What is a Christian?

In defining what a Christian is, it may be helpful at the outset to describe briefly what a Christian is not.  First a person is not a Christian because they might regularly go to church.  A person is not a Christian because they were Christened as a baby or because they chose to be married in a Christian church.  A person is not a Christian even though they might claim to have a ‘faith’ or believe in ‘God’.   Finally, a person who might claim that they try to live a good life so that God will acknowledge their efforts and allow them into heaven is not a Christian either. The truth is, it does not depend on what you do but upon what Jesus Christ has already done to bring about what is required for your salvation. Salvation is a free gift – but its not automatic.   In fact, most people don’t receive it and reject the very thing they need the most…  

Two simple definitions

So what then is a Christian? Very simply, a Christian is a person who has first heard the message of the gospel of salvation and who has then responded to the Lord Jesus Christ in two ways…

1 — They have been convicted of sin and have come to the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness.

2 — They have the testimony of a changed life – a life that now pleases God.

Let’s look at these descriptions in a little more detail:

1. A Christian is first of all someone who has, through the gospel, been convicted of sin and has come to the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness.

“… the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace”. (Colossians 1:6)

A Christian is someone who to begin with, has heard the message of the gospel – the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ – and with the help of God’s Holy Spirit has understood how it applies to them.  The gospel message reveals that we have all sinned.  It shows us that we are accountable to God for having broken God’s righteous and holy laws, that we have lived in selfish ways that have offended God and are therefore not in a right relationship with Him. The gospel also reveals to us God righteous and just anger against us for our sins – that sin is serious and will result in God’s wrath:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18-20)

But the gospel brings good news also. It’s a message that reveals God’s grace – that although we are undeserving of God’s mercy and love, God has stepped into our world in the person of Jesus Christ,  in order to take upon Himself the punishment we truly deserve by dying on a cross for our sins. It’s a message that tells how Jesus was raised back to life since death could not hold Him, His resurrection proving His identity as God in the flesh and demonstrating that His justice had been satisfied. Writing to those in Ephesus who had become Christians in the First Century the Apostle Paul wrote;

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us..” (Ephesians 1:7-8)

The true Christian is someone who has understood this grace.  They have acknowledged their sinful state before God, that they cannot save themselves from God’s wrath and that they are fully deserving of God’s judgement and punishment. They have also understood what Jesus Christ has done to make a way for them to be saved from God’s wrath.   And so with a contrite heart, they call upon Jesus for mercy, receiving His gracious, undeserved provision of full forgiveness.  They place their trust in Jesus – the one who died in their place for their sin – and are put back into a right relationship with God.

In practice, believing on the Lord Jesus Christ then is a genuine submission – not just to the message or to the truth but a submission to a real Person. It is a leaning upon and a yielding to the resurrected Jesus Himself with a heart that has recognised Him as both Lord and Saviour.

2. A Christian has the testimony of a changed life

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  (Acts 2:38)

A Christian is someone who has initially repented – when coming to Christ, they turned from living a life centered on sinful desires to a life that is centered on Christ. Repentance is like a 180 degree turn – a turning from one direction to the opposite direction. This initial turning, enabled by the Holy Spirit who resides and remains in the true believer, is motivated by a recognition of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and a desire to please God by walking in God’s ways.

Over time, this repentance should be a marked reality in a true believer’s life.  There should be evident fruit of a life motivated by the Holy Spirit and although the believer may at times fall in to sin, the general pattern of their lives will be to quickly renounce sin:

“The Lord knows those who are his,” and “everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”  (2 Timothy 2:19).

True repentance then is marked by a changed life and a desire to be baptised in order to outwardly express an inward reality – a change that has occurred in the believer’s heart – a change from death to life, from darkness to light.

Becoming a Christian is both free and costly.

Salvation is a free gift. There is no way we can earn it. We cannot make up for what we have already done wrong. We can only respond in humility as a person in need does with an extended open hand and a desire to receive.

But becoming a Christian is also costly. In the Bible, Jesus said:

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

Losing one’s life here and now implies a cost. It can be hard being a true believer. There will be battles within us as the Holy Spirit teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (2 Timothy 2:12). There will also be battles without – The Bible says that all those who wish to lead a godly life will face persecution from those who do not obey the gospel (2 Timothy 3:12).

Yet the Christian life is also an abundant life in relationship with Christ both now and forever (John 10:10) and although trials will come, the believer knows that this loving and secure relationship is more precious than anything else he or she could ever know or possess.

Your own response

What about you? Have you yourself understand the grace of God in the gospel?  Have you repented and are you fully trusting in Jesus to save you from God’s coming wrath against sin?

“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. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (Romans 10:9,10)

Take the good person test and discover how good you really are:

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What is a Christian?