What is a Christian?

What is a Christian? Today, there are hundreds of different religious organizations whose members refer to themselves as Christians. When we compare these different organizations, we find a large number of different doctrines, many of which are contradictory. Can each of these groups teach a different doctrine and its members still be called Christians? "For God is not the author of confusion..." {1 Corinthians 14:33}

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a Christian as (1) One who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus; or (2) One who lives according to the teachings of Jesus.

Most people would define a Christian according to the first part of definition #1. They think a Christian is anyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah. By that definition, members of each of these religious organizations are entitled to call themselves Christians, even though they teach opposing doctrines, because they all believe that Jesus is the Christ. However, most religious groups do not fit the second half of definition #1 because they only follow some of what Jesus taught. In the same way, they do not fit definition #2 because they live according to only some of the teachings of Jesus. Jesus taught many other things that these groups do not follow.

Many members of varying religious groups are not worried about having different doctrines. They believe that each person can worship God in his/her own individual way and that all can make it to heaven, even though they are not following the pattern God gave.

Let's look at the different aspects of Christianity. First of all, does belief alone make one a Christian? "Thou believest that there is one God,- thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble." {James 2:19} If belief is the only criteria, the devil could be called a Christian, because he believes. Belief is important, but there certainly must be more.

Jesus gave us the answer. "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." {Matthew 7:21} Jesus said that obedience is a step that is necessary to our salvation. This matches the rest of the dictionary definition--that a Christian is one who follows the teachings of Jesus. In order to truthfully say we are following Jesus’ teachings, we must obey His commands. "If ye love me, keep my commandments." {John 14:15} Also, we must be obedient to all of His teachings, not just some. If we follow only some commandments, that means we are disobeying others. "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love." {John 15:10}

The Bible uses the word "Christian" in only three verses, but they do not define what a Christian is. Acts 11:26 tells us that it was the disciples who were called Christians. The Bible does give us information about being disciples. "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed." {John 8:31} To be a disciple, one must continue in the teachings of Jesus. Again, if you follow only some of His teachings, then you are being disobedient to others. "And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." {Luke 9:23}

Following Jesus may mean some sacrifice. "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple." {Luke 14:26-27} To be followers of Jesus, we must put Him first above all other things. "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." {Luke 14:33}

Many people claim to be followers of Jesus; yet, they continue to live sinfully. "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." {Luke 13:3} Jesus told us that we must repent or perish. So how can a person who continually lives in sin call himself a Christian? "For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil." {1 Peter 3:12} The Lord is against a person who continues to live in sin.

Many religious groups want to welcome those, such as homosexuals, who openly live in sin. Some religious groups sanction homosexual marriages. Some accept homosexuals as their priests. The scriptures tell us that homosexuality is sinful {Romans 1:27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10}. Any homosexual is acceptable to God, provided he repents as Jesus commanded and stops committing the sin of homosexuality. A homosexual who will not give up this sinful lifestyle is openly contradicting God’s commands and cannot be called a Christian. Instead of following God’s commands, he is openly violating them. How can anyone say that these sinners are following the teachings of Jesus? Only after giving up the sin and starting to live as Jesus taught can one be a true Christian.

Many religious groups want to welcome those who are in sinful marriages. God has given only one condition where a divorced person is permitted to remarry--when a spouse has been unfaithful (Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:9). Many religious groups are willing to accept those who have remarried when they had no right to. God said that those people are living in adultery. How can one who is living in sin be called a Christian?

Some religious organizations teach their members to pray to Mary or to patron saints. The scriptures command us to pray to God through Jesus. "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;" {1 Timothy 2:5} We have no other mediator who hears our prayers. How can one call himself a Christian and belong to a religious group whose teachings contradict the Bible? Such is not following the teachings of Christ.

What about those people who come faithfully to worship services but do nothing else? They do not teach. They do not participate in the work of the church. Only God can judge their hearts. But some of these people are like the man who received one talent "... Thou wicked and slothful servant... And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." {Matthew 25:14-30} Can you be a Christian if you aren’t working as Jesus commanded? Where do you stand? Are you following all the teachings of Jesus? Are you a true disciple? Are you putting God first in your life? These same questions will be asked on the Judgment Day. Please be ready.

By Mike Hepner

Return to the Question/Answer index

Return to the General Articles page

Home / Bible studies / Bible Survey / Special Studies / General Articles / Non-Bible Articles / Sermons / Sermon Outlines / Links / Questions and Answers / What Saith The Scriptures /Daily Devotional / Correspondence Courses / What is the Church of Christ / Book: Christian Growth / Website Policy / E-mail / About Me /