What is a Christian?
by John Chapman
Let us begin by noting that the world and everything in it including people, belongs to God. What we do in God's world and with it is important to God. He has never lost interest in His World, not in any part of it. Some people think that God made the world and then grew tired of it but this is quite contrary to what the Bible says.
Jesus - the Master of the World
When God created the world He did it so that Jesus Christ would be Master of it. "All things were created through. Him (Jesus Christ) and for Him." Jesus Christ, through His death and resurrection, has become Lord and Master of the whole creation. He has therefore, the right to control everything in the world including the lives of men and women. They should recognise Him as their Master and God. They should worship and obey Him. This is what is meant by the statement "Jesus Christ is Lord." It is by believing this and acting on it, which makes a person a Christian.
Men and women everywhere are rebellious to the idea that Jesus should control their lives. They want to be independent. They want to be free from His rule and authority. They see themselves to be, "master of their lives and captain of their souls." They make the mistake of thinking that their lives are their own to do with, as they like.
They reject Jesus as their Lord - sometimes passively, sometimes actively - but whether actively or passively, they reject Him. Consequently they do not bother about obeying His laws. They act in a way which shows they are self-centred in their approach to life. It is this spirit of rebellion which allows some people to murder, commit adultery, steal. The same spirit of rebellion causes others to be puffed up in pride, eaten up in jealousy and fritter away their life in selfishness. Different people show different symptoms of this rebellion but all are rebellious. The fact of the rebellion in us all is real. The Bible calls this spirit of rebellion sin and it makes no effort to minimize the seriousness of it. It sees it to be the root cause of all the problems, which we have in trying to live in relationship with each other (wars, strife, divorce, race riots).
But the worst feature of sin is that since it is a rebellion against Jesus Christ's right to control our lives and since Jesus is Master, then sin has consequences of eternal magnitude. One day Jesus will return and overthrow all who remain rebellious to His rule. Sin does matter because it wrecks life here and now and if unforgiven, will take a person to hell.
Stop the revolution
God in His love and mercy does the only thing that we would expect Him to do. He commands everyone everywhere to stop rebelling against Him arid to turn back and obey Him. This is what the Bible means by the term "repentance". Paul tells us that God commands all people everywhere to repent because He has fixed a day when He will judge the whole world.
Because of our sin, we do not have the ability to repent unless God gives us this ability as a gift and we should consequently beg for God to have mercy on us and to give us this gift so that we can stop rebelling and submit to Jesus Christ as Lord.
Amnesty is granted
When people repent they are granted an amnesty by God. They are not punished for their acts of rebellion, as they ought to be. Indeed they are treated as if they never were rebels. We don't deserve this treatment and it could never have been ours except for the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. When Jesus died He took the punishment which mankind deserves because of their sin. He was punished for sinful people so they could be set free from the punishment which they deserve. This is the measure of the love of Jesus Christ for us: He loved us and gave His life for us.
A new beginning - it is possible!
When anyone stops rebelling and allows Jesus to control their life, this is a clear indication that God has changed them and made them into new people. They may feel the same, look the same, but they act differently, and they act differently because they are different. They now want to please Jesus - before, they wanted to please themselves. Now they want to obey Jesus - before, they ignored and disobeyed Him. This changed behaviour stems from changed attitude to Jesus and the changed attitude is what the Bible calls "being born again". This change is something that God does and is sometimes referred to as "having Christ living in us" and sometimes as "having the Holy Spirit dwelling within".
It is of course important to realize that in submitting to Jesus' control a person does not lose his or her own identity. Rather they become more complete as human beings. Before they were slaves to sin, now they have found true freedom. For it is in Jesus' service that "perfect freedom" is found.
What is a Christian?
A Christian, then, is someone who recognises that Jesus Christ has the right to control his or her life. They recognise that they are rebels against Jesus Christ and deserve to be punished. A Christian believes that Jesus Christ died for him or her on the Cross, taking the punishment which their sins deserved. A Christian is a person who has responded to God's call to repent.
