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).

Ask Questions

One of the best ways to engage with others is to ask questions.

Asking questions forces you to listen to answers. It also allows you to invest in someone as urged in the previous lesson – Engaging with others.

Why should I ask questions?

When we start stating our opinions or firming up our position, it puts our audience in a defensive position. They may start to formulate an answer to what you are saying, closing themselves off to your responses.

Asking questions on the other hand, tends to disarm people. It allows them to lay out their beliefs in a non-confrontational manner and shows them that you care not only about what they believe, but why.

It also has the added benefit of providing openings to ask more questions. Through asking questions you can lead someone to a conclusion instead of telling them how to get there.

Does asking questions make me a student or teacher?

A good teacher realizes they will always be a student. Just as you look to teach others about your faith, you should also look to learn from others what they believe. This will help you in future interactions with others who may have similar beliefs.

Hopefully the line of questioning rewards you with a deeper interaction with the person. In an ideal situation, they in turn will ask you questions which will deepen their understanding of your faith and how rooted it is in Christ.

Even if it doesn’t, don’t be dissuaded! You either succeed, or you learn. To succeed, you must learn.

When should I ask questions?

As soon as the opportunity presents itself. It can come as quick as after a greeting, or after an introduction. It may also come after a long discussion over another topic, such as politics or the weather.

One question that usually breaks the ice and turns the subject is “Do you go to church?” Answering ‘Yes’ does not necessarily mean that they believe in Christianity or that they are a Christian. In the same vein, answering ‘No’ doesn’t necessarily mean they are lost.

Their answers do clue you in to what your next few questions should be. The questions you ask following the ‘Yes’ answer could be “What do you believe about Jesus?” or “Do you believe in Heaven/Hell?” These can clue you in to whether they truly are followers of Christ.

The ‘No’ answer can elicit questions like “Have you ever been to church?” or “Is there any particular reason why?” Most people I have encountered are glad to share their negative reasons for not attending church.

Maintain your focus

Keeping your focus will help you guide the person to the discussion you want, which should be the topic of their salvation. Of course, jumping right into that conversation can put people off and keep you from ever getting past their rejection.

Remember that if you are rejected, it isn’t you they are rejecting, but Jesus. Just because they reject Him today, doesn’t mean they will always reject Him. Just a crop has to be cultivated after it is planted, so people sometimes must be tended by many before taking root and growing in faith.

You should also be growing as well. Discipleship starts with putting prayer and lessons learned through reading scripture into practice. Asking questions when engaging with others starts you on a path to discipleship by spreading the gospel as Jesus has commanded us all to do.

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Engage With Others

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” Colossians 4:5-6 – HCSB

Just as faith without works is dead, sharing a message with no one is useless. What good is it to proclaim good news when no one is listening? We need to engage with others.

Why should anyone listen if all you do is talk? Engagement is not one sided. It is not preaching, lecturing, or talking down to someone.

Engagement involves listening and talking. It is truly hearing what someone else says, allowing yourself to process it, and then responding in a kind and thoughtful manner.

How do I engage with others?

While I have never been formally diagnosed with social anxiety, I am almost sure I suffer at least a mild form. Even at family events, when things get too loud or too many people are moving, I withdraw to a quiet place.

The more I noticed this in myself, the more I see those around me battling with the same symptoms. I have seen this in my daughter, my boss, and many others I have observed, which leads me to believe this is a bigger epidemic than I want to admit.

This anxiety makes it even harder to engage with others. The ability to approach a stranger and start a conversation is a daunting task for the most outgoing person. Add to that task the obstacle of social anxiety, and it feels almost impossible at times to share God’s message.

Engage with others – don’t dominate the conversation

“My dearly loved brothers, understand this: everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger,” James 1:19 – HCSB

When I do engage with others, I tend to make the conversation one sided. I feel that if I can talk without interruption, I can get through what I have to say and not have to deal with anxiety.

“A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions.” Proverbs 18:2 – HCSB

Doing this keeps me from a relationship with that person, though. If I don’t take the time to listen, they know I am not invested in them. If I don’t invest anything in them, why should they invest in what I have to say? Even if I have irrefutable proof that what I say is true and would benefit them, they are not inclined to listen because I haven’t invested in them.

“An offended brother is [harder to reach] than a fortified city, and quarrels are like the bars of a fortress.” Proverbs 18:19 – HCSB

Paying attention only costs time

So if there is an investment opportunity, what would the investment cost you? Time is probably the most valuable asset we have in life. Money, possessions, relationships, you can amass as much of these as you want given enough time.

