What Is a Christian?

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Image by Angelica Reyes. Adapted for Redemption of Humanity. Used under licence.

The Bible’s Answer

A Christian is a person who believes in Jesus Christ and follows his teachings, as recorded in the Holy Bible. Christians are adherents of Christianity, which is currently the world’s largest religion. The Christian faith holds that there is only one God in all existence, that God created all things and is a Holy Trinity, and that the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, came to the Earth as a human being to save us from our sins (wrongdoings).

Jesus accomplished the redemption of humanity through his sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. The Bible teaches that God grants the forgiveness of sins to everyone who believes in Jesus, and that he adopts them as his children, so that they will receive eternal life in Heaven. This article will look at some key things of what it means to be a Christian.

Christians Believe in Jesus

Faith in Jesus is the key aspect of being a Christian. The Bible emphasises this in the following Scriptures:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25–26, ESVUK)

Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household. (Acts 16:30–31)

Believe What about Jesus?

To believe in Jesus simply means to believe in everything the Bible says about him. To believe in Jesus, in the words of St John, is to believe “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). St Paul put this another way, when he said: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Those who believe in the above doctrines about Jesus are Christians.

What Does This Mean?

Christ” (i.e. Messiah) is not Jesus’ last name, but is a title that the Bible gives to Jesus in both the New and Old Testament, which means “anointed one”. Jesus was anointed by God to reign as King over God’s people in righteousness (Jeremiah 23:5–6; Psalm 2:2–3, 6), to be their High Priest, by offering his own life to atone for their sins (Isaiah 53:4–5; Job 19:25–27), and to proclaim this good news to all people (Isaiah 61:1–3).

All people are sinners and deserve eternal punishment in Hell from God (1 Kings 8:46; Romans 3:23; Matthew 25:46). However, because God loves all people, he sent his only Son, Jesus, to save us (John 3:16). Jesus made salvation possible by living a sinless life on our behalf and taking all our sins upon himself and dying as our substitute on the cross (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Corinthians 15:3–4; 1 Peter 2:24). God confirmed that Jesus is indeed the promised Christ by raising him from the dead on the third day (Acts 10:39–41). Whoever believes in this about Jesus has their sins atoned for, and is made right with God (Romans 3:28; 5:1). This is called the gospel message.

Jesus being “the Son of God” means that Jesus is equal with God (John 5:18), of one being with the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 10:30–33; Matthew 28:19), and that he has God’s exact nature (Hebrews 1:3). This agrees with the Bible’s testimony that Jesus is God almighty of the Old Testament, who created all things (cf. Genesis 1:1–2 with John 1:1–3, 14). Only Jesus is the Son of God in this way (John 3:16), and he has been the Son of God for all eternity (Colossians 1:16–17). Christians are only adopted children of God (Romans 8:15–17).

“Lord” is a common title for God throughout the Bible (Psalm 8:9). By ascribing this to Jesus, Paul was emphasising that Jesus is God, the one to whom we are to bow before and obey (Philippians 2:9–11). Just as it is impossible to serve two masters (Matthew 6:24), for Christians, Jesus and God are not two separate Masters, but Jesus is God himself, the “only Master” of all Christians (Jude 1:4).

What Happens When We Believe in Jesus?

The Bible teaches that everyone who believes in Jesus has the forgiveness of sins, eternal life in Heaven, and a relationship with God. God himself promises this, and he never lies (Titus 1:2).

In [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, … (Ephesians 1:7)

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)

But to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12–13)

Apart from Jesus there is no hope. Jesus alone is the way to Heaven (John 14:6). On an unknown day (Matthew 24:44), Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). However, Christians need not worry about that day. As the Apostle Paul said, “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).

Why Christians Accept the Bible’s Testimony

Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:13) because they believe that Christ’s words bear authority (Matthew 7:28–29) and recognise Christ’s authority in it (2 Corinthians 12:19; Luke 21:33). When they read Holy Scripture, they hear the voice of their Shepherd, Jesus, calling them by name (John 10:14–16). This does not come to them by their own free will, but the Holy Spirit, who alone gives us faith in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:3).

For Christians, there is no alternative to following Jesus. When offered any, Christians say, along with the Apostle Peter, “Lord [Jesus], to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68–69).

Christians are Disciples of Jesus

A necessary part of the Christian life is also that Christians follow Jesus’ teachings, in addition to believing in him. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. The Bible says:

For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (Acts 11:26–27)

And [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23–24)

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19–20)

Why Christians Follow Jesus

Christians obey Jesus and follow his commandments because they love him (Ephesians 6:24; John 16:27), just as Jesus loves them (Ephesians 5:2; Revelation 1:5). Jesus said: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). Keeping Jesus’ “word”, here, refers to the content of his teaching—his doctrines. Jesus also said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Here, Jesus’ “commandments” refer to anything Jesus tells us to do.

What Are the Commandments of Jesus?

Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are, first, to love God with all your being, and second, to love your neighbour (everyone you meet) as yourself (Matthew 22:37–39). We are to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:44–46). St John sums up Jesus’ commandments as believing in the name of Jesus and loving one another (1 John 3:23). Jesus also commands Christians to share the gospel with others (Mark 16:15), and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). The Bible says:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:14–18)

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12–14)

St Paul also gives us lists of vices that Christians are to avoid. For example, he said: “… neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practise homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). He also wrote: “… the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practise homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:9–10).

