What Is a Christian?
Acts 11:26b, “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.“
Everything that we know about has a beginning except for God Himself. If we accept this fact, then a good question to ask ourselves is what is the beginning of a Christian? No man can rightly say, “I’ve always been one.” Therefore, when and more importantly how does a man become a Christian? Does a man become a Christian by being born into a Christian family, by being baptized or confirmed into the membership of a Christian church, or by keeping the Golden Rule or the Ten Commandments? The straightforward answer to all of these is no. As we will see, the authoritative teaching of the Scriptures is that a man is saved by God’s grace through personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who by Himself has done all that is necessary for our sins to be forgiven and for us to be reconciled to God.
John 3:1-18, “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. 9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? 13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.“
We see in this passage a very religious-minded man that is truly ignorant about the nature of the kingdom of God and how a man could be born of the Spirit. Reliance on a religious system or tradition for truth is woefully insufficient. We must rely solely on the truth of God which He has preserved for us in the Bible. To his credit, Nicodemus did not allow his nagging doubts about important truths to go unanswered and then not be properly prepared to enter into eternity. Though he was somewhat embarrassed by his ignorance and, therefore, came to Christ “by night,” he did the right thing in going to the only one that could truly answer his questions. If you like Nicodemus of old are deeply involved in religious things but are still possessed about doubts concerning the certainty of Heaven for yourself, my prayer is that you will be willing to consider the truth that Christ taught Nicodemus and become a genuine follower of Christ as well (cf. John 7:50; 19:40).
Salvation’s nature is one that is spiritual.
While this truth should be readily recognized by all, it rarely is. (“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24.) Entrance into Heaven, forgiveness of sin, and reconciliation with God may be acknowledged by most as things that are spiritual in nature, but many of these same people behave as if they are not. While Nicodemus had made a proper observation concerning the relationship of Christ to God by seeing or hearing of the miracles He did (“Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.“), he had failed to have any comparable considerate thoughts concerning the nature of the Kingdom of God. (“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.“) What do I mean? It is evident that Nicodemus was able to understand the connection between the miracles of Christ and an absolute necessity for a personal relationship by Christ with God; however, despite all of his study of the Old Testament Scriptures during his years of religious instruction, he still did not understand the spiritual nature of God’s Kingdom. How could it be that a man would believe that no other man could do great miracles unless God was with him, and still believe that his own works of righteousness without God could assure him of entering into God’s Kingdom? How can it be that a Jewish man could believe that there needed to be a personal relationship with God for another Jew, namely Jesus, to do miracles, and believe that his own Jewish heritage was sufficient of itself for him to enter into God’s Kingdom? If one Jewish man cannot do miracles without God, how can another one enter Heaven without God? It does not make sense does it? “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.“
Man in his ignorance thinks that physical realities are the way to God. It is no wonder then that we find a multitude of worldwide religious systems that have established material objects and human acts as the agency for people to get to God. Depending on what the specific religion is, one hears that he must do these certain acts or go to these places or practice these types of rituals. Christ greatly interrupted Nicodemus’ religious viewpoint (and many in the world today) when He emphatically declared to him these words, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And He pronounced them again in this fashion, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” It was Nicodemus’ physical birth that gave him his Jewish heritage. As great a thing that that was, nevertheless, it was just a physical birth with no spiritual implications. There must be a spiritual birth (i.e. being born again by the Spirit) to enter into God’s spiritual Kingdom. No man’s familial, cultural, national, or even his religious heritage matters. No man’s good deeds or works can avail either. It is a matter of the spirit, and only God’s Spirit can bring true spiritual life which is necessary to see God and abide in His presence.
Becoming a Christian is not a matter of the physical but of the spirit. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Since it is spiritual in its nature, becoming a Christian is not about what we do or to whom we were born nor is it the result of an emotional experience in a religious setting. If this is true, and it is, why then do so many people base being a Christian on their religious forms, symbols, traditions, rituals, and heritage? “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Romans 8:8-9. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Romans 8:14. What it means in a very simple explanation is that due to its spiritual nature becoming a Christian is based on who God is and what Christ has done rather than on what I do. We must look to God and Him only for salvation.
Salvation’s foundation is the substitionary sacrifice of Christ.
“Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” and also “Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?” Asking the question “how can something be” strongly suggests a view that it is either impossible or next to impossible.
Christ’s actual answer to that specific question of how can man be born of God’s Spirit begins in verse 14, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.“
As we study that answer, there are two important points that Christ makes to Nicodemus. First, He reveals that the foundation for salvation (salvation is identical to being born of the Spirit) is the substitionary sacrifice of Himself. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” This truth is repeated often in Scripture.
Romans 4:25, “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”
Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:19, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”
Hebrews 9:28, “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”
Acts 4:12, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
Salvation’s foundation is sure because Christ Himself is that foundation.
1 Corinthians 3:11, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
The reason Christ had to die for us is all about our sin.
Romans 5:12, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”
Sin is the cause of man’s separation from God.
Romans 6:23a, “For the wages of sin is death.”
Man was created in a perfect sinless state and in complete fellowship with God, but when Adam sinned the result was that he immediately died spiritually (meaning he was separated from God), and he began to die physically. If a man in this life is never reconciled to God through forgiveness of his sin, his destiny is eternal separation form God in the Lake of Fire which is the second death.
Revelation 21:8, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.“
God never intended for man to be separated from Himself and is not willing that anyone should go to Hell. 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” John 3:17, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.“ “For God so loved the world,” was the motivation for God’s sending His only begotten Son Jesus Christ into this sin cursed world. Laying aside His glory, Christ humbled Himself and through the womb of a virgin became the God/man. (cf. Phil. 2:7-8) Though He lived a perfectly sinless life, He became sin for us bearing the guilt, shame, and penalty of our sin upon Himself. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Then on the third day after His crucifixion, Christ bodily arose out of the grave victorious over sin, death, and Hell. (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Heb. 2:14).
All of our salvation’s necessary work was planned, initiated, and completed by God. It does not need to be added to by us in the least bit. What could anyone of us do that would be on par or better than what God has already done? If it was up to man to save himself, why did God need to do so much? Becoming a Christian is about resting in the finished work of Christ. It is not about man saving himself.
Salvation’s gift is received by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The second part of Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus concerning “How can these things be?” is the means or agency of appropriating God’s gracious gift of salvation. Though the foundation for salvation is great, its means is quite simple. Man always seems to want to demean the foundation by making it simpler and to corrupt the means by making it harder. The means of becoming a Christian is by faith, trust, belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. “. . . that whosoever believeth in him. . .” and again “. . . that whosoever believeth in him. . .“
Symbols, rituals, or sacraments (means of obtaining God’s grace by participation) are not the agencies to appropriate God’s grace. They cannot be because they are all just physical things. God’s grace is bestowed freely upon all who believe.
Romans 3:28, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
Romans 4:4-5, “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Romans 4:16a, “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace.”
Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it [salvation] is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
John 3:36, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
John 1:12-13, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.“
God imputes Christ’s righteouness to be our righteousness when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. We could never be made righteous by the Law. The Law condemns us.
James 2:10, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”
Galatians 3:10, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”
Becoming a Christian is about who God is and what He has done.
Can it all be stated in very simple terms?
Acts 16:30-31, “And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”
Yes, believe that Christ died for you bearing your sin on Himself, and you too will be saved.
Romans 10:9-13, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. 12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
My friend, if you have never trusted in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, this day can be the beginning of being a real Christian for you.
1 John 5:11-12, “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.“