Being Christian

What does it really mean to be a Christian? I’ve been wrestling with this question for a few years now. The word “Christian” has become so commonplace that there does not seem to be any clear, universal picture of what it means. We have Christian colleges, Christian bands and Christian music, Christian books, Christian movies, Christian TV channels, Christian coffee shops, Christian gyms, Christian athletes, Christian business people and Christian businesses. Unfortunately, this over-saturation, coupled with hypocrisy of nominal Christians, has tarnished the word to the point that many Christians no longer want to be associated with it. Phrases like “I’m not a Christian, I’m a Christ-follower” have become popular in recent years as a way for people to distinguish themselves from this word that they feel has lost its meaning.

So what does it really mean to be a Christian? Following are some some examples of what I believe are misconceptions regarding this.

To some, being Christian means that they prayed a special prayer or quoted some special Bible verses and now they have “fire insurance” and can go on with life as usual – for them Christianity is simply about a ticket into heaven. To others it means that they go to church occasionally and avoid the “big sins,” – for them Christianity is mostly about what they don’t do? To others, it means that they know all the right doctrine, have lots of Bible verses memorized, and even know a few Greek words – Christianity is about having the right knowledge. Someone else equates Christianity with showing up at every church gathering and volunteering for every committee – for them Christianity is about being involved in the church. Others think being a Christian means serving the poor, feeding the hungry, going on mission trips, and giving money to the church – for them Christianity is about the good things that they do. None of these things are bad and most of them will probably show up in the life of a Christian but none of them really capture the essence of what it means to be a Christian.

The Bible gives us some insight into the origin of the word. In Acts 11 a couple of leaders named Paul and Barnabas went to the church at Antioch and verse twenty-six says “…For a whole year they [Paul and Barnabas] met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” The implication here is that the term “Christian” was initially not a term that the disciples gave themselves but rather it was one that was given to them by others. Some sources indicate that this may have actually been a derogatory term directed toward these people who were disciples of Jesus Christ. Eventually, however, the followers of Jesus embraced the term that incorporated the title of the one they were following. I think the takeaway here is that other people called them Christians before they ever referred to themselves as such.

So what is a Christian? The short answer is that a Christian is a disciple, or a follower, of Jesus Christ.

Following are a few more statements that I have come up with to describe what it means to be a Christian based on my reading and re-reading of the New Testament. This list is not by any means comprehensive but I think it provides a big-picture perspective.

  • A Christian is person who has experienced the marvelous, redeeming grace and forgiveness of God and chooses to follow Jesus, endeavoring to become more and more like him every day.
  • A Christian is a person whose heart has been and continues to be transformed to love the things and the people that God loves and hate the things that God hates.
  • A Christian is a person who obeys God’s commandments, not out fear of punishment but out of a desire to please a loving heavenly Father.
  • A Christian is a person whose love for God is evident by the love she has for other people.
  • A Christian is a person who realizes that his life is no longer his own and lovingly surrenders it in service to the one who gave it all.
  • A Christian is a person who can’t wait to tell the world about the good news of Jesus Christ.

If you read that list and thought, “that’s really lofty, I’m nowhere close to that,” I want you to know that I’m right there with you. That list isn’t intended to make me feel bad for all of the things I’m not doing; it’s intended to give me goals toward which I can strive. We are much less likely to attain anything without having a goal and the goal of Christianity is Christ-likeness. Attaining this goal, however, is a lifelong process; we don’t just arrive one day.

Being a Christian is not supposed to be one of many things that I am, e.g. I’m a student and an employee and a husband and a Broncos fan and a Christian. Being a Christian should influence everything I do: how I do my job, how I love my wife, how I react when someone cuts me off on the road.

My goal is that someone on the outside looking in on my life would to describe me as a Christ follower, that they would say, “Thomas really reminds me of Jesus?”

So it may seem really obvious, but if I’m going to follow Jesus and be like Jesus I need to know something about him. Nearly everything we know about Jesus comes from the Bible. This means that I’ve got to read the Bible. Following is one idea for an approach to the Bible

  • Start with the gospels – these teach us what Jesus was like when we walked on Earth.
  • Then read the rest of the New Testament – The book of Acts and the following letters to early churches show us how Jesus’ followers behaved after him and they provide important instructions regarding the Christian life.
  • Then read the Old Testament- This was Jesus’ Bible. If it was important for Jesus, it should be important for us too.

In short, being a Christian is an all-encompassing transformation of a person’s life. It’s not a term that we should take lightly or throw around haphazardly. We should be so wrapped in up following Christ that people on the outside can’t help but identify us with him.

What are your thoughts? Would you add anything to the list? Take anything away? Change anything?


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