The simplest meaning is best for me. A Christian is a follower of Christ. This is what the first disciples were and this is what we must be.
However, the word Christian is a fallen term in America. We are living in a time when it has been cheapened by common usage. It is now an expression used to cover a multitude of ideas, error as well as truth, paganism as well as the revelation of God’s Word. Some have stretched it so thin that it covers a wide range of thoughts and ideas, some of which are not even biblical. It is sometimes applied to those involved in gross worldliness and also to those in pharisaical self-righteousness. Christian is used describing the coldly ritualistic and that which is no more than hyper-emotionalism. Modern Christianity is failing to make a huge impact in America due to a failure to understand what it means to be a Christian! “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (see Hosea 4:6) is a true word for the biblically illiterate church.
Some apply the Christian title to all who have good morals and believe there is a God. Others claim this title because they are church members or were raised in the church. Still, others claim the privilege of wearing this crimson badge because they have had a genuine conversion experience!
However, the greater test comes in our witness. When others see our lives, are they able to call us Christian? “The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” These disciples were called Christians! Perhaps the word Christian should only be used by others to describe you, instead of using it to describe yourself. Obviously, these Antioch believers thought like, talked like, and acted in a manner that reminded their contemporaries of Jesus Christ. It was originally meant as a form of mockery but they were indeed followers of the crucified Galilean.
So, what does it means to be a Christian?
Christians know their forgiveness of sins was paid for with the shed blood of the Savior and their new life is made possible because of the Resurrection.
Speaking with one of the most religious men of his day, Jesus told Nicodemus “You must be born again” (John 3:7). The Early Church taught this by concepts of repentance and faith.
A person must repent; change their mind about the nature of God, sin, and self. The Apostle Paul sums it up rather boldly when he says “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (Second Timothy 2:19). Repent! Turn away from your sin!
Sincere faith must be placed in Jesus Christ as Lord. Genuine repentance and saving faith can not be separated, for “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Repentance is turning from sin and faith is turning to the Lord. As a person responds to the Gospel with repentance and faith, a child of God is born again and, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (Second Corinthians 5:17).
The New Birth makes growth in Christ-likeness a possibility. But it is impossible for one to be genuinely Christian who has not had an experience of conviction, conversion, and commitment. So again I say, in order to be a Christian you’ve got to be saved!
To be genuinely Christian, one must be surrendered to the Lord’s will.
Jesus was surrendered completely to the will of God. He told His disciples “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work” (John 4:34). Surrender led Him to Gethsemane where He prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Surrender led Him on to Calvary.
Jesus said to the Galilean fishermen, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matthew 4:19–20). As they forsook their nets they began a journey which took them to the place where others would call them Christian.
All who have come to the Lord through repentance and faith should surrender to the Lord’s will to follow Him in water baptism. This is a public means for the new Christian to be identified as a Christian. This is a visible symbol of a relationship to Christ in which the individual accepts the demands and discipline of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Just as important as water baptism is the mandate, “do this in remembrance of me.” All who have come to the Lord through repentance and faith should surrender to the Lord’s will to partake of the Lord’s Supper. It’s an act of worship we look forward to and get excited about.
To be genuinely Christian, the convert must be committed to the task of living the teachings of Jesus Christ. The Sermon on the Mount becomes more than just a beautiful passage of Scripture. If you really believe it, you’ll do your best to live it! The Golden Rule becomes reality. Matthew 7:12 teaches, “a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get” (the Message Bible).
Commitment to the will of God expresses itself in your home, on your job, and everywhere else. To be genuinely Christian means that your life is surrendered to the will of the Master.
If a person is genuinely Christian, they will serve the Lord.
Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (9:4). My favorite description of Jesus’ life is that He “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil” (Acts 10:38).
Many inactive people are on membership rolls, but an inactive Christian is a contradiction of terms. When we stop serving Christ, we stop being Christian. Our good works don’t keep us saved, but if we are genuinely Christian we will do good for Jesus’ sake. “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Christians deliberately do good with humility, gratitude, and without display.
Question your motives and “whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” The reality is that the world outside is not waiting for a new definition of Christianity, it’s waiting for a new demonstration of Christianity. A genuine Christian will serve the Lord.
Finally, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus said “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25-26). It’s impossible for any of us to save ourselves! We don’t have the power or authority. This is where God comes in! We become convinced by the Spirit of God that we are sinners and Jesus is the Savior. We come to Him as the Spirit draws us and the wondrous miracle of the New Birth takes place. This is only possible because of the miraculous power of God! But it’s not over! After He saves you His presence stays with you! You see it’s impossible for the new Christian to be fully surrendered and graciously serving without the leadership and help of the Spirit of God. The presence of Jesus Christ is with us as we have been born of the Spirit. And His power makes it possible for us to grow into the follower He saved us to be. Let it be said of every one of us that we are indeed Christian. Eternity hinges upon these truths.