There is much confusion in Christianity today on what it means to be a Christian. The church, in general, seems to have lost the identity they are supposed to clearly teach. Because of the bombardment of absurd statements about what a Christian is, I am writing this article to clarify the subject. A Christian has repentance, faith, good works, the Holy Spirit and Love. If any of these are not present, then that person lacks the qualities of a Christian. An example of the confusion in Christianity can be found in the article on “What does being a Christian really mean?” found at Frontiersman.com.
What IS NOT a Christian
Before I begin diving into what it means to be a Christian, I am going to briefly discuss what a Christian is not. Christians cite Romans as the way to become a Christian.
That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Rom 10:9-10 NAS)
This passage is notoriously quoted to show that you just need to confess Jesus in front of a crowd of people or pray a “sinners prayer” to accept Jesus. This in turn will supposedly grant you eternal salvation according to this view.
Confessing Jesus does not make you a Christian.
Confessing Jesus has become the “Method” of receiving “salvation”. You see this quite frequently with the “Sinners Prayer” or the “Altar Call” where the “Evangelist” calls people to come to the front of the church and “Accept Jesus into their Heart”. It does not take much to refute this when matched up to other passages in the Bible. Matthew states in Chapter 7 that not everyone who calls upon the Lord will be saved. Matthew says,
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ (Mat 7:21-23 NAS)
Christians do confess Jesus Christ as Lord; however, confessing Jesus Christ as Lord is not what saves you. Confessing Christ is a result of salvation, not the cause of salvation
Simply believing in Jesus does not make you a Christian
While belief in Christ is necessary for salvation (1 Jo 5:10), belief by itself does not make someone a Christian.
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (Jam 2:19 NAS)
Certainly the devil himself believes in God and Christ since he was face to face with God (Job 1:1). Faith must produce works. James states,
Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. (Jam 2:17 NAS)
Agreeing to a checklist of theological points does not make you a Christian. Many Christians will say that if you believe that Jesus is God, that he died for your sins, that he rose from the dead, the Bible is the word of God and so forth, that you are a Christian. Simply mentally agreeing to facts does not make you a Christian at all. Of course, Christians do believe the doctrines of the church; however, believing the doctrines of Christ are a result or “evidence” of salvation not the cause.
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Rom 1:21 NAS)
“Making Jesus your Lord” does not make you a Christian
You may hear someone say “You need to make Jesus your Lord to be saved”. The actual teaching to “make Jesus Lord” is not even found in Scripture. Although following God’s commandments are imperative to everyone, whether Christian or not, following God’s commandments will not save you.
Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified. (Gal 2:16 NAS)
While Christ has many excellent life lessons, following them will by no means gain anyone entrance into heaven.
The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? (Jer 17:9 NAS)
It is impossible to do anything right in God’s sight without faith and the Spirit of God.
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Heb 11:6 NAS) and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:8 NAS)
Following Christ is a result of salvation and not the cause of salvation either.
Having a personal experience with Jesus or the Holy Spirit does not make you a Christian
Having some “experience” that someone felt or went through does not make someone a Christian either. You hear people make the claim that they “speak in tongues”, were “baptized by the Holy Spirit”, or had a “spiritual awakening”. This does not make them a Christian.
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. (Heb 6:4-6 NAS)
Being a Christian is not a momentary experience. Nor is it a feeling you have inside. In fact, experiences or feelings toward God are not taught in the Bible at all.
Going to church and reading the Bible does not make you a Christian
Another misconception about Christianity is the understanding that, if you go to church and read the Bible, you are a Christian. The Bible plainly teaches that God does not want people going to church to merely “clock in” and show they are participants. The gospel of Mark states,
And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’
(Mar 7:6-7 NAS)
This is the meaning behind the 3rd Commandment that “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. (Deu 5:11 NAS).” As a matter of fact, God will judge those who just attend church in vain.
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.
(Rev 3:14-16 NAS)
Merely reading your Bible is not proof of a Christian life. Jesus said to the Pharisees,
You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life.
