If someone asked you what the dictionary definition of a Christian is you would probably say “a person professing belief in Jesus as the Christ and in His teachings". While this is true, like many dictionary definitions this really doesn’t communicate what it means to be a Christian.
The word Christian appears three times in the New Testament;
Acts 11:26 (NLT) When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.)
Acts 26:28 (NLT) Agrippa interrupted him. “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?”
1 Peter 4:16 (NLT) But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name!
Considering how the word “Christian” is used in these three verses it literally means, “belonging to the association or alliance of Christ” or a “follower of Christ.”
While that is the dictionary definition of “Christian” it doesn’t really describe what it means to be a Christian. If you apply the dictionary definition many people who do not believe and trust in Jesus Christ could, and in many cases do, consider themselves Christians because they go to church or they live in a “Christian” nation. But going to church, or being a good person does not make you a Christian. Being a member of a church, attending services regularly, and giving to the work of the church does not make you a Christian.
What a person does doesn’t make them a Christian. As a matter of fact the Bible says that there is nothing that a person can do to make themselves a Christian. You become a Christian by God’s grace through faith. In other words it’s a gift from God.
Titus 3:4-5 (NLT)4 But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love,5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
A Christian is someone who becomes one by the actions of God.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
The first thing we need to understand is that this new creation is something created by God.
John 1:12-13 (NKJV) 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
This new birth or creation was brought about by the will of God. We didn't inherit this new nature, and we didn't re-create ourselves. God didn't just clean up our old nature either; He created something entirely fresh and unique. The new creation is completely new, created from nothing, just as the whole universe was created by God from nothing. Only God can do that.
We don’t know how it happens but we know that is does. In Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus when he asked Jesus how is it possible to born again Jesus said;
John 3:7-8 (NKJV) 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."
John 3:3-7 (NLT)3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’
The following section is my interpretation of an Issues of Faith column in the Peninsula Daily News written by The Rev. Patrick Lovejoy of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Port Angeles, WA.
HAVE YOU EVER wondered what makes a Christian a Christian?
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. — Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV
It is interesting how we often adopt terms and titles in our lives without fully knowing what they imply. For instance, what does it mean to be a Washingtonian or an American? Sure, we come up with quick answers like, “It’s where I was born,” but do these titles change the perspective on our lives and the world we live in?
It is interesting to me when a person from the Northwest, Southeast or Midwest travels around the country, how the locals can always tell who the stranger is by their customs and mannerisms.
That example pales in comparison to the recent controversies we are repeatedly exposed to that challenge our sense of national identity as we say definitively, “That is not very American!”
The point is, we all have different experiences and definitions as to what makes us … well, us. Thank God this obscure and nebulous, self-defining reality is not the basis of our identity as Christians.
No, we have been given this identity with clear description concerning its nature. Therefore, when somebody accuses us of “not being very Christian” we know exactly what that means. But do they?
Being a Christian is not being self-righteous. Being a Christian is not boasting of all the good you may have accomplished in your life or how you are able to refrain from the temptations of this life.
Being a Christian is not found in how one points to themselves, but points to the One who called them by name;
John 15:16 (NLT) You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.
The One who took on their brokenness and suffered and died for their sin;
1 Peter 2:24 (NLT)24 He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.
Who has given them pardon and peace from their guilt
Romans 4:25 (NLT) He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.
Colossians 1:12-14 (NLT)12 always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son,14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.
Who gives them everlasting life;
John 11:25 (NLT) Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52 (NLT)51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed!52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.
It is easy for a person to fall into the trap of thinking that being a Christian hinges on their decisions or their actions. There are many false teachings that declare that you are only a Christian if you make a bold decision, dedicate yourself to the Lord and live a life of purity.
In my opinion, there is no difference between those teachings and all other false teachings of the other man-made religions of the world where the participants try to ascend to God — as if he could be impressed by us and our choices, as if words we speak could rise to the level of being equal with the work of Christ on his cross.
No, as Ephesians 2:8-9 says clearly: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (2:8 ESV).
Christians are those who make the bold confession that they have been saved by faith, a faith imparted to them by the Holy Spirit through the Word of Christ.
Romans 10:17 (NLT) So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.
Trust in Christ
Being a Christian, therefore, is not found in placing our trust in decisions we make, words we speak or actions we take, but in Christ who saved us when we were still enemies to him and dead in our trespasses.
Romans 5:10 (NLT) For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.
Ephesians 2:4-6 (NLT)4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much,
5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)6 For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.
What a relief that being Christian doesn’t depend on me; it depends on Christ, who saved me. It is easy for the world to look at a Christian and see them as broken, flawed and hypocritical, and therefore judge Christianity as being phony.
The world, and Christians, at times forget that being broken, flawed, even hypocritical is being Christian, as it is marks this earthly pilgrimage and struggles we face as we cling to Christ as our sole source of salvation.
Being a Christian is proclaiming to the world that God in Christ has been merciful to even me … a sinner
Luke 18:13-14 (NLT)13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
1 Timothy 1:15-16 (NLT)15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.16 But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.
This doesn’t mean you can live your life any way you want because you’ll be forgiven
Romans 6:1-4 (NLT)1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
This doesn’t mean that you give up aspiring to demonstrate your salvation in your lives by living a life worthy of your calling
Philippians 2:12-18 (NLT)12 Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.14 Do everything without complaining and arguing,15 so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.16 Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless.17 But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy.
18 Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy.
What this all means is that you strive to live your life according to the will of God because of what he has done for you, not because of what he might do for you.
A Christian does what they do because they are Christian, not because they want to be or remain Christians.
Remember, it is by grace you have been saved. It is that same grace we have been called to share with the whole world.
This blog is for you! If you have any questions or topics you would like me to address please use the comments section or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Donald Jacobs is an ordained minister with the spiritual gift of teaching. He is the Associate Pastor of a non-denominational church in Los Angeles, CA.