While many people might think the definition of a Christian is part of basic knowledge, there are many false assumptions about what it means to be a Christian. Some people believe that if they grew up in church and outwardly practiced all the “required” actions, then that makes them Christian.
Furthermore, some people think they can bear the title “Christian” if they believe in God or celebrate Christmas.
But what does being a Christian really mean? Is it just a title that anyone can assume by following a checklist of activities? Is it something a person is born into?
In many ways, the term has lost meaning in modern culture because various people claim the title without knowing what the Bible says about what it means to be a Christian.
In this article, I want to emphasize the biblical meaning of “Christian” and demonstrate the crucial difference between professing a title and having a real relationship with the living Christ.
Scripture’s Definition of a Christian
Many believers from Cyprus and Cyrene went to Antioch and spread the gospel among the Greeks (Acts 11:20-21).
Barnabas, a man known for his encouragement and generosity, was sent to Antioch to learn about the believers (Acts 11:22-24). He took Saul (Paul) with him and discovered that the disciples in Antioch were being called “Christians” (Acts 11:25-26).
Believers were thus associated with Christ as distinguished from the Jews. It was not just a title; it was a name that others used for believers that showed they were identified with Jesus.
1. Genuine Belief Vs. Mere Profession of Mouth
Scripture emphasizes that people are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). For a person to become a Christian, they must place their faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection to save them from their sins (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
The Apostle Paul stressed this when he wrote in his letter to the Romans: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame’” (Romans 10:9-11).
Notice that Paul does not mean that a person that merely claims to be a Christian is saved. Instead, people confess that “Jesus is Lord,” reflecting the truth of what they believe in their hearts (Romans 10:9).
A genuine Christian has placed their trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection to save them. They know that they cannot earn salvation but trust that Christ paid the penalty for their sin and has given them a new life.
In contrast, someone who merely professes to be a Christian does not genuinely believe in their heart. These people may give intellectual assent to the gospel but have not yet “believed in their heart.”
Such individuals may attend church and go through the motions of Christianity, checking off the list of doing “religious” things, but they have never genuinely believed in Jesus for salvation.
Eventually, these individuals will become apostates and fall away if they continue to reject Christ (Hebrews 6:4-6; 1 John 2:19). People who pretend and claim they are “Christians” in word alone without genuine belief are not truly Christian.
2. Being a Christian Is about Having a Relationship, Not a Title
Once a person places their faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for salvation, they receive eternal life. The gift of eternal life gives hope for the future but is also a present reality.
The Bible describes eternal life as an everlasting relationship with the one true, living God (John 17:3). Therefore, being a Christian is about having a relationship, not a title.
Christians know Jesus personally. He is not an abstract figure but a real and vital part of our lives. Unlike people who merely go through the motions of religion, Christians enjoy spending time with the Lord and have a close relationship with Him.
In addition to knowing Jesus personally, Christians are also deeply in love with their Savior. Believers marvel at His great love in sacrificing His life for us. Even though we are sinners deserving of eternal death and punishment, Jesus showed His love for us by dying in our place (Romans 5:8).
No greater love exists than the love Christ has for us (John 15:13). When we enter a relationship with Jesus, we continually learn more about Him. The more we know Him, the more we love Him and want to glorify Him with our lives.
Individuals who assume the title of “Christian” without being in a genuine relationship with Jesus do not know Him and, therefore, cannot love Him. People can only love because God first loved them (1 John 4:19). A person cannot, in one instance, reject the truth of the gospel and claim to love Christ.
Believers need to remember this when they encounter people who assert that they “left” Christianity. The person who has encountered the love of Christ and trusted in Him for salvation cannot “fall away” (John 10:28). If an individual rejects their faith, this proves that they never knew Jesus.
3. Being a Christian Changes a Person’s Life
When a person trusts in Jesus for salvation, they receive a new life. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
No longer are we enslaved by sin but set free to live for Jesus (Romans 6:7-11). Christians live out their faith in their everyday lives because they have been changed.
While deeds do not save us, good works are a natural result of knowing Christ and being in a relationship with Him (Ephesians 2:10). Spiritual fruit in our lives shows that we belong to Jesus (James 2:24, 26).
Christians will grow in Christ throughout their lives. This does not mean we are perfect or that we will never struggle with sin. However, spiritual growth is a result of knowing Jesus.
Why Does This Matter?
Many people misunderstand what it means to be a Christian. Some individuals think they can assume the title of “Christian” because they go to church regularly or practice religion.
However, the Bible defines a “Christian” as a person who is identified with Christ and belongs to Him. They believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection to save them from their sin and have a personal relationship with the living Lord.
Genuine Christians know Jesus and are known by Him. They marvel at His great love and love Him deeply. He has transformed their lives, and they desire to live for Him. Far from being a mere title or profession, biblical Christians are followers of Christ who have been impacted by the love of their Savior.
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Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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