What is a Christian?

The Confusion of Christianity

There is a great confusion about what a Christian is. Many people profess to be Christian, but seemingly live like others who do not.

Those opposed to Christianity point to a hypocrisy in the choices Christians make and what ideals they claim to have.

What’s fact and fiction about Christians? Read on to learn for yourself what a Christian is and isn’t.

First, let’s discuss what a Christian isn’t, and that may form a better picture of what a Christian is.

What a Christian isn’t

A Christian is not a sinless person (Romans 3:23). Claiming to be a Christian does not magically stop a pattern of behaviors that someone has practiced for a lifetime. Some people drastically change their behaviors overnight. Others seem to take the rest of their lives to change. Was one truly a Christian and the other not?

Not necessarily. As those who oppose Christianity will quickly point out, even those without a relationship with Christ can change their lives.

The Correction of Sin

A Christian is not a judge of sinners. The phrase “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” is a bit of a mantra among some Christian circles. While I am not thrilled at the overuse of this trope, it does illustrate that while we are to judge sin in the lives of others, we are not to judge the eternal destination of the person committing the sin.

Most people claiming to be Christian will agree with this assessment. Clearly, the Bible has warnings against judging others (Matthew 7:1-4). There is also clear direction that judgment is reserved between believers and not those who do not claim to know Christ. While we are all sinners, those who are in Christ will not have their sin held against them, so we are called to correct other believers (Matthew 7:5).

While we are called to correct others, that correction should come in very specific ways and at very specific times (1 Timothy 5). Too often those who claim to be in Christ ignore or are ignorant about these commands from the Bible. I will address that in a future post, but know if a person claiming to know Christ is judging those who do not, they are not following the commands of the Bible.

Christians – Enemies of Fun?

Christians do not hate fun, and they are not without joy or happiness. Too often, people who proclaim Christ focus so much on the rules, they lose sight of the grace that God provided them (John 15:11). While we should not continue to live in sin, we should also not be so focused on removing sin from the world that we forget we exist to lighten the load on our neighbors (Mark 12:31).

The mark of a true Christian is they adopt Jesus’ viewpoint of the world and the people in it. We are not only called to love others, but to serve them. If Jesus can lower himself to wash the feet of his own disciples, we should humble ourselves and serve those who do not always agree with us (John 13:1-17). If we are called to pray for and love our enemies, we should be willing to stop and provide assistance to people we cannot stand to be around (Matthew 5:34).

Who Should be Called Christian?

So who should be called Christian. What can we do to earn the title of Christian?

Here’s the beautiful part. We can’t do anything. We don’t deserve it. But like the issue of salvation, we can’t do anything to earn it. We don’t deserve it. Jesus earned it when he died on the cross. He gave us this title. God made us co-heirs to His estate by adopting us into His family.

For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift- not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation-created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:8-10 (HCSB)

Claiming Your Birthright

Being a Christian is claiming Jesus as your brother. Pure and simple, you are identifying yourself as a child of God. It means in the same way you trust a chair to hold you up when you sit in it, you trust Jesus to catch and hold you when you do fall. We all fall to sin, but it is the mark of a Christian that we do not stay down, but stand up after the sin.

The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ-seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

Romans 8:16-17 (HCSB)

A Christian’s Posture Toward Sin

The difference between Christians and those who are not should be characterized by the posture toward sin. We should no longer seek to sin, but rather seek Christ and His teachings. We fall into the arms of Christ when we do sin, but walk tall knowing He is our hope for any relationship with our creator.

What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life.

Romans 6:1-4 (HCSB)

So, know that when you accept Christ, you claim what Jesus told the woman at the well. First, you believe that He does not condemn you for your sin, and then you agree to go and sin no more (or do not seek out sin anymore, John 8:1-11).

How can I be saved?

What does being saved mean?

To understand what a Christian means when they say “being saved”, you must first know what sin is.

Sin is defined by Miriam-Webster as an offense against religious or moral law, transgression of the law of God, or a vitiated state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God.

For the purpose of this article, we will focus on the last two definitions.

