With over two billion Christians around the globe, there are still diverse interpretations of the term “Christian”. In basic terms, Christian refers to a person or a group of people adhering to the teachings of Jesus Christ. They are in general associated with Christianity which is the largest and most widespread religion in the world. However, Christians were also the most diffused religion with its variety of church cultures. For this reason, the term “Christian” also takes different significance depending on each Christian denomination. Even so, their definitions are interrelated with its Biblical foundation. Though it has been hundreds of years since the Bible was written, it still remains to be Christianity’s fundamental guide in living life under Jesus’ principles and teachings. Because of these reasons, we can’t help but ask, what does it truly mean to be a Christian?
A Christian Receives Christ
The access to Christianity or to becoming a Christian is unbelievably simple. No initiation, no payment, no merit, and no proving of worth for the title of being a “Christian”. What it simply requires is a heart willing to accept the gifts of grace and salvation God has given to us. Becoming a Christian starts when we begin to trust in Christ alone. Trusting God means that we stop trusting ourselves. It implies an honest confession that we are unable to save ourselves from the wrath of God based on our works. There is nothing we can do, even good deeds to convince God to accept us. Jesus’ finished work on the cross is the only acceptable atonement for our sins. Unless we accept God’s free gift of salvation, we cannot receive Christ. Hence, we can’t identify ourselves as Christians.
In the same way, trusting God indicates a life honest enough to admit the sins committed in any means. When we start to trust God, we acknowledge Him not just as our Savior but as our Lord as well. Receiving Christ means accepting His Lordship in our lives. The other term for Lord is master. It represents one who is in control; the one who rules.
Trusting God is about giving Him all that we have, allowing Him to rule over us. This lordship is not limited to a specific part of our lives, which means we cannot choose which part of our lives we want God lead. Jesus is sovereign in every area of our lives. And our response to this lordship of Jesus should always be submission. Trusting him means believing that whatever he does will always be in our best interest. What does it mean to be a Christian? It means full acceptance of who Jesus is.
A Christian Has A Personal Relationship With God
You have possibly heard several times that being a Christian is not about religion but a relationship with God. More than the sense of belongingness in the family of Christ is the significance of a personal relationship with God. Attending church services, activities, and fellowship is all part of being a Christian. We grow in an environment where believers hold each other up. But, Christianity is primarily about our relationship with Jesus. If we want to grow in our faith, we are to seek God first above anything, even before the dynamic vitality of Christian communities. Being part of a church is of utmost importance, but our relationship with God is strengthened when it becomes personal. It matters that we invest time to nurture our relationship with Christ through personal prayer, devotion, and reading the Bible.
Unlike what some people think, being a Christian isn’t about following a series of regulations. Some think that once you become a Christian, you have to adhere to religious rules to continue being one. Christianity is completely misunderstood when it is not defined based on our relationship with Jesus. This relationship is in friendship with Christ. The friendship we have in Christ is overwhelming. Jesus laid down His life for us as a friend (John 15:13). Our new relationship with Jesus means friendship with Him since we were God’s enemies when we haven’t yet received Him (James 4:4).
What does it mean to be a Christian? A Christian has a personal connection with God which is strengthened through individual effort of spending time with Him. Furthermore, a relationship with Him resonates with a lifestyle abiding by God’s commandments in which His friendship with us is confirmed (John 15:14). Indeed, the relationship with Jesus is the basis of Christianity.
A Christian Is A Disciple
The Bible mentioned “Christian” only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). People who follow Jesus are called disciples before the term Christian was coined. Interestingly, the term ‘Christian’ was never the idea of the Christians themselves. In Antioch, (now a major town of south-central Turkey) the disciples were first called Christians when Barnabas took Paul there. It wasn’t Paul’s idea nor Barnabas to name the disciples of Jesus as Christians, but it helped them in publicizing their faith. From then on, people identified the disciples of Jesus as Christians. Although some scholars say that the term Christian was quite a form of ridiculing the disciples of Jesus, it became the standard adjective to refer to those who are Christ-like.
