Explaining What it Means to Be a Christain

What is a Christian examines this subject on the basis of what the Bible says.

This study is one of ten that give a basic introduction to Christian beliefs. See Exploring Christianity.

1) What claim does the Bible make about Christ (Colossians 2:9)?

2) How should people treat Christ (John 5:23)?

INSIGHT: In answer to the question, What Is a Christian? there are many misconceptions. Some consider Canada to be a Christian country, and on that basis some citizens would call themselves Christian. Or if their parents identified themselves as Christians, and attended a church, some think that makes the children Christian. For still others, following certain rituals of the church, like baptism or the Lord's Supper (also called Holy Communion) and doing good deeds is what makes one a Christian. But commendable as many of these things are, they are not the essence of what makes a person a "Christian."

3) Where was the term "Christian" first used (Acts 11:26)?

INSIGHT: The word "Christian" means a Christ-one, one who belongs to Christ or one who is a servant of Christ. Scholars suggest that in the beginning it may have been used in mockery by those who opposed the teachings of Jesus.

4) What experience did Christians sometimes have (I Peter 4:15-16)?

INSIGHT: Even if the expression was one of ridicule at first, "Christian" soon became an accepted and widely used term.

5) And who were the ones given this name (Acts 11:26)?

INSIGHT: A "disciple" is one who submits himself to a disciplined course of training under a leader (in this case, Jesus Christ). Over 200 times, this word (disciple) is used of the followers of Jesus, in the four Gospels. It is carried over into Acts, and used for awhile to describe those who belonged to the early church (as in Acts 6:7; 9:1).

INSIGHT: Thus a "Christian" (or Christ-one) is one who has made a personal decision to be committed to Christ as His follower. However, there is more to it than that. Some claim to be followers of Christ simply because they try to live by the "Golden Rule" (Luke 6:31). They may, or may not, be true Christians. To understand what more is involved we must carefully consider the meaning of Jesus' work on the cross.

6) According to the following verses, what was the purpose of Christ's death and resurrection (I Corinthians 15:3-4; Hebrews 10:12)?

INSIGHT: An important word is used in several of these verses. It is the word "sin" (or sins). Sin is the problem for which the death and resurrection of Christ is the remedy.

7) According to the following verses, what is "sin" (Romans 14:23; I John 3:4)?

INSIGHT: The "law" John speaks of is the law of God--God's holy standard of behaviour revealed in the Bible. In a general sense we could say that "sin" is any failure to believe and obey God's Word. Another way of putting it is to say that sin is anything in thought, word, or deed that is contrary to the will and character of God.

8) According to the Bible, who is it that has sinned (Romans 3:23)?

9) What is one harmful thing sin does (Isaiah 59:2)?

10) And what is the punishment God requires for sin (Romans 6:23a)? (NOTE: A letter after a reference (Romans 6:23a, John 3:16b, etc.) is used to indicate what part of the verse contains the answer--the earlier or latter part.)

INSIGHT: We must now address a sobering and difficult truth--that of God's eternal punishment for sin. Humanly speaking, it is something we would rather not think about. Yet it is in the Bible. In fact, while He was on earth, Jesus said far more about hell than about heaven. He did so in love, because He wanted people to be warned and to escape it (Matthew 7:13-14; compare Ezekiel 33:11). So, please keep reading. In addition to the bad news there is wonderful goodnews to come!

INSIGHT: The Bible describes not one, but two kinds of "death." There is physical death, when the spirit separates from the body. And afterward there is the danger of spiritual death (also called "the second death" in Scripture) which involves eternal separation from God in a place of punishment sometimes called "hell" or "the lake of fire."

11) According to Jesus, what was the original purpose for which God prepared these fires of judgment (Matthew 25:41)?

12) In the prophetic book of Revelation, what does God show the author, the Apostle John (Revelation 20:10)?

13) Who else will be sent to this lake of eternal fire (Revelation 21:8)?

INSIGHT: This is, as they say, the bad news. And we need to know these things, troubling as they are, in order to appreciate the good news of what God has done for us. (The word "gospel" means good news.)

