What is a Christian?

One reader asked, “Can a Christian lose their salvation?”

If you have been exposed to the teachings of Christianity for any length of time, you might have learned that this question is divisive with different denominations landing on varying responses. As such, I know that not every pastor or Christian will agree with my response. That’s okay - it’s my column. :)

In order to give this question the attention and focus that it deserves, I will break it down into two separate weeks. This week we will look at the question, “What is a Christian?” Next week we will engage with, “Can a true Christian lose their salvation?”

In my opinion, the challenge in answering this question lies in the reality that people have varying explanations of what makes a person a Christian. I am not a student of philosophy, nor am I a follower of a denomination. What I am is committed to reading and understanding the Bible. As I read the Bible, here are some things I see clearly communicated.

One, not everyone who says he or she is a Christian is actually a Christian. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

Now, maybe you’ve cast out demons and healed people with your prayers, but I never have. Jesus, however, says that your good works or your claims aren’t the basis for your identifying as a Christian. On the contrary, there will be people who said and did a lot of things IN THE NAME OF CHRIST, who, according to Jesus, are unknown by God. Notice, Jesus doesn’t say that “I used to know you,” but he says “I never knew you!” So first, realize that not all people who think they are Christians (or check the box on the census) are Christians in Jesus’ eyes.

Second, you weren’t born a Christian because Christian isn’t supposed to be a culture or an ethnicity. In John 3:3-6, Jesus said, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Often I will hear people say things like, “I’ve been a Christian since I was born.” Not according to Jesus! Nicodemus, like all learned Jews in his day believed that his ethnicity gave him, by default, good graces with God. Jesus tells Nicodemus, however, that unless you are born again you cannot enter God’s kingdom. For Nicodemus, this was strange. Why ‘born again?’ Because your first birth, of the flesh, has nothing to do with your spiritual birth. You haven’t been a Christian since birth - even if someone prays over you. Unless someone is reborn of the Spirit of God, then they cannot enter the kingdom. So, once again we see that not all people who think they are Christian (in this case due to birth or culture) are Christians in Jesus’ eyes.

So, what is a Christian? John 1:10-13 says, paraphrased, Jesus created the world, but when he arrived it didn’t recognize him. He came to his own creation, his own people, and they didn’t want him. But to everyone who received him - he has given the right to become God’s children - children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.

A Christian isn’t someone who was born into the right family or made the right decisions in their life. A Christian is someone who has trusted in Jesus - that Jesus is who he claimed to be and that Jesus is going to do what he claimed he would.

Christianity is about trusting in Jesus. It’s that simple, but we tend to miss the point. Lots of people know facts about Jesus, can recite information about Jesus, and even go to church to learn about Jesus, but they’ve never trusted in him. They don’t trust his words. They don’t trust his claims.

For people like that, the Bible is incredibly clear: in God’s eyes, you aren’t a Christian. You aren’t a Christ follower. You might be religious. You might be , but according to the Bible, you aren’t part of God’s family.

In light of this straightforward column, I think next week we can answer the question, “Can a Christian lose their salvation?”