The word “Christian” derives from the Biblical Greek word Christianos, which literally means “followers of Christ”. The calling of the first disciples of Jesus has a remarkable account in the Bible. Jesus said to Simon and Andrew while they were casting a net into the lake, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). The words of Jesus are brief and simple, yet those words were enough to convince them to follow Him.
This scene in the Bible is symbolic while at the same time authentic in depicting a Christian’s life. The first disciples immediately left their nets and followed Him (Mark 1:18). Remember, they were casting their nets. It is an implication that they were busy with their normal lives. But the moment they heard the words of Jesus, they left their nets and followed Him. What does it mean to be a Christian then? We are to leave our old way of life and follow Jesus and his words.
A Christian Imitates Christ
To follow Jesus indicates living a life in the light of His Word. Christians emulate the character of Jesus. This is what it means to be “Christ-like”. The early disciples of Jesus followed Him in a literal manner. They left everything- their jobs, their families, perhaps their greatest desires in life, they drop it all and follow Jesus. Wherever Jesus went, they went. Whenever Jesus decided to walk, they walked with Him; when Jesus stopped to preach, they listened to Him. From the moment they decided to follow Christ, their lives became devoted to God. Though they could still make decisions of their own to help people, other important matters belonged to God. It is all about God now. Not our desires. Not our own ways.
Following Christ today is about Christlikeness. It is living up to the teachings of Jesus. We follow the examples He and other believers modeled in the Scripture. We adhere to His teachings by living a life reflecting Christian values and principles of Christ. Since we can’t have Jesus in the physical body to tell us which way to go, we purely follow Him with our lives. Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1 advised the church of Corinth as to how we can imitate God even when we can’t visibly copy Him. Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” We are to imitate those people who imitate Christ. They are our spiritual leaders.
What does it mean to be a Christian in the context of Christlikeness? Christians follow Jesus through Scripture. They abide by His teachings and live a life in accordance with His will.
Marks Of A True Christian
The greatest duty of a Christian is to live a life mirroring Jesus. This is the best testimony of Christ’s believer. Jesus called us the salt and light of the world (Matthew 5:13-14). Light can’t be hidden in the darkness for it will shine persistently. Our lives should have the same light Jesus is talking about. It will show itself no matter where it is put. There should be something different in the life of a follower of Christ that sets itself distinct from this world. A true Christian possesses the good traits taught by Jesus and shown in His life. Being a Christian is not just a mere statement. Jesus’ disciples declare their Christianity in their everyday lives.
The Lord hates and even loathes hypocrisy. He despises the Sadducees and the Pharisees because of their hypocritical acts. We can’t live like them. The only way to be a Christian is to live like Christ. What does it mean to be a Christian? A true Christian has the marks of Christlikeness in His life. Certain marks demonstrate God’s character. Here are a few things we are to strive for in doing things for the glory of God.
Living by God’s Word
If we desire to live like Christ, we need to seek God’s word. This is because the only way to know the life of Christ is by reading His truth. Everything that we need to know as a Christian can be found in the Bible. It contains all the answers to our questions both in faith and in life. A real Christian can’t live without the Word of God. In Matthew 4:4, Jesus said that it wasn’t by bread alone that man can live. Our spirit needs the Word of God so we can truly live. Without God’s truth, we are dead to sin. But life is in Him. Reading the Bible is our spirit’s way of breathing.
To read God’s word is one thing, but to apply it is another thing. What does it mean to be a Christian? It means we read and live by His Word. This is the same thing as adhering to Christ’s teachings. We do not just listen as He speaks. Our heart is inspired to obey what He is telling us through His word. The Bible contains all the guidelines we need to live in this world. Abiding by His Word is a Christian’s only way of living. 2 John 1:9 warns us, “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teachings of Christ, does not have God.”
Putting on a New Self
Since we have been redeemed from an old life of sins and Jesus raised us from death to give us new life, we are to put on a new self. Putting on a new self is about seeking the things above, not earthly things (Colossians 3:2). The earthly things are things such as sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, and idolatry (Colossians 3:5). These things offend God. Other things also displease God and should be put to death such as anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talks, and lies (Colossians 3:8-9). What then are the things God wants us to put on as His chosen ones? We are to dress with compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. forgiveness, love, and peace (Colossians 3:12-15).