INSIGHT: In ancient times, God commanded that man offer up animal sacrifices to Him. We now need to consider why this was done, and what it has to do with the cross. Read Leviticus 1:3-4, describing one of many sacrifices (or offerings) used by Israel in the Old Testament. Note that the animal was to be a male "without blemish [or defect]."

14) What action was the offerer to take when the animal was being sacrificed (Leviticus 1:4)?

INSIGHT: This was an act of identification with the sacrifice. It was a way of saying "This animal represents me. It is dying in place of me, as a substitute for me." When this was done in faith, the result was "atonement," meaning that God's justice was satisfied and the offerer gained forgiveness of sins. But the Bible makes it clear this was only a temporary solution. An animal cannot pay for the sins of a human being (Hebrews 10:4). It was a symbolic act, accepted by God for the time being, but pointing forward to something still in the future. Scripture describes the sacrificial system as "a shadow of good things to come" (Hebrews 10:1).

15) What provided the final fulfilment for the Old Testament system (Hebrews 10:11-12)?

16) What is Christ called that would have helped people to understand this connection (John 1:29)?

INSIGHT: Now we can see why an Israelite was to choose a sacrificial animal without blemish or defect. Since, as Romans says, "all have sinned," and since the punishment for sin is death and eternal judgment, each of us faces this destiny for our own sins. This makes it impossible for us to serve also as a substitute, dying for someone else.

That is precisely why God the Son took on our humanity. Scripture tells us repeatedly that He was without blemish, in a spiritual sense. He never committed a single sin (Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 1:18-19; 2:22). Because of this He was qualified to be punished as our Substitute.

INSIGHT: The Lord Jesus has paid the debt of sin we owe, on the cross. But we need to personally claim His payment for ourselves, just as the Old Testament offerer did by putting his hand on the sacrifice.

17) We cannot physically lay our hand upon Christ. But what are we to do, according to verses such as John 3:16 and John 6:47?

INSIGHT: This single requirement for gaining eternal salvation is spoken of dozens of times in the Bible. When a man asked the Apostle Paul how to be "saved," Paul replied, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). And faith in, or belief on Christ is more that mentally agreeing to certain facts about Him. Saving faith involves commitment to and trust in and reliance on Christ, and on what He has done to save us. Here is a simple illustration:

18) Suppose the doctor gave you medication to cure some ailment. And suppose you really believed the medicine could help? Is that enough? What more is needed for you to be cured?

19) How does this illustration relate to the way to gain eternal salvation?

20) Whereas death is described as "wages" we earned by sinning, God's salvation is described as what (Romans 6:23)?

INSIGHT: An important Bible word for this is "grace." The Greek word for grace (charis-- pronounced KAH-ris) is closely related to the word for gift. Grace is God's unearned or unmerited favour.

21) What is the difference between wages and a gift (Romans 4:4-5)?

INSIGHT: We are now better prepared to give a clearer answer to the question, What Is a Christian?. Yes, it is true that a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ. But also a Christian is one who, having realized and admitted he is a condemned sinner, has trusted in Christ as his personal Saviour. He has come to an inner conviction that could be expressed in prayer something like this:

"Dear God, I know I'm a sinner. I know my sin deserves to be punished, and that I cannot save myself. But I believe Christ died for me, in my place, and rose from the grave. I trust Him alone as my Saviour. Thank you for forgiving my sins, and for the gift of eternal life."

22) How safe is the one who has trusted in Christ (John 10:27-28)?

23) To the one who trusts God for his salvation, what promise does Christ make about coming judgment (John 5:24)?

INSIGHT: The Apostle Paul preached of the need for each individual to make a personal decision to trust in Christ as Saviour. He told people about Christ's death and resurrection, calling upon them to accept God's salvation. On one occasion, he spoke of these things before a man the Bible calls King Agrippa (Acts 26:1-3, 15-18, 22-23). Agrippa's full title was Herod Agrippa the Second. On behalf of the Romans, he ruled over an area in the northeast of Palestine.

24) What was Agrippa's response to Paul's appeal (Acts 26:28)?

INSIGHT: Consider how you would have responded, in Agrippa's place. We do not know whether his words were spoken in sincerity, or sarcastically. But they illustrate two key things. 1) That salvation calls for a personal decision about Christ. And 2) that "almost" to decide for Christ is not to trust in Him at all.