If time is the most valuable asset, what are you investing yours in? I’ll be honest. I love video games. I have invested a great deal of time and money into them. In return, I have gained a small measure of personal gratification and escape from life’s day to day issues.

If I had been investing the same resources into relationships, I may have found some more friends, but ultimately I should have cultivated relationships between people and God. If I truly believe Jesus meant what he said when he gave the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), then I should be investing in God’s creation.

Start to engage with others

“[I pray] that your participation in the faith may become effective through knowing every good thing that is in us for [the glory of] Christ.” Philemon 1:6 – HCSB

Invest in others by engaging with them. You just may find that you are also investing with yourself. Using prayer, reading scripture, and doing good works will draw you closer to God. Introducing people to God also increases your circle.

This begins the next phase in Christianity in general. Discipleship is more than teaching others about God. It is a training that you undertook when you made the decision to follow Christ. There comes a time where you should both be mentored and be a mentor.

While teaching others about Christ and His ministry, you should also be teaching them how to defend that faith, how to introduce others to Christ, and ultimately how to teach others to defend their newfound faith. Christianity is a relational belief system, and without the relationship, you cannot find success in sharing your faith with others.

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Faith and Works

Faith and works, which is more important? When it comes to salvation, the Bible is pretty clear. So why are we still confused?

“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him?

“If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.

“But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder.

Foolish man! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected.” James 2:14-22

What is more important, faith or works?

It is a long held assertion that faith is more important than works Taking the verses Ephesians 2:8-9 at face value, this appears to be true. Indeed, through faith we are saved by grace. The verses go on to say that salvation is not from ourselves, that it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast.

James clarifies this in chapter 2 where he states that faith without works is useless. Works are a natural manifestation of faith. That is to say that when you have true, genuine faith, you will naturally want to do good works.

Do I have to do works to be saved?

Well, no. Faith in Jesus as your eternal salvation is all that is required to be saved. If works are a natural manifestation of faith, however, not desiring to do works could be a sign that your faith isn’t as strong as you think it is.

Look at the life Christ lived. His faith was on display through the lessons he taught, the miracles he performed, and the people he loved. He didn’t just give lip service to the Father. He lived out his lessons, and led by example.

This was the point James was making when he said that Abraham’s works when he was willing to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice displayed his faith.

Do works prove I am saved?

Sorry, but no. While works are one sign to look for in a person claiming to be saved, it is not the only sign. Many “good people” do good works and are outspoken about their unbelief.

A great number of world faiths also teach doing good works. Buddhism, for example, teaches karma. Karma is the belief that whatever good or bad a person does comes back to them.

The message of Christianity is that we all deserve eternal death for the sin we commit, therefore God’s grace is required to escape eternal death. We don’t have to do good works to earn salvation because God has already given this to us freely. We are free to do good works because of God’s gift of grace.

How can I start doing good works?

Often, Christians get hung up at the beginning. With stories throughout the Bible of godly men like Moses, Joshua, David, and Peter, Christians tend to think big. We really don’t need to deliver the world to God. It already belongs to Him.

Start small. Ask your preacher how you can help at your church. Many churches have so many needs and so few people to help. Jobs like kitchen duty, help with children’s ministry, technical services, janitorial services, lawn care, and more are neglected because church staff can only do so much.

Contact a local charity. Don’t do this instead of helping at your church. Do this in addition to helping at church. Outreach needs to be all of our mission. Don’t leave this to church staff or those involved in “outreach ministry”. All kinds of opportunities exist from feeding the homeless to staffing a women’s shelter or joining a prison ministry.

What’s next?

After you start doing good works, now it is time to engage with others. Don’t do this with an argumentative heart, however. In love, you must learn to listen and address the concerns and issues others have. We don’t win people to Christ. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. Our job is to spread His word and allow Him to work in the lives of those we share our lives with.

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Reading Scripture Reveals God’s Will

After prayer, reading scripture is the next line of defense any follower of Christ should build. Many people wish and ask for a manual for life. The Bible is that manual. But God’s word is more than a manual, it is a love story to His creation, humans.

“So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. ” – Romans 10:17 HCSB

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 HCSB

God’s Word: The Ultimate Love Story

When we think of love stories, we think of romance novels and sappy stories of puppy love turned “true love’ within 300 pages of a writer’s imagination.

