Guest Post: “What is a Christian?”

And now for something completely different, as they used to say on Monty Python.

What follows is a guest post for your consideration by Dustin Shramek, who runs "His Peace Upon Us," a Christian blog dedicated to building bridges between Muslims and Christians. He suggested that we swap posts to share some perspectives that our respective audiences are perhaps not used to considering. Which I thought was a nice idea (assuming I ever get a my act together and write something).

So, without any further ado, here it is. (I'll share my reactions in a separate post.)

What Is a Christian?
by Dustin Shramek, His Peace Upon us

Most people would be surprised to learn that the label “Christian” is only used three times in the Bible (Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, & 1 Peter 4:16). Yet, it is quite common today since 2.1 billion people call themselves Christians.

But rather than define “Christian” in its broadest way (anyone who takes the name), I want to show what the biblical definition of Christian is. Most fundamentally, to be a Christian is to be a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ. There are three key components of being a follower of Jesus Christ: 1) it is a work of God, 2) it is by faith alone, and 3) it produces a change of heart (and thus change of behavior).

Being a Christian Is a Work of God
The term “born again” has all kinds of bad connotations, but it comes straight from the teaching of Jesus Christ in the Injil (gospel). “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Apart from the grace and mercy of God we will not desire to obey him or know him and no one would become a follower of Jesus Christ.

This is why Paul says, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:17). We give God the thanks because he is the one who makes it happen. In Ephesians 2:4-5 Paul declares the love of God that moves him to save people, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”

Being a Christian Is by Faith Alone
One of the most important things that the Bible teaches about being a Christian is that we cannot and do not do anything in order to be saved on judgment day. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It is our sin that keeps us from God. Each of us disobeys God everyday, for no one can claim to obey the command to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind (see Deuteronomy 6:5 [from the Tawrat] and Matthew 22:37 [the Injil]). We may try, but we all fail. We are shameful sinners.

God, on the other hand, is holy. He never does what is wrong. And he does not allow impurity and uncleanness in his presence. This is why he judges sin. Unfortunately, no amount of good works can remove our sin. If you are thirsty and I offer you a cup of water with a drop of deadly poison you would not drink it. If I poured that cup into a larger cup and filled it with more water, though the poison still remained, you would not drink it. If I dumped that cup into a bucket and added more water you still would not drink it. No amount of fresh water is going to entice you to drink the water as long as the poison remains. Just as no amount of good works is going to make us worthy to be in God’s presence as long as sin remains.

This is why we need Jesus the Messiah. He came and obeyed God perfectly. Then he went to the cross and died in our place. Because of our sin we stand guilty before the Judge. Because of our sin we stand defiled before the Holy One. Because of our sin we are full of shame before the Honorable One. Jesus Christ took our sin, removed our guilt, cleansed our defilement, and bore our shame.

Because Jesus Christ has done all this, our only response is to believe. We simply put our faith in him and his death and resurrection on our behalf. We cannot save ourselves. We trust the one who is uniquely God’s Messiah.

Being a Christian Produces a Change of Heart
Finally, the mark of any true Christian is a changed heart, that is, a changed life. Those who once were slaves to sin become slaves to God (Romans 6:12-16). Jesus the Messiah said, “You will recognize them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:15-20). People can call themselves Christian all day long, but if they do not obey the will of God they will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus Christ taught, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

Many people call themselves Christians, but true followers of Jesus Christ only happen by the grace and mercy of God through faith alone that produces in us good works. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not about being an adherent to a religion (Christianity) it is about knowing a person. God has made himself known through Jesus Christ who lives today in heaven at God’s right hand. By faith we follow him and know him.

  • http://masooma.blogspot.com otowi

    I have always considered myself as a Christian even though by external labels I’m now a Muslim – because I believe that a true Muslim is a true follower of Christ.

  • null

    A nice break from the JihadWatch crowd.
    God bless you Dustin.

  • Reed

    This is a great post and one representing a standard view of Christianity. Yet, I’d like to point out that a few elements of this post do not take into consideration some verses of the Bible.

    The standard Christian quotes Paul as saying, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:32). In doing so, they neglect the Bible’s statement that Zechariah and Elizabeth walked blamelessly in all of the commandments and requirements of the Lord (Luke 1:6). As Paul himself states, where there is no law there is no sin (Romans 4:15), these two must have been without sin.

    The standard Christian asserts that good works cannot remove sin, but the Bible states that sin can be covered by turning “a sinner from the error of his way …” (James 5:20) and that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

    There are many other verses in which the Bible presents a more complex and nuanced presentation of sin, forgiveness, the role of Jesus, and other matters than does the standard Christian view. Having such an understanding is essential to interreligious dialogue and finding common ground.

    • Svend White

      Thanks for sharing those interesting insights, Reed. While the relevance of my opinion is debatable since I’m neither a Christian nor a scholar of Christianity, I have to say that I find the way many contemporary American Evangelicals frame these issues wanting. Who cares what I think, but it seems unspiritual and mechanistic, not to mention abitrary (i.e., the notion of penal subsitution being central to faith; i.e., God making the world “fallen” and then requiring Christ to accept punishment on our behalf to redeem it; having said that, I also object to Vicarious Atonement, which isn’t specific to Evangelicalism). It’s effective as a rhetorical strategy–the message is simple and easy to digest–but like many non-Evangelical Christians I find it problematic in its implications about God.


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