The most straightforward 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.
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 are called by this name because they have had a genuine conversion experience!
So, what does it mean to be a Christian?
To become a Christian, one must be saved.
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 your mind about the nature of God, sin, and self. The Apostle Paul sums it up rather boldly when he says, “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: The Lord knows those who are His. And, Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19). Repent! Turn away from your sin!
Sincere faith must be placed in Jesus Christ as Lord. Genuine repentance and saving faith cannot 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” (2 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, to be a Christian, you’ve got to be saved!
The genuine Christian life is 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 it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Surrender led Him all the way to Calvary.
Jesus said to the Galilean fishermen, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him (Matthew 4:19–20). And they began a journey that took them to the place where others would call them Christian.
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 a 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 who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (9:4). My favorite description of Jesus’ life is that He “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (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 cease being Christian. Our good works don’t keep us saved, but if we are genuinely Christian, we will do good for Jesus’ sake. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 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.
“Who then can be saved?” Jesus said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25-26).
None of us can save ourselves. We don’t have the power or authority. This is where grace 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.