What It Means to Be a Christian

I believe Christianity is true, and for that reason my desire is that everyone would freely choose to embrace the truth and become a Christian. (I believe that’s God’s desire, too.)

But what does that mean?

Christianity has been around for roughly 2,000 years, and there’s a lot of diversity within our religion—and lots of people outside claiming to be Christians. But if you were to ask me about becoming a Christian, this is what I would say.

Christians Are People Saved through Faith in Christ

Paul, one of the first Christians and a prominent apostle in the early church, wrote this:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10 ESV)

First, he says we’re saved through faith. Faith isn’t just hoping for the best. Faith is trusting God and what He has revealed about Himself. It’s believing what God says is true and being personally committed to loving and following Him.

When we say “what He has revealed” we mean a lot of things, but there is one part that’s most important. It has to do with Jesus, and we refer to it as the Gospel (“good news”). The short version is God became one of us, dwelt among us, died for our sins, rose to life, ascended to heaven, and is coming back to make all things new.

We see this in the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-6, Paul writes that the Gospel is the message that Jesus died for the sins of the world, was buried, and was raised to life again—all according to what the Old Testament prophecies foretold. What’s more, many people saw these things and could testify about them.

After a while Christians wrote a creed (from the Greek word for “I believe”) that we today call the Apostle’s Creed. It’s based on Bible teachings and fleshes out the Gospel story of Jesus and is claimed by Christians around the world.

1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: 2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord: 3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary: 4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell: 5. The third day he rose again from the dead: 6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty: 7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead: 8. I believe in the Holy Ghost: 9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints: 10. The forgiveness of sins: 11. The resurrection of the body: 12. And the life everlasting. Amen. (CCEL)

In other words, Paul’s good news—that Jesus died for our sins and rose again—is understood in the context of other beliefs. Jesus wasn’t just an especially good or wise person; He was fully God and fully human. And salvation didn’t end with the cross or even the resurrection; Jesus is coming back! He will rule with peace and justice, and those who believe in Him now will be resurrected as He was to live in that perfect world forever.

Christians Are Created to Do Good Works

So the first important issue is believing that Jesus is who the Bible says He is and did (and will do!) what the Bible describes. But there’s more! Our purpose is to do good works.

Jesus’ brother James ties faith to good works, saying that if we believe rightly it will show in our actions (James 1:22, 2:17). John, one of Jesus’s closest disciples, says that Jesus came to take away sins and destroy the works of the devil, and whoever continues in sin is on the wrong side (1 John 3:8). Christians believe there is right and wrong, and rely on the Bible to help us understand which is which.

This aspect of our religion is what usually shines brightest or looms darkest about us. Many have been won over by the character of Christians—but many have been repelled by the lack of character. The expectations are high and our efforts rarely if ever match up, which leads me to my third point.

Christians Are Saved by Grace

Christians believe the good news about Jesus, who He is and what He did and will do. Christians strive to do what is right and keep from sinning. But one of the most amazing things about Christianity is that we are saved by grace.

God is completely perfect and transcends all our categories of who we are and what we think. But grace is when He condescends, when He comes down to our level. God becoming one of us is one example of pure grace, God literally coming to our level. But another way that He’s gracious to us is that He’s merciful, a perfect God accepting imperfect people.

So when Paul says we’re saved by grace, he means that salvation is God’s work, not ours. Our faith by itself is worthless; our faith does not have the power to save. Truth is truth either way, but Jesus is the one who saves, and faith means we put our trust in Him. Our good works by themselves are worthless; we cannot earn salvation. Good is good, no matter who does it, but Jesus is the one who saves, and good works are the result.

The reason so many Christians get so excited about grace is it means everyone is invited. You don’t have to get your life in order first. Christianity is not just for good people! No matter what you have done or said or believed, no matter what darkness lies in you, Jesus says that if you trust Him, you are accepted. Many (most? all?) of us have significant evil in our past, but we are accepted anyway.

What’s more, God’s grace doesn’t end when you become a Christian. Even though we strive to obey Him, nobody is perfect and we all still sin. But God does not reject us; He remains faithful even to the unfaithful. This doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want and abuse His grace, but we don’t have to live in fear because nothing can separate us from God’s love.

You Are Invited, Too

If you are reading this right now, you can become a Christian. Nothing in your past is unforgivable. Of course, nothing in your past will save you either. The only thing that can save isn’t a thing at all or even a mindset—it’s a person. Jesus took the penalty you deserved to give you the future you could not earn.

If you want to become a Christian, the first step is praying to God to tell Him you believe in Jesus and trust in what He did. If you don’t know what to say you could use the Gospel or the Apostle’s Creed for reference. You don’t have to have it all figured out or say the right words in the right order. What matters is declaring that Jesus is God and that you desire to follow Him.

The second step is finding a good church to belong to. If that sounds weird, I understand. Sometimes it can sound like a marketing thing, but truth be told community is a huge part of being a Christian. The hardest part here is avoiding the fakes; find a church that believes the Gospel and strives to do good.

Finally, start reading the Bible. It almost certainly won’t all make sense the first time (it’s old and foreign!), and it’s a long collection of books and letters, but it’s one of the best ways to get to know who God is and what He expects of you. Your church should help you understand the tough parts.

Conclusion

Whether or not you’re ready to trust Christ today, I hope this post has helped give you a clearer understanding of who Christians are and what we’re about. If I can help make sense of anything or if you’re finding it hard to believe for whatever reason, I’d love to help. I’m just an email away.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*

a blog about theology and everything else