red apples

FAQ#2: What Does It Mean To Be A Christian?

Introduction

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).


brown sand love text on seashore

Love Things Nothing Worth

Introduction

The title of this post comes from one of my favorite poems, Shakespeare’s Sonnet No. 72; in that poem, Shakespeare laments the fact that his loved one will have to make up lies about him after his death to make him seem worthy of being loved. Over the past week, I have been preparing a sermon from 1 Corinthians 13, the famous “love chapter.” Unfortunately, common usage relegates this text to weddings and marriages. In reality, this chapter is primarily concerned with showing the superiority of Christian love to spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:31). But in this article, I would like to briefly consider a point that may get lost in translation: the value of love’s object.

Origins and Translations

In 1 Corinthians 13, the word that is translated as “love” in modern translations is the Greek word agape. This word is virtually unheard of outside of the New Testament, with a few exceptions in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This word refers specifically to Christian love; in other words, this love is unlike anything else in the natural human experience. Though modern translations use the word “love,” if you use the King James Version (as I do), you’ll notice that it uses the word “charity.” Rather than simply being an archaic usage, there is an excellent reason why the King James Version translators used that word, and we should as well.

The Meaning of Charity

Though now days we associate “charity” only with giving money to the poor, this word has a rich origin that sheds light on the Biblical definition of love. The word “charity” comes from the Latin word caritas, which means something that is dear, or costly, or that has a high price. This origin tells us something that may surprise you about Biblical love, something that makes it unique among human experience.

The Value of Charity’s Object

The point behind the use of the word “charity” is to show us that love, Christian love, places a high value on its object. So the question then becomes, what is the object of Christian love? The text of 1 Corinthians 13 is dealing specifically with love for other people. This is the second great commandment: love our neighbor as ourselves. Like children seeking to escape responsibility, we then ask, “Who is my neighbor?” Thankfully, Jesus answers this question for us.

First, our neighbor includes other Christians. In John 13:34-35, Jesus told his disciples, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

Second, our neighbor includes people who are not Christians. In Matthew 5:44, the Lord Jesus said this: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

So essentially, our neighbor includes every human being. There are only two types of people in the world: the Christian and the non-Christian. And we are to love all of them. And this love places a high price upon the good of all men, even at a high cost to ourselves. We are not only to love our wives (though we should) or the Christians that we disagree with (though we must), but we are also to love those who are our worst enemies.

The Root of Charity

But this love is not humanistic. Humanism is the idea that life is all about human beings, that people are inherently good and therefore have worth. But the Bible tells a different story. The Biblical record is that human beings are sinful, wicked down to the core, and deserve only judgment and condemnation. So, Christian love cannot be humanistic; it cannot be rooted in mankind. Rather, Christian love is rooted in God’s love toward us.

In Romans 5:8, we read these remarkable words: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Do you see what Paul is saying? While we were yet his enemies, rebels against his lordship, God demonstrated his love toward us in his own Son Jesus Christ.

Christian love, then, is dying to ourselves. It is placing the good of others (even our worst enemies) above ourselves. It is imitating the love of God shed abroad in our hearts (Rom. 5:5). Is your life marked by this kind of love? Can your worst enemy say of you, “So-and-so loves me?” If not, ask the Lord to forgive you for not loving your neighbor as yourself, and ask for grace to strive to manifest the love of God in your own life.