What does it mean to be a Christian as bearers of God’s truth? A true Christian puts off the old self and puts on a new self. Our old self lives by corrupt practices. On the other hand, our new self is living by the knowledge of the image of God (Colossians 3:10). God’s image is flawless and righteous. We are being renewed day by day into the full completion of our hope of a completely transformed life in Christ.
We have walked the wrong path all our lives until the Lord redirected us to the right track. With our deadly sins, we are walking away from Him. But He showed us the way to Him. Through this, we forget what is behind us, and with no looking back we step forward to God’s transforming grace.
Walking in Love
Among all the marks of being a Christian enumerated in Colossians 3, the Scripture gave emphasis on putting love above all else for it binds together everything in perfect harmony. Love summarizes the attributes of God. Likewise, the best characteristic of a Christian should be love. The Lord commanded His disciple to love one another so everyone will know that they are His disciples (John 13:35). This is God’s new command to His followers, that we love one another as He loved us. Love is the ultimate mark of being a Christian. Jesus also condensed the commandments of the Old Testament into two greatest commandments which are both acts of love (Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34).
In Ephesians 5, the Bible tells us to be imitators of God as beloved children. Because we experienced the selfless, sacrificial love of Christ, we can also walk in love. To walk in love means to walk as children of light. In addition, those who walk in the light walk with wisdom.
What does it mean to be a Christian who walks in love? We strive to live a life echoing His love to others so they will know love beyond the standards of this world. Our faith and even our works are pointless without love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Apostle John, whose expertise is on the subject of love, defines walking in love with walking in the truth. He defined love as walking according to the commandments of Jesus (2 John 1:4-6). If you want to know more about this love we should walk in, 1 Corinthians 13 gives us the illustrious descriptions of love.
Keeping in Step with the Spirit
The Scripture answers the question, what does it mean to be a Christian with a bold statement in Romans 8:9, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of God does not belong to Him.” This is perhaps the only mark of a true Christian which God clearly sees is His Spirit, something men cannot see. Only the works of the Spirit in the life of a Christian are visible to men. What does keeping in step with spirit mean? There are two ways to live this life (Romans 8:5). First, to live according to the flesh. This way of living sets minds on things of the flesh. Second, to live according to the Spirit. This way of living sets minds on things of the spirit.
The mind keeping in step with the flesh furies God for it does not submit to God’s law (Romans 8:6-7). However, the mind keeping in step with the Spirit produces in us real life and peace. Walking in the Spirit is the only precise way to put out the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). The flesh and the Spirit are in conflict with each other. What the flesh desires, the Spirit despises. Conversely, what the Spirit wants, the flesh hates. This is why it’s tough to live in both flesh and Spirit.
Nonetheless, the Bible reminds us that those who belong to Christ or become Christians do not anymore dwell with the passion and desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:24). We live by the Spirit and we keep in step by the Spirit. The Bible gave us marks of a true Christian through the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 to affirm that we are keeping in step with the spirit.
Being Transformed By Christ
Living a Christian life is never easy. The list of the description on what does it mean to be a Christian has probably overwhelmed you by just reading it. Reflecting it in our own lives can be frustrating for we knew that we simply cannot adhere to all of Jesus’ teachings for it’s too much for us. We can hardly resist a mere sweet dessert, how much more in following and obeying Jesus’ teachings as our lifestyle? Are there other ways easier than this?
The bad news is following Christ is in reality, not designed for our convenience. The Scripture says, the road that leads to life is narrow and small (Matthew 7:14). Only a few people find it. The easy way of living which most of us want leads to destruction. But, the good news is, God’s grace isn’t narrow. It is sufficient at all times and made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). His grace never ends the moment we receive Him. God’s love is active. It transforms us and changes us every single day.
We are like clay being molded by the great Potter. The clay does not choose how it should be molded. It is the Potter who does the work. Therefore, we need to stop looking to ourselves and start surrendering to God. We are simply being transformed into the image of God from one degree of glory to another. Hence, Christlikeness is a lifetime process of supernatural transformation. Nothing of which is our work, so let’s rest our hearts in the active love of Christ. He who began good works in us will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). Seek God’s truth persistently and let Him mold you into His likeness.