Harold Harvey’s question above raises a relevant point…
A young chap I was talking with recently said to me, ‘Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than does going into a garage makes you a car.’
I’ve heard this many times before. The young man believed he was telling me something quite profound so I didn’t let him know that what he had said was ‘old hat’ to me as I thought that he believed he was giving to me a pearl of wisdom and I didn’t want to spoil the moment for him.
What he did say though begs the question, ‘What is a Christian?’
‘The done thing’
Like a lot of people my age, it was the ‘done thing’ in society to christen or baptise babies. It was considered the ‘respectable’ thing to do. My parents (non-church goers) did what was then considered the respectable thing to do in society so I was christened (‘Christianised’) into the Church of England (Anglican) when I was a baby.
This was an act in which I did not give consent and about which I had no knowledge of what the Christian faith was all about. How could I? When as a boy and in my early teens I was asked what ‘religion’ I was, I answered ‘Church of England.’
What people meant to say when asking your religion was, ‘What Christian denomination do you belong to?’ It was assumed that the religion of our country was Christianity so the question of your ‘religion’ was asked in order to discover the Christian denomination you belonged to.
However – sad to say – it is no longer true to say, if ever it were, that the religion of our country is Christianity. Given that Jesus said only the few would find the ‘narrow way that leads to eternal life’ whereas the many go on the ‘broad way that leads to destruction’ and that Paul said, ‘Not all men have faith’ (Matthew 7:13-14; 2 Thessalonians 3:2), any country would be hard pressed to claim it was Christian. So to our question: ‘What is a Christian?’
Early church fathers wrote against heresies. One put it quite succinctly when he said, in effect, ‘How can one be a Christian when one doesn’t believe those things which, when believed, makes one a Christian?’
Believing fundamental beliefs
Firstly, being a Christian entails believing certain fundamental truths about the person of Jesus Christ.
The apostle John, in writing the conclusion of his gospel said, ‘But these (the things he wrote concerning Jesus) are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in his name’ (John 20:31).
One of the essential tenets of faith of a Christian is that Jesus is divine (the Son of God) but not only that, but that he was God in the flesh and that he still is God. (See John 1:1, 14).
It is essential that a Christian believes in the efficacy and purpose of Jesus’ death on the cross of Calvary. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15: 1-4 what may be said to be ‘the gospel in a nutshell’:
‘Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.’
Jesus also said that he was the only way to God (John 14:6). A Christian believes that …
(1) Jesus died as an atoning sacrifice for our sins to pave the way for God to forgive us our sins when, believing in Christ, we confess them and repent of them.
(2) His death was real (not fainting or swooning) and that he rose again from the dead to justify all those who believe in him.
Given that we are called on to ‘repent and believe the gospel,’ it is evident that having a Christian faith translates into living a godly life.
If we consider the teachings of the New Testament, we’ll see that, while there is a lot telling us what should be believed as a follower of Christ, there is also a whole lot telling us how we should live once having become a Christian.
The mark of a Christian then is that he or she now believes wholeheartedly and unreservedly in the essential truths concerning Jesus Christ: His person, his atoning death for sin and his resurrection from the dead, making him the one mediator between God and men (1Timothy 2:5).
As to living the Christian life, one should remember that no-one becomes automatically perfect by any means but nevertheless one who is a Christian should be showing signs of becoming Christ-like as he or she follows on in faith to follow the Lord Jesus, progressing in the application of his teachings.
In the New Testament, the first Christians were called, among other things, ‘believers’ (they believed in what was taught about Christ) and ‘followers’ (they followed Jesus’ teachings).
May we demonstrate we are Christians by expressing Bible-based beliefs and our Christlike living.
Harold Harvey has ministered in Foursquare Church and Christian Revival Crusade churches and is currently a minister in the Australian Christian Churches. Now retired – though not believing in ministerial retirement – he continues ministry with weekly write-ups (Beams of Light), link: firstname.lastname@example.org