God’s love story to humans is the definition of true love. His love is unconditional, it doesn’t matter what we do, or say, or think. God loves us enough to chase us and give us direction and purpose.

Why Do I Need To Pray Before Reading Scripture?

Many non-believers I have spoken with or discussed my faith with have seemingly enjoyed bringing up “inconsistencies” in the Bible. These bits of “knowledge” they hit unprepared believers with tend to trip us up, and keep us from effectively defending our faith.

The truth is, if read separately and apart from the context around it, any verse can be twisted to say almost anything. In truth, any literary work can be twisted when taken out of context.

“For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart. ” – Hebrews 4:12 HCSB

This is where the Holy Spirit supplements our knowledge. He guides and protects us, keeping our mind clear and our spirit open for His message. When we begin to research what others question us about, prayer gets us in tune with the Holy Spirit.

What about the contradictions in the Bible?

To someone who is new to reading scripture, it seems like God in the old testament is way more vengeful and angry than God in the new testament.

The truth is that God supplied a way to learn what sin was through the Ten Commandments (found in Exodus 20). He also provided a path to redemption when people did sin through the sacrifice of animals. He knew there would never be a way to reconcile people who did not seek His will.

So a plan was in place to save all those willing through the eternal sacrifice of his son Jesus. Before the time that was given for this sacrifice, God sent His people to warn and sometimes plead with people to turn from their sin.

Some people did not heed this warning, so he destroyed entire cities, and even the whole Earth. Eventually, the time came and His son was sent to the world, marking the beginning of the New Testament.

Eternal Atonement

While these same events did not happen in the New Testament, Jesus held fast that the commandments were God’s will for man, and that sacrifice was necessary to atone for that sin.

With an ambassador on Earth, God revealed his ultimate plan through the life of his son. Jesus clarified His father’s will, and revealed that He was leaving a legacy for the world to carry on His father’s message. That legacy is the church.

Jesus paid the ultimate price for the world’s sin when he returned to Jerusalem, His earthly birthplace. Betrayed by one of His followers, he is arrested, accused of crimes, given little more than a posse trial, then executed.

His resurrection proved His message was true and that He was indeed the Son of God. Returning to His followers, He left a plan and a mission for all those who would follow after Him.

A Boring Book

I used to think of the Bible as a boring book with little to no application to my life. This assertion couldn’t be further than the truth.

Besides being a guide to a more fulfilling life, it is a book dealing with rape, divorce, murder, greed, power struggle, and politics. It has angels, demons, corrupt people, and innocent children for characters. It turns outcasts into heroes, people like prostitutes, tax collectors, murderers, liars, and thieves.

The best thing about reading scripture though, is that it reveals our creator to us. His love, His wrath, His joy, and His pain are laid out over 66 books, reminding us all we are created in His image.

Reading the Bible prepares you for the next step in studying apologetics. It is not enough to merely read scripture. It must be put into action.

“This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night, so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do. ” – Joshua 1:8 HCSB

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Prayer Most Effective Christian Tool

Studying apologetics takes a lost of concentration and preparation. The first step when dealing with God, and especially learning more about who He is and why you believe in Him is to pray to Him.

It all starts with Prayer

Quite literally, prayer to God is the first thing a Christian does acknowledging that they are a sinner, and in need of a savior to bridge the gap to Heaven.

Too often, “Christians” stop their prayer life there. We must think it is okay to declare that Christ is Lord once, and be done with it. Like we just sign an eternal fire insurance policy and never bother to check what premiums we need to pay to keep the policy up to date.

I’ve heard my whole life, “Once saved, always saved.” I still believe this is true, but James 2:17 says “Faith without works is dead”. Faith is an active thing, not a passive creed.

Communication with God

Christians have a unique ability. We can actually communicate with the creator of the universe, and he wants to have a relationship with us! The first line of communication is prayer.

I’ll admit, at first it is strange to pour your heart out to a seemingly invisible God who you aren’t sure is listening and doesn’t seem to respond. The more you practice though, the easier it becomes to share your hopes and fears, loves and hates, and all your innermost secrets through prayer.

Eventually, you will learn to listen to God. He rarely speaks audibly, but I have heard his words through reading scripture, being silent in meditation, and through friends and family who unknowingly carry his message to me.

I don’t know how to pray

That’s ok! Rest assured I didn’t either. Prayer seemed foreign to me. I remember the first time I prayed in a group as a teenager.

I had gone to church camp with my aunt’s church. After arriving and unloading all our stuff, we met in the common room. After some skits they had prepared, and a quick message, the leaders asked who would pray for the group.

