What Makes a True Christian

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What is a Christian?  It seems like a simple question, but when you do a little research into the number of Christian groups operating in today’s world, you’ll realize the answer is not so simple.  Most people know that Catholicism was the first major international standard for Christianity after the fourth century and remained so until the great schism of 1054. The  Protestant Reformation emerged in the 16th century. It wasn’t long after that, Protestantism led to denominational rifts among Believers.  Now, it is hard to say how many different sects of Christianity exist.  Some conservative estimates claim that around 40 true denominations of Christianity exist.  Other less conservative estimates suggest that more than 40,000 different belief systems exist under the umbrella of Christianity.  Some of the differences are as simple as which day should be considered the Sabbath (Saturday vs Sunday).  Other differences are more significant.  For example, most Christian sects believe in the Divine Trinity where God consists of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  However, nontrinitarian sects, such as the Church of Latter Day Saints exist.  Some would argue that belief in the Trinity is fundamental to Christianity and, it is certainly Biblically supported, but that doesn’t stop the Mormons and other Latter Day Saints groups from claiming to be Christians.

So who are the true Christians?  “Christian” is a label.  It wasn’t even a term early Christians chose for themselves.  It was a name thrust upon them.  Ref (Acts 11:26).  We Believers may not always agree on every detail associated with our Faith, but the Bible, without a doubt, sets a foundation for anyone who would follow Christ.  Here are three principles that may define that foundation.

Christians believe that Jesus is divine, had a supernatural birth, died, and was resurrected.

For a Christian, believing in Jesus doesn’t simply mean acknowledging his existence.  Muslims also believe in and honor Jesus.  Even many non-believers admit a man named Jesus (or Yeshua to be accurate) existed and is the subject on which Christianity is based.  For Christians, Jesus was not just a regular man.

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5

From the opening of the Gospel of John, we know that Jesus is God. We may not all fully understand the nature of the Trinity, but we certainly understand that Jesus has a relationship with the Father that is divine and different from any other being. That relationship carried through to his birth and life as a man. Furthermore, he died as a human, but he rose, and that is perhaps one of the most important aspects of his story for Christians. 1 Corinthians 15:17 says:

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

His death and resurrection are what allow us to have a relationship with God that was previously impossible. Any belief in Christ that does not acknowledge his resurrection would miss the point of much of the New Testament and could not be seen as Biblically sound.

Christians believe that Salvation cannot be earned but is given to us if we believe on Jesus and his work.

John 3:16 is perhaps the most well-known scripture from the Bible. Even many non-believers have heard it.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

It’s clear, belief in Jesus and what he did for us is what saves us. Some belief systems will push the idea that there is something more required of us and that we must somehow earn salvation through our works. While it is true that the Bible suggests faith without action is empty (James 2:14-24), salvation is not something we can earn (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is something given to us by God.

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. 2And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. – Romans 5:1-2

Faith in the savior is what saves. If we sincerely confess our belief in Jesus Christ and believe that God raised him from the dead, we have salvation and it’s not something we can lose (Romans 10:9-10). Someone can claim to be a Christian, but if they don’t have this understanding and faith, they cannot please God.

Christians believe that love is the key to obeying God.

Believers should strive towards lives without sin, but committing sin does not disqualify one from being a follower of Christ. As discussed before, following laws is not what saves us. If someone is truly saved i.e. a Believer sealed by God’s Holy Spirit, the natural inclination should be to turn away from sin and to follow God’s Law. Jesus said:

If you love me, keep my commands. – John 14:15

So which laws should we follow? Luckily for us, Jesus also addressed that question:

37Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40

Love is the cornerstone for those alive in Christ. It is how we show our obedience to God. Many may claim to follow Christ, but if exercising love for God and mankind is not central to their beliefs and practices then they are not being obedient to His will.

Of course following these three points won’t eliminate all disagreement, but they do provide a common ground on which everyone who follows Christ should be able to build. We should spend less time quibbling over differences in nonessential beliefs and allowing those differences to divide us. Ultimately, God is who decides whether someone has truly met his requirements. Let us simply focus on doing our best to obey His will. 

Chris Lawyer and Pastor Everette Pope

Image Courtesy of www.themonestary.org

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