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What is a Christian?

“Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian”

Acts 26:28

During the time of the Apostle Paul, the title “Christian” to those like Porcius Festus and King Agrippa II, was understood to mean and refer to followers who belonged to a despised sect. Festus with his Greek outlook and Agrippa with his refusal to be converted by Paul were both very aware of the name Christian by this time.

There are many historical examples that reveal that the truth claims of Christianity and even the title Christian demand one to examine the related doctrine of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Today, many are like Festus who attempt to dismiss such doctrine as pure insanity, yet, by doing so, one still cannot erase the historical, biblical facts concerning the ministry of Jesus Christ, namely, His death and resurrection.

There is much debate today over what is a Christian and what exactly makes a person a Christian. Many assume that a Christian is someone who is religious, strives to produce good works, and has high moral standards. Yet, the main question we need to ask is, what does the Bible specifically say and communicate about what it means to be a Christian?

First, the Greek term christianos, meaning “of Christ” or “belonging to Christ,” refers to followers of Christ. It is a title that belongs only to those who are saved and who have acknowledged and received the person of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

The title Christian appears three times in Scripture and each time it is understood as a designation for believers in Christ (Acts 11:26, 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). It is important to note that the name Christian was first associated with the familiarity of the name of Christ as being a religious leader and not the name that believers assigned and attributed to themselves.

"the Greek term christianos, meaning "of Christ" or "belonging to Christ," refers to followers of Christ."

The important question we need to ask is, according to the New Testament (the Bible) what makes a person a believer or a Christian? Again, many people actually believe that simply obeying a list of rules or conforming oneself to a particular manner of living is what makes you a Christian.

However, the Bible clearly states that no one can earn salvation in Christ by merely producing good works or by changing one's behavior (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16, 3:11, 24; Ephesians 2:8, 9; James 2:10). A Christian is one who by faith receives Jesus Christ and His free gift of eternal life (John 1:12, 3:16, 5:24; Romans 6:23, 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8, 9; 1 John 5:13).

Again, the Bible is clear that it cannot be by our efforts that man is saved and becomes a Christian. It is by believing in the person and work of Jesus Christ (His death on the cross for our sins, His burial, His resurrection, and ascension) that literally constitutes, according to the Bible, one to become a Christian, who then becomes a part of God's family.

This amazing transformation that takes place in a person’s life instantly and simultaneously brings about many great realities in the life of a new Christian. I will mention three wonderful realities that occur in a believer's life during the moment of saving faith in Christ.

"A Christian is one who by faith receives Jesus Christ and His free gift of eternal life."

The first great reality that a Christian receives from God is divine forgiveness. The condemnation (God’s punishment) that exists for every man who does not believe in Jesus as Savior (John 3:18, 19) becomes completely forgiven by God as the result of the believer’s faith in Christ. All sins (past, present, and future) have been laid on the divinely provided Substitute, dealt with, and therefore forgiven by God (Colossians 2:13). As far as their condemnation is concerned, according to Romans 8:1, there is now, “no condemnation (that awaits) them which are in Christ Jesus.”

The second great reality a Christian receives from God is a divine family. That is the Christian is adopted into the family of God and legitimately becomes a son, a child of God. Immediately, believers, according to Romans 8:17 become, “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” and now eternally enjoy the same privileges as a natural-born son. John the Apostle declared that “as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).

The third great reality a Christian receives from God is divine union with Christ. At once, the believer, by faith in Christ, is graciously made by God as being “accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). This verse indicates that God accepts the believer and at the moment of salvation they immediately become united with His Son. As a result of their faith in Christ, the believer becomes the righteousness of God and by Christ's atoning work becomes perfectly united with Him for all eternity.

Listed are three of the amazing works of God (out of thirty-three that the Bible describes) that take place instantaneously for the Christian at the moment of salvation. These divine transformations help us not only to define positionally what makes a Christian, but they also aid us in valuing “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).

“Blessed be the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).


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