I wish the story was that I volunteered and said the most glorious prayer. The fact is that I was not only new to prayer, but the whole group thing was foreign to me. As I shrank behind the group, I heard one person say “Let the new kid do it.” Then they all said my name and I felt trapped. I had to say something.

I remember stammering out a quick prayer and everyone telling me how good I did. I didn’t believe them, but I did appreciate it. Over time, I learned to let go of my apprehension and just talk to God. Now, I pray once a week in public for the small group I lead.

Just start

There’s no magic to it. Jesus does give us an example of how to pray in Matthew 6, but remember that it is an example and not to become your every prayer. The longer you do it and the more comfortable you become, it will get easier. 1 Thessalonians 5:7 commands us to pray without ceasing. I would guess that would give anyone plenty of practice.

I have yet to pray without ceasing, but I will continue to work toward it. To be effective at Christian apologetics, I must have an active prayer life.

For more resources on prayer, I recommend visiting desiringgod.org. They have a number of articles about all aspects of prayer.

prayer to understand the bible

Prayer also helps us to understand the next step of preparation to begin studying apologetics. Asking the Holy Spirit for understanding and clarity in the verses you study will help immensely.

According to desiringgod.org, there are four things we should pray for before we study the Bible.

The four items to pray for

First, we should pray for open eyes. It is possible to read the same verse repeatedly and get something different from it each time. We should ask God to guide us to the knowledge he wants us to have from his word.

Next, we should pray for mercy. Staying humble and acknowledging that you are in need of God’s mercy allows you to approach the Word with a clear mind and heart for God’s people and his message.

Then, pray to be a doer of His Word. Jesus didn’t call people to merely study God’s Word. He called for them to live His Message out through their own lives. The Bible is a living document, and it is the Holy Spirit that moves the readers to find the message He wants them to have. Those lessons must be put to use to be of any benefit.

Finally, pray that He open your eyes to Jesus. The story of the Bible is a story of Jesus, and He is woven throughout all of the books of the Bible. As being a Christian is to be like Christ, you should be looking for Jesus in all scripture.

The Next Step to preparing for apologetics

Join me for the next lesson which will be reading the Bible. The scriptures are God’s living document to us. It is a love story for humans, explaining God’s love for His creation.

We should not look at is as a chore to slog through, but as a letter we’ve been waiting a long time for from a trusted and valued friend.

Will you read this letter, or will you toss it aside?

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Apologetics for every Christian

What is apologetics?

Dictionary.com defines apologetics as ‘reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine’.

The word apologetics derives from the greek word ἀπολογία (apologia) which means “speaking in defense”.

Many people have a hard time with that definition. When I first started studying apologetics, many people would ask me why Christianity needed any defense.

After all, can’t God defend himself?

Of course God can defend himself. He is God after all. I study apologetics to improve my own faith and to offer a defense for why I believe the way I do. It is for my benefit, and the benefit of those around me, not for God’s.

Ultimately, however, God is who will receive the glory of my study. For what does it benefit me to defend God unless that defense leads to people not only to believe in God, but to go and make more disciples of Christ?

Why study Christian apologetics?

Besides cultivating a deeper understanding for what I say I believe, studying Christian apologetics has the added benefit of obeying scripture.

You read that right, it is Biblically sound to study apologetics. In fact, 1 Peter 3:14-16 says:

“But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, but set apart the Messiahas Lord in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.” HCSB

Called to defense

So you should actually be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. More succinctly, you should give a defense for why you trusted Jesus with your eternal salvation.

This should be done with gentleness and respect, though. If not, your defense will fall on deaf ears, and you will be merely trying to win an argument instead of winning souls.

Where do I begin?

The first place is none other than the Good Book itself, the Bible. Many Christians have never read the entire Bible, myself included.

I have committed to doing that several times, and I get stuck somewhere in the first five books. So, I will be finding a plan and sticking to it. I have even found and purchased the Apologetics Study Bible, which has a great number of resources alongside the scriptures.

Another great place to learn more is to read the writings of other well known Christians. C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell, J.P. Moreland, Ravi Zacharias, and many other authors have written some great books, letters, and short papers on a variety of subjects pertaining to Christian apologetics.

Many of the authors mentioned above also have websites and list resources for further study.

related resources

Additionally, websites like apologetics315.com, carm.org, or arcapologetics.org also provide great resources for learning more about Christian apologetics.

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