(Joh 5:39-40 NAS)
What IS a Christian
Now that I have made it clear what a Christian is not, I will explain what a Christian is. There are five characteristics that are required for someone to rightly call themselves a Christian: Repentance, Faith, Works, the Holy Spirit, and love. All of these must be present in the person. Lacking any of these will place that person outside of being Christian.
Christians must have Repentance
A core principle that rules the Christian life is repentance. Repentance can be defined as follows:
<3341>μετάνοια, ας, ἡ (metanoia) Meaning: change of mind, repentance Origin: from 3340 Usage: repentance(22). Strongs Concordance for the New American Standard Bible
Repentance is a “change of mind” about yourself. You know you have repentance when you see yourself as a sinner.
I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luk 15:7 NAS)
This means you know that you are not capable in and of yourself to stop sinning. Because you cannot stop sinning, you look to God in Faith for forgiveness. The forgiveness the Christian receives from God translates into forgiveness to everyone around them. Because God has forgiven the Christian, so, the Christian forgives others.
“But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” (Mar 11:26 NAS)
There is no such thing as a Christian that does not believe in forgiveness and anyone who teaches others not to forgive cannot rightly call themselves a Christian.
We believe in the forgiveness of sins Apostles Creed
In addition, Christians must have Faith in Christ
Repentance will cause the sinner to believe or have faith in God that their sins are forgiven. Christians have faith in Christ as fully God and man. The basis of our salvation is that Christ was able forgive and die for our sins. Which is only accomplished by God.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Rom 5:8-9 NAS)
This is why the Apostles Creed states the following:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; The third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. Apostles creed
Christ’s virgin birth, sinless life, suffering, death, descent into hell, resurrection, and judgment are crucial to Christian life. Christ was sinless; yet, He suffered the penalty of our sin, died for our sin, remained under death for 3 days, rose from the dead so that we can raise, ascended to heaven and intercedes on our behalf as mediator between God and the Christian. All of what Christ did is what the Christian puts his faith in. Belief and Faith are the same thing.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1 NAS)
That hope is what Christ did for us. That which we cannot see but trust in.
In addition, Christians must have Good Works
Being a Christian is not just a mental acknowledgment of a list of principles. A Christian is a person who takes life seriously and tends to the need of people.
What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. (Jam 2:14-17 NAS)
A person who has no charity or love towards humanity and does not help those in need, cannot possibly call themselves a Christian. Good works are the evidence of a Christian. Good works are NOT what saves the Christian, they demonstrate that the Christian is genuinely repentant.
Repentance, Faith, and Good Works must originate from the Holy Spirit
Most “Evangelical” preachers (And I place evangelical in quotes because they are not evangelical at all in reality) will tell you that you need to accept Jesus into your heart and then the Holy Spirit will indwell you. The fact is, you cannot accept God without the Holy Spirit in the first place.
And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. (Mat 16:16-17 NAS) For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. (1Co 2:10 NAS)
The Holy Spirit is God. Without the Spirit of God, nobody can have repentance, faith, or good works.
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, (Tit 3:5-6 NAS)
God grants faith, repentance and good works. He grants this to Christians by His Spirit, not by praying a prayer, confessing to people, or doing good works on their own.
And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life. (Act 11:18 NAS) For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, (Phi 1:29 NAS) For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10 NAS)
Genuine Repentance, Faith, and Good works come from the heart. The Holy Spirit is the one who changes the heart to have these desires in the first place. That is what is meant by being “Born Again”.
Finally, Christians must have love
Simply put, if someone does not have love, they cannot rightly claim to be a Christian.
And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1Co 13:2 NAS)
Love is an action, not a feeling or affection towards others.
Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1Co 13:4-7 NAS)
Love is the product of being “Born Again”. You know someone has the Spirit of God when they have love.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1Jo 4:7-8 NAS)
To be “born again” simply means that, a Christian has the Spirit of God and not the spirit of this world. God’s Spirit is not aquired by any action on the persons part.
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (Joh 3:3 NAS) The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Joh 3:8 NAS)