useless! No amount of doing… no amount of acting like a “saint” will ever earn you a place with God. It’s ALL about God’s grace. It’s ALL about God’s work, not yours. His approval of, and favor to you CANNOT be merited. It can’t be earned. No baptism, catechism, monetary gifts, good deeds, or any other kind of work will earn it.

The Scary Reality

The scary reality is that we are all condemned because we are all sick. That means that, from the beginning of our lives, we are already pronounced guilty and sentenced to eternal punishment by the Supreme Judge… God. Jesus was talking to Nicodemus in John 3:18b when he said, “…whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” And Jeremiah said, “The Heart is more deceitful than all else and desperately sick; Who can understand it?”

We are all in desperate need of being rescued! Before Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden and ate the forbidden fruit, God had promised death. And since then, we all die. That’s obvious. But there is more to the story than just physical death. Paul said in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Commensurate in that statement with eternal life is eternal death. Paul wasn’t talking about the kind of death that occurs when your heart stops beating and you take your last breath of oxygen into your lungs. He was talking about eternal death.

Death is Separation

See, death is simply separation. When we physically die, we get separated from this life, our spirit from our body. But spiritual death means that we are separated from God. God is so perfect and holy and good that He can’t live and fellowship with those that aren’t. So, we are separated. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” That’s eternal separation. That’s what happens after physical separation. Your spirit is either with God when you die or separated from Him.

And Jesus said that that kind of separation is forever... meaning once you’re separated forever then there’s no coming back: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (Matthew 25:41). And that’s the plight of all of us, friend. Allow me to say it bluntly: EVERYONE is bad. EVERYONE is at odds with God. And EVERYONE is already on their way to hell.

But wait! There is a Rescuer!!

If the Bible really is true (which it is, by the way) then all of this puts us in a pretty miserable condition. In fact, it means we’re dead. We literally exist in a state of separation from God.

But… God is love. So how could he actually send someone to hell forever? Now, please don’t misunderstand. Just because God is love doesn’t mean He’s not also just. Don’t get the two confused. The “justness” or the justice of God will send a sinner to hell (that’s all of us). And God is totally right and justified in doing so. In fact, He must; Otherwise, He wouldn’t be just. But the love of God provides a way to be rescued. And so, in God’s infinite love He said, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) There is His Love! And in the next verse is His justice: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” (2 Peter 3:10).

And so “…when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” (Gal. 4:4-5). The Rescuer, Jesus, came! In justice, He condemns. In love, He comes for us.

Someone Had to Be Punished

Do you remember how I said that God is just? Well, because of His justice He HAS TO punish sin. Romans 1:18 says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness….” And in Isaiah 13:11b God says, “I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins.”

And so, He couldn’t just “let it go.” So, God decided to punish Someone. And that Someone was Jesus (who is God by the way), the Rescuer. Romans 8:3 says, “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.” The Law was powerless because we couldn’t keep it. So it couldn’t save us. Jesus came and offered Himself up to God’s anger and justice as an offering or a substitute for us. This way, the justice of God was appeased.

Romans 3:24-25 explains this act of Jesus offering Himself to God by using the word “propitiation.” Propitiation simply means that someone’s anger is turned off or assuaged by offering that person a gift or a sacrifice. This is a simple concept when you consider that other religions have been doing this with their “gods” for millennia. They offer their gods money or food, or they starve themselves or cut themselves or do something good for the poor. They think it makes their god happy. By these gifts or sacrifices, their god won’t be angry anymore. Well, Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice to God for us. The Bible reference that I just mentioned says this: “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.” So, Jesus offered HIMSELF as a propitiation… a sacrifice, a gift. He offered HIMSELF in our place, to take our punishment. And by doing so, God’s anger was turned away from those of us that believe. So in that way, Jesus not only satisfied God’s anger, but He also rescued us. He rescued us from everlasting separation from God, forever, in hell.