They have turned from rebelling against Jesus and submitted to Him. This person knows that he or she has been forgiven. They know that God has made them a new person and that Jesus lives in their lives. They know this because they see their changed desires, attitudes and behaviour. This person trusts God with his or her life.
It will be clear from this that a person does not become a Christian merely by living a good life as such, or being a good father or mother, an honest person in the community, or even making great sacrifices for others. It is possible to do all these things and still be rebellious to Jesus. In fact, it is often true that the better people are the more difficult it is for them to realise that they need to be forgiven. They tend to think they are good enough. A Christian is not just a good person. A good person, no matter how good he or she is, needs to be born again and forgiven. Christians will try to be good and obey Jesus not so they can be forgiven, but because they have been forgiven.
Neither should we fall into the snare of thinking that a regular church-goer is necessarily a Christian. There's nothing wrong with going to church, in fact, there's a very good reason why a person should go regularly, but this is not the thing that causes a person to be a Christian. It is possible to be baptized, confirmed and receive Holy Communion regularly and still not submit to Jesus. However, when a person repents and hands the control of his or her life over to Christ that person will attend church every Sunday, not so he or she will become a Christian, but because they have become one. They will want to meet with other Christians to pray, to be taught and to praise God.
There is nothing wrong with being good or going to church. They are just not ways a person becomes a Christian.
How does a person become a Christian?
Basically people become Christians when God changes them and makes them new people. However, they have to do something themselves. They make a response. That response is in repentance and faith. To respond in repentance and faith a person would pray a prayer something like this:
"Lord Jesus, I recognize that You are God and have the right to control my life. I have rebelled against You, sinning in thought word, and deed, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes deliberately. I'm sorry for this and ask You to forgive me. As best as I can I will turn away from rebellion and obey You. Thank You. Lord Jesus, for dying for me on the Cross. Please come into my life and take complete control of it."
How does a Christian behave?
The Christian now sets out to serve the Lord and to do that, he or she will need to be a regular and careful reader of the Bible. We cannot know how to please our Lord or obey Him unless we know what kind of a person our Lord is. We can only find this out through the Bible. New Christians are advised to begin with one of the Gospels and then to read the Acts of the Apostles and then the other books of the New Testament. Christians also start to pray. They develop their new friendship with Jesus Christ in prayer. As we read the Bible, God speaks to us. We speak to Him in prayer. It is essential also for Christians to have fellowship with other Christians and they should link up with a church where they can help others and be helped themselves to grow up to be like their Lord.
How can a person be sure?
Several things assure the Christian that he or she is a real Christian. Firstly, God's promises about forgiving them and receiving them are true and can be relied on. Secondly, their changed attitudes towards God, sin and the world assure them that God has made them new people. When God does this it is forever. Thirdly, there are times when Christians feel the wonder of God being their Father. St. Paul tells us that this is the Holy Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are God's children.
A person knows he or she is a Christian because they do not want to go on in sin any more. They have a new love for all people. All of these are gifts from God.
Are they then perfect?
You may think having read the above that Christians are perfect. Far from it, but they do long for the day when Jesus will return and then they will be perfect. Although Christians have turned their back on sin, and the aim of their life is to obey Jesus, because they are still sinful, they do from time to time sin against Jesus. Such people wish they hadn't sinned and immediately repent and resolve not to fall again. They are unlike non-Christians whose whole lives are rebellious to Jesus, and who don't care when sin grieves God but only worry when they themselves are hurt or upset by it. In this the Christian can be distinguished from the non-Christian even though they both commit acts of sin.
We hope you find this article helpful in understanding the Christian faith.
Being a Christian is all about knowing Jesus. We learn about Jesus in the Bible, so to understand it is crucial. To help in this, the Bible is explained every Sunday at 9:30am at Trinity Church (meeting at Carinya Christian School Auditorium).
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John Chapman was the Director of the Department of Evangelism of the Anglican Church in Australia, in the Diocese of Sydney
© AIO Press. Used by permission.