The dictionary definition of a Christian would be something similar to “a person professing belief in Jesus as the Christ or the religion based on the teachings of Jesus.” While this is a good starting point, like many dictionary definitions, it falls somewhat short of really communicating what the bible says it means to be a Christian.

The word “Christian” is used three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). Followers of Jesus Christ were first called “Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11:26) because their behavior, activity, and speech were like Christ. The word “Christian” literally means, “a follower of Jesus Christ.”

Over time, the word “Christian” has lost a great deal of its significance and is often used of someone who is religious or has high moral values but who may or may not be a true follower of Jesus Christ.

Many people who do not believe and trust in Jesus Christ consider themselves Christians simply because they go to church or they live in a “Christian” nation. But going to church, serving those less fortunate than you, or being a good person does not make you a Christian. Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile. Being a member of a church, attending services regularly, and giving to the work of the church does not make you a Christian. These are all things a Christian should do but doing them does not make you a Christian.

The Bible teaches that the good works we do cannot make us acceptable to God. Titus 3:5 says, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us by grace though faith in His Son, Jesus. God saves us when we believe that it is what Jesus did for us, not in what we have done.  

So, what is a Christian? A Christian is someone who has been born again by God (John 3:3; John 3:7; 1 Peter 1:23) and has put faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8 tells us that it is “…by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

Salvation is “not your own doing” and “not a result of works.” Even the faith through which we receive salvation is a gracious gift from God. As fallen creatures, our best efforts are laced with sin. To borrow from Francis Schaeffer, how many finite buckets of good works would it take to fill the infinite gulf that exists between God and us because of our sin? Good works provide no basis for boasting because they are utterly worthless to save. The only foundation for salvation is Christ. We are saved by His works, not ours.

A true born-again Christian is a person who has put faith and trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ, including His death on the cross as payment for sins and His resurrection on the third day. John 1:12 tells us, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

The mark of a true Christian is love for others and obedience to God’s Word (1 John 2:4, 10). A true Christian is indeed a child of God, a part of God’s true family, and one who has been given new life in Jesus Christ. Now we are ready to do good works to please God. The point is, you cannot work for God until God first has done His work of saving grace in you.

After we come to God in repentance and faith in His Son, Jesus, doing good is important. Jesus has said, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Mat 5:16)
The Bible also says that we should “live such good lives among the nonbelievers that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your good deeds and glorify God. (1 Pet 2:12)
An unknown author put it this way, “We are all travelers from birth to death. We travel between the eternities. May these days be pleasant for you, profitable for society, helpful for those you meet and a joy to those who know you and love you.”

Lloyd Blanton is CEO and Director of FreedomWay Ministries, a faith-based service, in Cleburne County