Transgression of the law of God

So what is a transgression of the law of God? Put quite simply, it means disobedience of the commands God sent. In this sense, sin can be broken down into two categories.

There is the sin of comission and the sin of omission. Comission is doing something God has commanded we shouldn’t do. This would be something like murder or theft.

Sinning by omission, however, is not doing something that should be done. This would include failing to give to the needy or even helping a friend in need.

These are transgressions of the laws God has given to man.

Vitiated state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God

Huh? What does that mean? Definitions can sure get confusing, so let’s break it down.

In Genesis 3, The Bible tells the story of Adam and Eve, who are thought to be Earth’s first inhabitants. God created Adam, then seeing that he needed a helper, created Eve. They lived in a place called Eden, a paradise garden with plenty to eat and nothing to worry about.

God told Adam and Eve they could eat anything in the entire garden, except the fruit of one tree. God had created them with something called “free will”, or the ability to make their own decisions about what they do with no intervention from God.

One day, a serpent asked Eve about the one tree God said not to eat from. She told the serpent that God said if they eat from that tree they would die. The serpent then told Eve that God only said that to ensure she and Adam do not become like God.

Long story short, Eve eats the fruit then tells Adam to eat it. Having disobeyed God, both of them were banned from Eden, having been cursed with a “sinful nature”, or an inclination to disobeying God.

God and sin

God cannot be in the presence of sin. It goes against his character. It’s like an asthmatic being around cigarette smoke, but worse. God loves his creation though. He does not want anyone to miss out on a relationship with Him.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Romans 3:23 (Holman Christian Standard)

So God sent His son, Jesus, to the world to command the world to once again obey God. Knowing that man could not obey God without help, Jesus also had another mission, one that would not be revealed to the world until it was complete. Jesus was to die to pay the price of death for all sin of all time.

But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us!

Romans 5:8 (Holman Christian Standard)

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 (Holman Christian Standard)

What must I do to be saved?

Growing up, I was taught in church that all that was required to be saved was to say a short prayer and I would go to Heaven and not Hell. While the people who taught this were well-meaning, they were oversimplifying a process that requires guidance and constant attention.

The people who taught me this pulled from Romans 10:9.

if you confess 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 (Holman Christian Standard)

Being saved is not simply saying a little prayer. It is looking to and remembering the action Jesus took in sacrificing himself for all of mankind. It involves relying on God to transform you rather than anything you can do to earn salvation.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Matthew 19:23-26 (Holman Christian Standard)

Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart!

Some of the most prominent preachers and evangelists boil salvation down to a pre-written prayer sometimes called the Sinner’s Prayer. It was meant to simplify the process by adding acknowledgement of our sinful nature, recognizing the need for Jesus to atone for that sin, and committing your life to the mission Christ left His followers.

The problem with simplifying salvation to a prayer is that without following up and disciplining (mentoring) the person who prays it is people treat it like fire insurance. Too often, it’s treated as a “get out of hell free” card or a license to sin.

The Sinner’s Prayer isn’t bad, and some people who pray it are saved. But the prayer itself doesn’t provide salvation. It can’t save you, only your posture toward Jesus can do that.

How Do I Know I’ve Been Saved?

There are two key ingredients to being saved. The first is repentance. Repentance is more than asking for forgiveness, it is turning away from sin. To be saved you have to forsake your sin. Leave it like a toxic relationship and never look back.

It doesn’t mean you will never sin again, but you should never WANT to sin again. You shouldn’t be actively seeking out sin.

The second ingredient is faith. Many people mistake faith for belief. I believe in a chair. I believe it exists and I believe that it has held other people who put their entire weight on it.

Until I place my trust in the chair by transferring all of my weight onto it, I am not placing my faith in it. This is the difference between belief and faith. Until you can rest your full weight of your eternal destiny squarely on Jesus, you are not practicing faith.

Take Up Your Cross

Following Christ requires a daily commitment to live according to His teachings and to love other people enough to continue a lifelong mission to introduce others to God.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life?

Matthew 16:24-26 (Holman Christian Standard)