This question has been floating around my mind for the last week, and though there are many answers (and the majority of them would be correct), I would like to briefly share with you what being a Christian means to me.
1. A believer in Jesus Christ.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” – John 3:16-17
The most important characteristic of a Christian is that he or she must be a believer in Jesus Christ. After all, the word christian is derived from christ, which means “anointed” and was the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word Messiah. Just using logical reasoning, a person cannot be a Christian if he or she does not believe in Christ as the promised Messiah and redeemer of sinful humanity.
2. Confess our sins to the Lord and accept His forgiveness.
“Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” – Act 3:19
Sin is what separates us from the Lord, a barrier that we are incapable of bridging on our own. Whenever we break one of the Lord’s moral laws, no matter how small the transgression may seem to us, we commit sin. (See 1 John 3:4.) And the Scriptures are clear: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Christ paid that penalty for all sins in our place, and if we but confess our sins and ask for that forgiveness, our sins will be blotted out!
I have heard some Christian preachers teach that once you confess your sins, you will be forever cleansed and protected. This is the basis of the “Once Saved, Always Saved” doctrine of a few denominations and churches, but lets put church doctrines aside and see what the Bible says.
The Bible is filled with examples. Some good and some not so good, but all contain helpful insight and guidance for our own lives.
One such example is Kind David. The Bible says that he was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) yet he still sinned. He made a bad mistake, he had an affair with a married woman, Bathsheba. Some scholars claim that the language used in the account is far stronger than an “affair”, but that he used his power and position as king to rape Bathsheba. That abuse of power resulted in a pregnancy. In an effort to “fix” this problems on his own, he had Bethsheba’s honorable husband murdered on the battlefield. Instead of making the situation better, he only made the mistake even worse. Eventually the guilt of his sins weighed so heavily upon him (He also was given an ultimatum from the prophet Nathan: repent or die), that he confessed them to the Lord and asked for His forgiveness. In the heart-felt words of King David: “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. […] Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:2-3,7)
So confessing our sins and asking for forgiveness is not a one-time-deal, not for a true follower of Christ. It is something that we need to do on a daily basis. As Christ Himself said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
3. Continue to grow spiritually.
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” – Ezekiel 36:26
When we give our lives over to Christ, we begin to experience a change. 2 Corinthians 5:17 explains it this way: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” This is more than just a dramatic conversion experience, and for most of us, this is a gradual process of spiritual growth.
At the beginning of our walk with Christ, we may not have a lot of knowledge regarding the Lord and His Word, but we are hungry to know more. 1 Peter 2:2 says: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation”. To satisfy this desire, we are to study the Scriptures to learn more about the Lord Almighty and search for answers to our many questions. Just like the Bereans who “…received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
4. Living a righteous life through Christ.
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” – John 14:15
A Christian also is an individual who strives to live a life obedient to the teachings of the Word of God. Not to earn salvation, because salvation is a free gift, but as an outward display of an inward change. How we live our lives everyday is a reflection that we believe in Christ, confess our sins, and are continually growing.
Just as spiritual growth does not happen overnight, living a righteous life in Christ also takes time. We can learn from the lives of the people in the Bible. “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) Another passage that demonstrates characteristics of a Christian life is Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
This is not something that we are able to do on our own, but “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
And it does not matter how old or young we are, we all can be good examples of what it means to be a Christian. As 1 Timothy 4:12 says: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
I am reminded of a wonderful song I heard as a child, written by a missionary couple whose names I have unfortunately forgotten. The song goes:
Mirror, mirror, on my heart reflecting what’s inside
Promises of all that I could be.
Finding my illusions in the darkness where they hide,
Bring them out for all the world to see.
I see the people,
They’re coming my way,
I ask myself what do they see?
Do they see a reflection of my own light?
Or Jesus in me?
Time to put away those foolish lies,
Time to set aside this poor disguise.
Time to let the Spirit take control,
So I’ll be like Jesus.
Even though the world may think it odd,
Time to speak the very words of God.
The very image of our Lord!
These are my thoughts on an abbreviated description of what it means to be a Christian. There are other characteristics and aspects, too, and I encourage you to share your thoughts.