So what is a Christian? A couple of billion people on the planet all claim to be Christians, but their beliefs, doctrines and practices vary widely. What does being a Christian mean? Let’s take a quick look at what the Bible says a Christian is.
The word Christian is used three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). Followers of Jesus Christ were first called “Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11:26) because they believed in Christ and followed His example. The word was initially used by their detractors in a derogatory sense, but believers embraced the term as a badge of honor.
While the first-century Christians did follow the teachings, practices and example of Jesus Christ at that time, since then the term has virtually lost its meaning—as it’s usually not accompanied by the same way of life and understanding. Today many claim to be Christians yet don’t really follow Jesus’ teachings.
A Christian responds to God’s calling
God’s Word is quite clear that one cannot just choose to be a Christian! There is a calling or invitation involved. God is not calling all of mankind at this time (Matthew 22:14; John 6:44), nor the particularly rich, famous or powerful of the world (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).
God most often calls ordinary people who can more readily acknowledge their human weaknesses and learn God’s way. These are people who have made mistakes, know it, yet appreciate the forgiveness that God extends to them (Matthew 21:23, 31-32). Children who have a parent who is a genuine Christian are all invited by God to also become Christians (Acts 2:38-39; 1 Corinthians 7:14).
To be a true Christian, a person must change— really change! Acts 2:37-39 shows that Christians must “repent” and walk a different way of life. After repentance, a Christian must also be baptized (immersed in water) by a servant of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38; 8:14-17).
In biblical terms, this process of change, of surrendering one’s life and turning it over to God is called conversion. Obviously, a human being cannot change everything at once, but one can have a repentant attitude and turn in the right direction, making basic changes as he or she embarks on a new path of overcoming sin, bearing “fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8).
Following water baptism, God offers His Holy Spirit to the repentant believer (Acts 2:38). A person is not “of Christ” unless the Spirit of God is in him or her (Romans 8:9). This Spirit is imparted by the laying on of hands by an authorized representative of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:17-18). Through repentance, baptism and the receiving of God’s Holy Spirit, a Christian is then able to understand the spiritual truth of God and His Word (1 Corinthians 2:11).
The example of Jesus Christ
The apostle Paul also helps us understand what a Christian is by simply stating that we should imitate Paul as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Later in the first century, the apostle Peter likewise reminded the Church that they were to follow Christ’s example (1 Peter 2:21).
Christ’s example included worshipping God on the Sabbath day (from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday) and on the Bible’s annual Holy Days (Luke 4:16; John 7; compare Leviticus 23). His example also involved compassion and love for others (John 3:16; Matthew 9:36) along with keeping the commandments of God (Matthew 5:17-19).
Christians will understand the teachings and way of life in the Scriptures and will strive to live by them (Luke 4:4).
According to the Bible, a Christian is someone who responds to God’s calling, repents of his sins, is baptized, receives God’s Holy Spirit and lives as Jesus lived. While God expects us to be loving examples to our families and others (Matthew 5:13-16), Christians will put their calling before everything and everyone else! (Luke 14:26-33). VT