What Is A Christian?

By Brian Anderson

What is a Christian?

In our day and age there are numerous answers being given to that question. Some believe that anyone born in the United States is a Christian. Others believe that anyone who attends a Christian church is a Christian. Still others believe that anyone who lives an honest and upright life is a Christian. All of these definitions are faulty at best and eternally damning at worst. Let's remember that this question is not merely an academic one without serious implications for our lives. As narrow-minded as it might first appear, the Bible declares in no uncertain terms that only Christians will inherit everlasting life in heaven (John 3:3; 3:14-18; 3:36; 14:6). Therefore, the question that I have posed is one which you despise to your eternal undoing. To answer my own question as simply as I possibly can, I submit to you that a Christian is someone who possesses a new legal standing before God, a new spiritual life from God, and a new loving relationship with God.

First, a Christian is someone who possesses a new legal standing before God. All men without exception are sinners by nature and by choice. We have all inherited an evil nature from our forefather Adam. After he sinned in the Garden of Eden, he passed his sinful nature on to his descendants. All men save one, the Lord Jesus Christ, have inherited this sinful nature. That's why when babies are old enough to communicate their desires they scream "mine!" when another child takes their toy. That's why we have to teach our youngsters to be honest and kind, whereas lying, stealing, and manipulating others comes quite naturally to them. Not only is it true that all individuals possess a sinful nature from birth, but all alike manifest their sinful nature in willful choices of disobedience toward God. God regards any deed or thought that is contrary to His holy law to be an act of rebellion against Himself. Men and women commit these sinful actions continually. This alone can adequately explain the serious ills of our society such as drug addiction, alcoholism, thefts, robberies, rapes, murders, brutalities, gang violence, and wars. However, it also explains the "little" sins all people commit like thoughts of greed, pride, unforgiveness, lust, and jealousy. Since God is holy, all the unrighteousness of men must receive His divine judgment. God must mete out His sentence of everlasting condemnation upon all sinners as the just penalty due for their rebellion to His holy law.

Is there no hope then, for anyone?

We have already declared that all men are sinners by nature and choice, and therefore under God's just sentence of condemnation. Well, is this sentence fixed and irreversible? No, thank God, a thousand times no! Though God in His justice must punish sin, He has provided a way of salvation for sinners because of His great love for them. God's answer to the human dilemma must be one in which He finds a way to receive, accept and manifest His love to sinful men, while at the same time punish their sins to the full. But how is this to be accomplished? God's answer is a Substitute. Someone else must step in and receive the full brunt of God's holy fury and wrath against sin, so that the guilty sinners themselves might be rescued from His judgment. But who could that Substitute be? Perhaps God could designate one of His mighty angels for the task. No, that can't be. It was a human who sinned; therefore, a human must be punished for sin. Furthermore, it must be a sinless human, for if the substitute were a sinner himself, the punishment he endured would only be the just penalty for his own sins. A sinful man or woman could never atone for the sins of others. But, where was God to find a sinless human being? When He surveyed the entire world of men, there was not a single sinless human to be found. The testimony of Scripture is,

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23

as well as

Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. Ecclesiastes 7:20

God's answer to this dilemma was absolutely brilliant. He, Himself, would become a man and die for sinners! Jesus Christ, according to Holy Scripture, is the eternal Son of God who became flesh and dwelt among us in order to die in the place of the guilty.

When a person recognizes his guilt before a holy God, and turns to Christ in faith to save him, two wonderful things take place simultaneously. First, Christ's perfect, righteous life is credited to him. He is treated by God as if he had lived the perfect life that Jesus lived. Secondly, all his sins are pardoned, forgiven, and removed from him forever.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12

From this moment on, God as judge declares that the believing sinner is justified. That is, he is to be treated as if he'd never sinned! The law cannot condemn him, for a Substitute has borne the full penalty of the law, even unto death. The believer stands before his holy God, dressed in the righteous garments of Jesus Christ. When God looks upon him, He sees only the perfect righteousness of His Son! The Scripture declares,

Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1

God made Christ who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Cor. 5:21

This brand new legal standing before God has absolutely nothing to do with an individual's good deeds. His justification before God was earned by the life and death of Christ, not by anything of himself. His righteous standing before God is received, not by doing, but by trusting something done -- the perfect life and substitutionary death of Christ on his behalf. He casts Himself without reserve upon the mercy of God in Christ for his salvation. Oh, the joy of possessing this brand new legal standing before God!

Not only is it true that a Christian possesses a new legal standing before God, but it is also gloriously true that he is the possessor of a new spiritual life from God. Please notice that I said a new "spiritual" life. It is true that all men possess life in a limited sense. They possess a temporary, physical life. But when a person becomes a Christian he is given a whole new kind of life; he receives the very life of God. This is the "eternal life" the Scriptures speak so much about. It is the very life of God planted in the soul of a man. The very same life that God has possessed from all eternity is given to the believing sinner. Whereas before he was alienated from God and thus dead to Him, now he is alive to God in a brand new and exciting way.

