What Does it Mean to Be a Christian?
In the Bible, the word "Christian" only appears three times. In Acts 11:26, Luke writes "...The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." In Acts 26:28, King Agrippa tells Paul; "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian." And, in 1 Peter 4:16: "...but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God." In each case, the Greek word Christianos (khris-tee-an-os') is used, which is translated "follower of Christ."
So, what does it mean to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ? It means you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, by accepting Him as your personal Lord and Saviour. Simply believing in God is not enough. Being a good person is not enough. Nor is going to church, being baptized or taking communion, although all of those things are done by Christians. Let's look at what the bible says:
Man is Separated from God
When Adam and Eve sinned, they ruined it for all of us. From that point on, we were separated from God by sin. Not just Adam and Eve's sin, but our sins as well. Although you may believe that you are a good person, the bible says differently:
"...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." -- Romans 3:23
"All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." -- Romans 3:12
The Bible is pretty clear that we are not "good" on our own merit. We cannot earn God's forgiveness:
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast." -- Ephesians 2:8-9 (Emphasis added)
The only way we can be saved is through faith. We cannot earn God's forgiveness through works (things we do), and we surely don't deserve it, because we will never live up to God's standard. And, even if it was possible to be good enough for God, how would you know? What would be good enough? It's easy to say a mass murderer is bad and Mother Teresa was good, but most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Do you see that there would be no way to know if you were good enough or not? And the Bible says we can know with certainty if we are going to heaven or not:
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." -- Romans 8:1
We don't have to wonder if we will go to heaven when we die. We can know for sure. How can that be? Please read on.
Jesus Died for Our Sins
The only way for us to be reconciled to God is through the His son. Jesus died on the cross so that we could be reconciled to God:
"But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." -- Romans 5:8
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." -- John 3:17
Not only did Christ die for us, but we see that God did this while we were still sinners. He didn't wait for us to "clean up our act," or "get our life straightened out." He took the first step. It is up to us to take the next step, which is accepting this gift through faith in Jesus Christ.
You Must be Born Again
Many people believe "born again" is a modern day expression to describe people who hold up John 3:16 signs in the end zone or stand on street corners yelling "Repent or go to hell!" The truth is, Jesus first used the expression when he was talking to Nicodemus, a religious leader:
"I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." -- John 3:3
He also said:
"I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." -- John 14:6
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." -- Matthew 7:13-14
You see, many people believe in God and believe that by being a "good person" they will go to heaven (the wide gate), but significantly less have a personal relationship with Jesus (the narrow gate). Only those who enter the narrow gate by way of Jesus are forgiven and will spend eternity in heaven. Many more people will be surprised to find that everything they did counted for nothing without that relationship with Jesus:
"Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out many demons and perform many miracles?' Then, I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers!'" -- Matthew 7:22-23
In other words, none of the "things" we do count for anything without a personal relationship with Jesus. Not going to church. Not giving money to the church, or to charity. Not doing good deeds. Not being confirmed or going through catechism classes. Not even being baptized. All of these things may be done by Christians, but they do not MAKE someone a Christian. The ONLY thing that matters is whether or not Jesus knows you, and the only way that happens is by accepting Him as your personal Lord and Saviour.
Accept God's Gift
Maybe this is the first time you've really understood what it means to be a Christian. If you have never asked God to give you His free gift of forgiveness through His Son, Jesus Christ, there is never a better time than right now. Maybe you've never done this, or you're not sure if you have. Pray this prayer:
"Dear God, I know I am a sinner. Please forgive me. Thank you for your Son Jesus Christ and His death on the cross for my sins. I believe that you raised Him from the dead. I accept Jesus, right now, as my personal Lord and Saviour. Please help me to begin to live my life in the way you want me to from this day forward. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen."
Perhaps you prayed something like this a long time ago, but you've fallen away from God. If you would like to recommit yourself to Him, pray this prayer:
"Dear God, please forgive me for not living my life the way you want me to. I recommit myself to you right now, and I ask you to help me start living my life for you from this day forward. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen."