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What is a Christian?

There are certainly a lot of opinions about the definition of a Christian:

  • Someone who believes in God.
  • Someone who is a good person.
  • Someone who has been christened.
  • Someone who is born in America.
  • Someone who is weird.
  • Someone who helps others.
  • Someone who has been baptized.
  • Someone who prays.
  • Someone who reads his Bible a lot.
  • Everyone who goes to church.

Who is right? Before we can see the right answer, we need to remind ourselves there are basically only two types of questions we are ever asked in life:

  1. Those concerned with facts, and
  2. Those that have to do with our opinions.

For instance, "What's your favorite color?" is a question about your opinion. You could answer blue, green, brown, red, or indigo, and each of these answers would be equally okay.

If I asked you, "How many minutes are in an hour?" however, you could come up with any number you like—5, 36, 349, or 10,132—but unless the answer you gave was 60, you would be wrong. The answer to this question about minutes in an hour has nothing to do with opinion; it is a matter of fact.

Likewise, while there is only one right answer to the question, "What is a Christian?" there are endless wrong ones to choose from.

Before I became a Christian, I had all sorts of ideas about what it was that made you one. It was all colored by weird people I had seen in church, relatives, and the media. I am thankful I had some good models of the Christian life in my immediate family, but even then, it took me a long time to realize that the definition of a Christian was a matter not of opinion, but of fact.

I was far from the only one confused about what a Christian is. If we were to take an opinion poll in any American city, we would discover that most people in this country believe in God. Many people would also say they were Christians, and we would end up with all sorts of ideas about what a Christian is. Those opinions might be interesting and genuinely held, but all of them cannot be right. Everyone cannot be correct at the same time. At the end of the day, the issue is who is right and who is wrong.

There is really only one right answer to the question,

"What is a Christian?" The word "Christian" comes from the name "Christ." Christianity is completely tied up with Jesus Christ. People might hold all sorts of interesting views about God, life, morality, church, and even the Bible, but unless those opinions reflect what Jesus actually taught, it is misguided for them to think of themselves as Christians. It is vital to grasp that the commonly held view that "Christian" is just another term for a good person isn't accurate. After all, there are all sorts of very good and honest people who do not claim to believe in God at all, let alone in Jesus' teaching.

So what did Jesus teach?

Many believe Jesus' teaching amounted to: "Love one another," "Turn the other cheek," and one or two other idealistic statements. It is surprising to many to find out that while Jesus did say these things, the center of His message was something else.

The heart of what Jesus said was, "Follow Me," not just "follow My example," or even "do the sorts of things that I do." The essence of His message was that each of us should follow Him personally—Mt. 4:19; 8:22; 9:9; 10:38; 16:24; 19:21; Mk. 1:17; 2:14; 8:34; 10:21; Lk. 5:27; 9:23,59,61; 14:27; 18:22; Jn. 1:43; 10:27; 12:26; 21:19,22.

John 10:27—"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

John 12:26—Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me."

Matt. 16:24—"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'"