What About the Old Testament Commandments?

God’s Old Testament Christians, Israel (1 Kings 8:52–53), were under the old covenant, which is mostly associated with the Mosaic or Sinaic law (Exodus 19:5–6). When Jesus came in the flesh, he fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17). Now, God’s New Testament Christians, the church (1 Peter 2:4–10), are under the new covenant, which Jesus established in his death on the cross (1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 9:15).

Because we are now under the new covenant, the old covenant has become obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). This means that the ceremonial and dietary commandments (e.g. circumcision, purification laws, festivals, etc.) are no longer binding on Christians today (Colossians 2:16; Romans 14:2–3, 5). Christians are only obligated to follow Christ’s and his apostle’s commands in the New Testament and any of the moral commands of the Old Testament that the New Testament has repeated.

Christians are bound to the law of Christ, not the law of Moses (Galatians 6:2). With that being said, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17) still apply to Christians, because they are upheld in the new covenant (see Matthew 19:18–19; Romans 7:7–8).1

Are We Saved by Following Jesus’ Commandments?

No one will be saved by their good works, but only by God’s grace, through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8; Galatians 2:16). If we could contribute to our salvation by doing anything, then Christ died for no purpose (Galatians 2:21). Why? Because Christ died for the very reason that, before we were Christians, we were already dead in our sins and stood condemned before God, the righteous judge of the world (Ephesians 2:1–3; Romans 5:6–8).

Instead, Christians follow Jesus’ commandments because Jesus has saved them. Jesus taught this, when he said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The Bible also says: “We love because [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

When the Holy Spirit gives us faith in Christ, we are made alive spiritually, and no longer stand condemned in God’s sight, because he gives us Christ’s righteousness (Romans 6:6–11; 5:19; Galatians 3:27). The Spirit dwells within Christians and helps them to live the kind of life God wants them to live (Romans 8:5, 9). God the Father loves Christians because they are his adopted children (1 John 3:1). Still, all people, including Christians, struggle with their sinful nature (Romans 7:18–20).

God understands this, and promises that if we sin, and confess our sins to him, he will forgive us (1 John 1:9; Psalm 32:5). With that being said, God expects our repentance (us returning to God in faith and remorse over our sins) to be genuine, which means that if we confess a particular sin to him, we must cease doing it (Matthew 3:8; Luke 13:5; Revelation 2:5). This does not mean that we will never commit that particular sin again, though (1 John 1:8), but that we will strive to resist it (Romans 6:12–13).

How to Become a Christian

The one and only way to become a Christian is to repent. This means to acknowledge that you are a sinner and be genuinely sorry for your sins. Then, believe in Jesus as your God, Saviour, Lord, and King, who died for all your sins on the cross and rose again from the dead. If you have done this, then you have repented, and are therefore a Christian (Acts 3:19; 2 Corinthians 7:10). Jesus said:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37)

What Next?

You should express your repentance to God in a prayer. Apologise to God for your wrongdoings, confess them to him, and ask him for forgiveness, for Jesus’ sake. Then, affirm your faith in Jesus, and declare that you are committing the rest of your life to believing in him and serving him. After this prayer, if you have not been baptised before, you should go to a biblical church that confesses the Holy Trinity (Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox) and ask the pastor there to baptise you (Matthew 28:19). Redemption of Humanity recommends you go to a conservative Lutheran Church.

You should regularly attend that church community, just as the early Christians did (Matthew 18:20; Hebrews 10:25; Acts 2:46; 20:7), and because God wants us to worship him corporately (see Hebrews 13:17, 1 Corinthians 11:28, & 1 Corinthians 12:28). Then, live out your repentance by conforming your life to Christ’s teachings (Ephesians 4:21–24). The Holy Spirit sustains a Christian’s faith when they read the Bible, pray to God, receive Holy Communion, and hear God’s Word at church (Romans 8:26; Matthew 26:28; Romans 10:17), so Christians should do these things as often as possible.

Conclusion

A Christian is a person who believes in Jesus Christ and follows his teachings, based on the Bible. Christians believe in Jesus as the Second Person of the Trinity, their crucified and risen Lord and Saviour. Through faith in Jesus, Christians have a relationship with God and the assurance of salvation. Because Christians love Jesus, they follow his commandments, too, which involves upholding his doctrines as well as obeying him.

For example, Christians are to attend church and receive Holy Communion, love God and their neighbour, forgive one another, act in humility and kindness, and not murder, commit adultery, lie, or steal. Christians do not do these things to save themselves; they do them because Christ has saved them, and given them the Holy Spirit, who helps them to live the way God wants them to live.

Notes

  1. All of the Ten Commandments are still binding on Christians today. This includes the third commandment, on keeping the Sabbath. However, Christians obey this command in a different way from the Jews (Colossians 2:16; Hebrews 4:8–11). For the Jews, it means to abstain from doing any kind of work on Saturday.

    For Christians, it means to set aside any day of the week on which to honour the Word of God by hearing it read and preached on in church. The early church chose Sunday to be this day, to honour Christ’s resurrection, which occurred on that day (John 20:1; Acts 20:7). Because the Bible does not mandate any specific day of the week to do so, Christians are free to do so either on Sunday, or any other day.

To learn about the the good news of salvation (gospel) concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, please read the below article.

See Also

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