The reception of this new spiritual life is expressed in various ways in Scripture. Sometimes it is referred to as passing "from death to life" (1 John 3:14). In another place it is referred to as "becoming a partaker of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). Still in other places it is referred to as "being born again" (John 3:3). The change that takes place is so great that nothing less than these vivid expressions can adequately describe it.

I hope it is becoming apparent that becoming a Christian cannot simply be equated with turning over a new leaf, deciding to attend a church, or trying to live by the Ten Commandments. It is nothing less than receiving the very life of God into your soul, so that you are not the same person that you once were. You are born all over again. God describes the great change that takes place when a person is born again in this way,

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

To receive a new spiritual life is to have a heart transplant. It is to receive a whole new set of desires and affections. The Christian is a person who now loves what he once hated, and hates what he once loves. He is as different from what he once was as a cat is from a pig. The essential natures of cats and pigs are altogether different; pigs love to wallow in mud and filth, while cats prefer to stay clean. Because God has made a radical inward change in him, the Christian, likewise, no longer loves to wallow in sin, but loves righteousness, holiness, and those things that he knows will please his Father. Since his affections and desires have experienced this dramatic change, it is proper to say that he is now a new creature. He will never be the same person that He once was.

How exactly does this new spiritual life become ours?

Well, in order for a person to receive the life of Christ, he must be united to Christ. This, the Holy Spirit does sovereignly in our lives. At a point in time appointed by the Father, He enters into our lives, makes us uncomfortable in our sin, changes our hearts, unites us to the resurrected Christ, and settles down to dwell in us permanently. From that moment on we are personally and vitally united to the risen Christ, sharing His life, nature, and desires. We are born of the Spirit! Becoming a Christian means nothing less than experiencing this radical inward change.

Finally, a Christian is someone who possesses a new loving relationship with God. This new relationship is likened in some portions of Scripture to the relationship between a son and a father. The Bible states,

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26

As soon as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in a person, granting him a new spiritual life, he finds that he has entered into a new relationship with God. No longer does his relationship to God consist of observing religious rituals or legalistic rules. Instead, he possesses a simple trust and childlike love for God, such as an earthly child has for his father. In spite of the fact that an emperor is addressed with all kinds of honorific titles by the subjects of his kingdom, his own son dispenses with all the formalities and simply addresses him as "Papa". In the same way, the Christian possesses an intimate and familiar relationship with God, so that instinctively he feels that God is closer to him than any person on earth and he cries out to God in prayer, "Father!" As a child depends on his father for everything that he needs, so the Christian learns to trust his heavenly Father to provide all that he needs.

The loving relationship that a Christian possesses with God is also likened to the relationship between a wife and her husband in the Bible.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Ephesians 5:25

In a healthy marriage a wife naturally respects and reverences her husband. Additionally, she loves him, serves him, is devoted to him, and seeks to please him. Likewise the husband loves and cherishes his wife. He provides for her, nourishes her and protects her. A husband and wife share secrets between each other that they disclose to no one else. They spend time with one another cultivating their marriage and deepening their relationship with each passing year. In all of these ways the husband-wife relationship mirrors the relationship between a Christian and his God. The Christian has a deep reverence for God, loves God, serves God, is devoted to God and wants above all things to please God. Likewise, God loves, cherishes, provides for, nourishes and protects His believing people. A Christian experiences many happy moments in prayer as his relationship with God is deepened. At the same time, God discloses more and more of Himself to the hungry soul who seeks Him.

This then, and nothing less than this, adequately describes a Christian. He is an individual who has gone from a standing of condemnation to one of justification before God. Having put his complete trust in Christ alone, God has declared him to be righteous in His sight. Not only that, but he is an individual in whom the Spirit of Christ has come, granting him a new spiritual life. This life is mighty and transforming, changing his heart and filling him with new and noble desires. Finally, he is a person who has come into a brand new loving relationship with God. He relates to God as a son does with his father or a wife does to her husband. He loves Him, knows Him, talks to Him about all things and relies on Him for everything. Now that I have answered the question, "What is a Christian?" let me ask the most important question of all. "Are you a Christian?" Your eternal welfare hangs upon the answer you can honestly give to that query. This is not a question to trifle with. Jesus Himself said

He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. John 3:36

If you can't honestly say that you possess a new legal standing before God, a new spiritual life from God, and a new loving relationship with God, I urge you to enter into the joy of these realities by faith.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Cast yourself wholly and solely upon Jesus Christ for mercy. Confess and forsake your sin. Bank your soul on what Christ has done for sinners by dying in their place. You can be sure that

Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Romans 10:13