Living in the so-called “Bible Belt,” it seems like everyone and their mother considers themselves to be Christians. Oddly, with so many “Christians” running around the country, it seems like there has never been such a time of moral degradation in the United States as today. The sad reality is that not everyone who says they are a Christian are in fact Christians. While there are many historical factors that led to this sad state of self-deception, the common denominator is a departure from the Bible and its authority. So with all this confusion about what it means to be a Christian, we need a solid, Biblical definition of the word.
A Student of the Master
The word “Christian” refers to a person who is a disciple of Jesus Christ. This was the fundamental call of the Great Commission in Matthew 28: go and make disciples. A disciple is a student, a learner. In the context of first century Judea, a disciple would, quite literally, follow in the footsteps of his teacher as the rabbi traveled. So, a Christian is one who follows in the footsteps of Jesus; in other words, a person who has devoted his or her life to conforming their life to the teachings of Jesus.
A Follower, Not a Pioneer
This leads to an important implication that we have to get right early on: Christianity is about following Jesus, not pioneering our own way. Some people consider the Bible to be nothing more than a guidebook. They think that it is a good starting place with some good precepts to follow, but that they can adjust it or disregard it as it suits their purpose. There a lot of problems with that way of thinking, but one of those problems is that it is not the attitude of a follower.
True Christianity follows Jesus; it is not about pioneering our own way. This plays out by an unending desire and quest to live a life in total conformity to all of Jesus’ teachings, not just the ones we like. The basis for this type of devotion is the fact that Christians are people who have been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20). This necessarily comes with the recognition that we cannot live to ourselves, but are rather slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:18).
The Chief Mark of a Christian
What this means is that there are measurable, identifiable marks of a Christian. The chief mark of the disciple of Jesus is love: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (Jn. 13:35). In fact, Paul says that love is the fulfillment of the law of God: “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). Indeed, the Lord Jesus himself taught that the entire law hangs upon the two precepts of loving God and loving others.
Trees and Their Fruit
The question, then, becomes: “How can I know that I am a Christian?” Jesus tells us the answer: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). There is also a somewhat scary example that our Lord gives in the Sermon on the Mount:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.Matthew 7:21-23
It’s not enough to just say or to even think that you are a Christian. Jesus said that if you love him, you will keep his commandments. Are you seeking to follow the commandments of Jesus? Look over the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5: can you say that you are striving to exhibit each of those traits in your own life? Are you praying for the Holy Spirit to work in you a greater conformity to Christ?
Do you submit yourself to the authority of the Bible? Not just in some areas, but in every aspect of your life. The true Christian does not say, “I know what the Bible says about such-and-such an issue, but….” The true Christian says, “Whatever the Bible tells me, that will I live by.”
How to Be A Christian
Perhaps someone reading this may realize that they are not really a Christian after all, even though they thought they were. The good news is this: it’s not too late! We are not promised tomorrow, but God, in his goodness, has given you today. Today is the day of salvation! Repent of your sin and trust in the finished work of Jesus. Live your life as a living sacrifice for the glory of God by obeying the commands of Jesus (Rom. 12:1-2).