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What is a Christian?

March 2006 | by Andrew Barber

What is a Christian and how do you become one? It’s a question that people still ask today. If you read the Bible in the book of Acts 11:26 (i.e. chapter 11 and verse 26) it tells you when Jesus’ disciples ‘were first called Christians’.

Notice it doesn’t say Baptists, Methodists, Protestants, Charismatics or Brethren. No, it just says ‘Christians’. So to be a Christian doesn’t mean belonging to a particular church or group. It means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ — someone who wants to know him, follow him and learn from him.

I don’t belong to any of the groups named above, although I know people who do and who are genuine disciples or followers of Jesus Christ (sometimes in spite of what their church teaches rather than because of it!).

But wherever you find people who gather together in his name; who love and believe what he teaches in the Bible; who actually do what he says and try to follow his example; there you will find Christians.

But hang on a moment! There aren’t many people like that, are there? Most people in Britain today don’t believe the Bible and don’t even want to obey Jesus! Yes, I know.

The Bible itself tells us that everyone is born blind to spiritual things and is a rebel against the God who made them. So no one becomes a Christian automatically, accidentally, or just by trying. How, then, do people become Christians?

The need to be saved

In Acts 16:30-31, a similar question was asked and an answer given (read the full story for yourself). A jailor asked two of his prisoners, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved’.

Saved? Saved from what, you may ask. There had been an earthquake, but he didn’t want to be saved from that. The prison doors had burst open and he thought all the prisoners had escaped. His bosses were going to be highly peeved — but he didn’t want to be saved from them either.

He thought of committing suicide, so he did need to be saved from himself! But most of all he wanted to be saved from God’s anger against his rebellion and unbelief. God had used the earthquake to open his eyes to the real danger — the danger of going to hell because of his sins.

Becoming a Christian

This is very important. We must be saved if we are to go to heaven. I always find it very sad when people say that when they die they will be looking down on us from heaven. You don’t often hear anyone say they will be looking up at us from hell!

They think it’s all over and everyone is going to heaven. They have no thought for Christ and about hell. But that’s not how it is. Only those who are saved from their sins will go to heaven.

So why does believing in Jesus make so much difference? Because when God opens our eyes he shows us that Jesus died on the cross to bear our sins. ‘All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all’ (Isaiah 53:6).

And because Jesus Christ has already been punished in our place, God declares us innocent of all guilt — something he confirmed when he raised Jesus from the dead! (see Romans 4:25). And if God holds us innocent we are well and truly saved.

God not only forgives our sins for Jesus’ sake; he also changes us so that we now love him and want to be disciples of Jesus. ‘If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new’ (2 Corinthians 4:17).