Yes, Jesus died FOR you. But He didn’t have to. He is God. He is Holy. He is sinless. He lived on earth for over 30 years and literally never sinned once. Paul tells us in the book of Philippians, “…he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:7-8).

What kind of King Leaves His Throne?

Jesus came down from heaven for you because He loves you. And you are so weak and sinful that you are already dead, spiritually. And if you go on without Jesus, then when you physically die you will be dead forever without God. That’s a scary thought. Or… at least it should be.

Seriously though, what other king would leave his grandeur and greatness to die for someone who sins against him constantly? And yet in that same conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus He said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And so, Jesus came and died for you.

But Death Could Hold Him!

A dead God. Now that wouldn’t engender much trust would it? So, the most important part of this explanation is this: JESUS IS ALIVE. Yes, the very God who created life not only has the power to give it and take it, but He has the very power to overcome it. I Peter 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead….” So, Jesus rose up from the dead and is alive. And that is why He can become our Rescuer. If He was still dead in the grave, our hope of rescue would be less than faint.

So how do I become a Christian?

Do you want that coveted label? Or do you want God? The real question here is “How can I make things right with God?” or “How can I have fellowship with God?” And the answer is simple. I didn’t say it was easy, but it is simple.

Follow Jesus. No, not like he’s standing in front of you and you literally, physically get up and go after Him. Instead, are you ready to make Him your boss? Are you ready to make Him your leader? Are you ready to make Him your King? Are you ready to make Him your Master?

Do you really see yourself as the sinner that you are? Becoming a Christian is becoming a follower of Jesus, His disciple. And it looks like this:

Repent

You have wronged a Holy God. And He is angry. God demands repentance. That means that you are sorry for wronging Him… truly sorry. I John 1:8-9 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Jesus talked about repentance in Matthew 4:17: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Agree with God that you are sick… very sick. “Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32)

Believe in Jesus Alone

You must believe in Jesus, the sacrifice that He made for you, and His resurrection from the dead. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) And Paul said that eternal life is in Jesus: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23). So those that believe in the name of Jesus will be part of the family of God: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

Believe in no one but Jesus: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

But believe and you will be saved: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Just like Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 11:25-26: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Confess

In order to make yourself right with God, you must tell Him. You must confess or declare to God that you believe. “For, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13). See, you need to call out to the God that you have wronged. You need to call on Him to make peace. John said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) But you need to confess it. You need to tell God that you agree with Him; that you want Him; that you believe in Him; that you repent. Paul said, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9).

Is that really all?

Yes, that’s really all. Jesus did the work that you can’t do. You need to accept His work. You need to repent and believe and confess and Make Him Lord. Now get me right here. No empty words ever made you right with God the creator. He knows your heart. If you want peace with God, you must truly believe. This is more than a statement. It’s more than mental assent to the truth. It’s more than just some words. It is complete surrender. It’s a change of allegiance. Lay down your own “self-rule” and let God be your Ruler. As my old pastor once said, “Intellectually, you must believe the gospel. Emotionally, you must have a conviction that it’s true. And volitionally, you must have an unreserved trust.” Not works. Never works. Works won’t save you. But true repentance and belief will result in a change of action.

And that, my friend, is a Christian. That is the Gospel, or the “Good News” that the first Christians talked about. And that is how you can become one.

Are you ready?

If you are ready to repent and believe, then don’t wait. Don’t delay. Paul said, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2b). Don’t stay dead any longer. Come to life.

Just tell God that you are sorry for your sin. That you believe in Jesus and His death and resurrection, and that you accept it as the only way to make peace with the Father, and that you want Jesus to be your Lord, your Master.

Perhaps you’ve never prayed to God before or you’re unsure of how to approach Him. Well there is no “formula” that you have to say. But if it would help, just tell God this, “God, I am truly sorry for my sin. I have sinned against you. I believe that Jesus died for me, that he rose again, and that His work is what I need to make me at peace with you. So I accept it. I don’t want to rule my life anymore. I want Jesus to be my ruler. Please rescue me.”

If you have done this, then welcome to the family! Welcome to peace with God! “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

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