What Is a Christian?

Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash

The word “Christian” traces back to ancient Greek and can be understood to mean “like Christ.” It was first used in Antioch to describe the group of people who were converted by the preaching ministry of Barnabas and Saul and became followers of Jesus Christ. Specifically, they believed that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promised Jewish Messiah. Since that time, the word “Christian” has been passed down through history to distinguish people who believe in Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Jewish Messiah and put their hope in Him for the promise of salvation and eternal life with God. (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet 4:16; John 3:16-17)

The Christian faith centers on the person and works of Jesus Christ. The death of Jesus on the cross provided final atonement for sins. The resurrection of Jesus proved His victory over sin and death. A person who believes these truths and accepts them personally as the basis for the promise of eternal life is then said to be “born again.” This means that the person has become spiritually alive by the Holy Spirit, Who comes to live spiritually alongside our hearts, imparting new spiritual life and restoring our relationship with God. (John 3:3-8; Rom 3:21-26; 1 Cor 15:56-57; Heb 2:14-17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10)

When a person becomes a Christian, they receive a new nature. All people are born with a sin nature, which can be described as the innate predisposition to think and act against the character and purposes of God. Sin includes, but is not limited to, harboring negative thoughts and feelings about God and others, as well as intentional actions against God or causing harm to others, ourselves, and even nature. Before a person believes in Jesus, they are spiritually dead in sin and condemned to eternal death. But when a person believes in Jesus for eternal life, they receive forgiveness for their sins and a new spiritual nature oriented toward God. (Gen 3; Jer 17:9; Rom 3:21-26; 1 Cor 5:17; Eph 2:1-11)

When a person becomes a Christian, their relationship with God changes. Before believing in Jesus, a person stands against God as an enemy of His character and purposes, condemning them to eternal separation from Him. When a person believes in Jesus, that person becomes a child of God. The blessings of this new relationship include, but are not limited to, forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a new spiritual nature oriented toward God, salvation from hell and eternal life with God. (John 1:12-13; Rom 5:6-11; 8; 2 Cor 3; Eph 1:3-14)

When a person becomes a Christian, their relationship with other people changes, too. Christians are spiritual siblings, members of the spiritual household of God, bonded together by their shared faith in Christ, shared indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and shared child-Father relationship with God. Non-Christians are neighbors, for whom Christians are to have loving concern for their spiritual condition. Neighbors include non-believing co-workers, family members, friends and others encountered in life. Christians are resident strangers in the world of humankind, no longer sharing the values of the world, but living as representatives of Christ’s truth and love in a world that is generally not oriented toward God. (Matt 5:13-16; John 17:6-26; Luke 6:27-36; Eph 2:19-22; 4:11-17)

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