In the wake of the recent mass murders that took place in Oregon where the killer mortally wounded those students and faculty who affirmatively answered his question, ‘Are you a Christian?’ and in a time when presidential candidates are being queried about their religious beliefs, it is important that we know what it really means to be ‘a Christian’. How would you respond to the question, “Are you a Christian?’ Upon what would you base your answer? Would you say that you are a Christian if you knew that it would cost you your life, as it did those in the Oregon shootings? If it meant ridicule, loss of your job, or persecution? Many people, especially in the United States, profess to be Christian, but are they really when we consider their definition of a Christian in light of God’s Word?
For over half of my life, if I’d been asked those questions I likely would have responded something like this: “Of course I’m a Christian. I was born into a Christian home and went to church every Sunday (I mean we even attended church when we were on vacations!). As a child we had nightly devotions in our home, and I certainly believed that Jesus died on the cross to save people from their sin. I thought about God a lot and loved discussions about spiritual things. I prayed before and even after meals, and whenever I needed something from God (usually it was a prayer along the lines of asking Him to get me out of whatever mess I’d gotten myself into!). I wasn’t an atheist, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Muslim, or any other religion, and I was raised in a home where we faithfully attended church, and I did believe that God loved me… so, yes, I must be a Christian!
But was I really a Christian? My life pretty much revolved around my pleasure and my thoughts were on what made me happy, not on what God desired from or for me. God was a part of my life, but He certainly was not the center or focus of my life.
I was what I describe as a ‘roller-coaster Christian’. I had highs with God when I pursued Him, followed by lows when I turned my back on Him, which led me to cry out to God and brought me back up to a high with Him, followed shortly by a low as I pursued my agenda rather than His better one. Maybe you’ve been on that roller-coaster ride with God too; or perhaps you are on it now and want to get off.
By God’s grace, I found that there is a better way of living. A MUCH better way! And it is found by giving your life to the One Who is ‘The Way’!
At 37 years, after realizing that living life by my standards instead of following God’s commands brought disaster and disappointment, I finally was willing to humble myself and get down on my knees and give my life to God…my whole life…not just some of the time, but ALL of the time! To fully surrender my will, my dreams, and my desires to doing His will– no matter what.
From that time on, my life has been radically transformed. I confessed my sins before God and repented; I changed the whole focus and direction of my life. I became what the Bible describes as ‘born again’ or a ‘new creation’ in Christ (2nd Corinthians 5:17); the old passed away and the new life came. I no longer lived life in my own strength and power; I began living through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit who I received when I truly accepted by faith the gift of salvation Jesus offered me by dying in my place on the cross. Jesus said that a person MUST be ‘born again’ to see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
I was done with ‘roller coaster Christianity’ (which is really not Christianity at all!) and started living consistently for the pleasure of God rather than for my own pleasure– and that has brought purpose and true joy to my life!
Being a Christian means to be a “follower of Christ”, Who Himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”(John 14:6) In fact, early Christians were known as followers of “The Way’ because Jesus clearly stated that He alone was THE way to salvation and His followers– also known as disciples– taught that the only path to salvation was through faith in Christ; that is what true Christians believe today as well. If there were any other way other way, why would Jesus have endured the cross?
The essence of Jesus Christ’s life was that He fully submitted to the will of His Heavenly Father. Jesus’ only will was to do the will of His Heavenly Father. Jesus only did that which He saw His Father doing, and He only spoke the words His Father gave Him to speak (John 5:19 John 12:49). The full extent of His willingness to surrender His will to do what His Heavenly Father desired is epitomized in the Garden of Gethsemane. After asking, if possible, that the ‘cup’ of going to the cross be removed from him, he uttered, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42) As ‘Christ-followers’, we will follow Jesus’ lead and no longer live for what pleases our earthly, bodily desires; instead we will choose to live for the pleasure and will of God, trusting that whatever He asks of us is always and ultimately for our good and for God’s glory.
Being a true Christian involves more than just believing that Jesus died on the cross to save ‘the world’ from its sin, but trusting that Jesus died on the cross to save YOU from YOUR sin. It is believing by faith that Jesus gave His life in place of yours when He died on the cross and bore the punishment that you deserved for rebelling against a holy God. Christians understand that they owe Christ their very life, that their life is not their own, it was purchased with the price of Jesus’ blood (1st Corinthians 6:20). As a Christian, your desire is to live for the purpose and will of God Who demonstrated His lavish love for you in that while you were still a sinner, Jesus died to save you (Romans 5:8). You come to know that you can fully trust God with every aspect of your life because He has proven the depth of His love for you.
Jesus chose to exchange his life for yours out of obedience to His Heavenly Father, and he was willing to obey God the Father because He intimately knew Him, loved Him, and fully trusted Him. Likewise, being a Christian means knowing God and having an intimate, personal relationship with Him. To be a Christian means more than knowing ‘about God’. It means truly knowing Him…knowing His character and His ways. And the more you know Him, the more you love and worship Him and discover that He is perfect in all of His ways. Out of reverence, awe, and love for Him, you will want to align your will and desires with His; you will love what He loves and hate what He hates. Knowing that He is the Creator of the Universe and that He created it for His pleasure and glory, a follower of Christ realizes that God alone is the One Who determines what sin is, which is disobeying His commands, or ‘missing the mark’ from His standpoint, not anyone else’s. And how does a person come to know God’s heart, His character, His ways, His thoughts, determine what He loves and what He hates? By spending time with Him! By reading and studying His Word (the Bible), by communing with Him in prayer, and by being in fellowship with other Christians.
A Christian knows that ‘apart from Christ’ she can do no good thing (John 15:5), and that being a ‘good person’ or doing ‘good works’ cannot earn salvation. It is “…by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) The only ‘work’ that must be done is the work of believing (John 6:29) in the atoning work that Jesus did on the cross on your behalf and receiving the gift of salvation that He purchased for you.
When a person believes in Jesus’ death and resurrection on her behalf and gives her life to Christ, she receives the gift of the Holy Spirit Who comes to live in her and empowers her to overcome the temptation to sin, and enables her ‘to do all things through Christ who strengthens’ her. (Philippians 4:16) It is the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit that a person receives when they put their trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross in their place that brings about the ‘transformed life’ that is the mark of a true follower of Christ.
Becoming a Christian does not mean that you will never sin again. It does mean that the Holy Spirit at work in you is grieved when you do sin, and you know to go to Jesus to confess your sin and receive the forgiveness He gives to all who put their trust in Him, (1st John 1:9) and who is able to remove your sin ‘as far as the East is from the West’. (Psalm 103:12)
When you truly comprehend that Jesus willingly sacrificed His perfect life for you—not because you did anything to deserve His sacrifice, but because He obeyed His Heavenly Father Who loved you so much that He sent His Beloved Son to die in your place, you will love God and your desire will be to please Him and to live for His glory. And if you love Him, you will want to obey Him. (1st John 5:3) When you obey Him, you will abide in Him, and when you abide in Him, His life will be at work in you and you will produce ‘fruit that lasts’. (John 15:1-16) What is ‘the fruit that lasts’? It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness; goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And it is the surest evidence that a person has repented, been ‘crucified with Christ’, ‘born again’, and has Christ at work and alive in them. (Matthew 3:8; Galatians 2:20)
Would you say that you truly are a Christian given the statements and scriptures above? Are you living for Christ? Have you surrendered your will to do His will? Are you willing to die for Him? Would those who know you best say that there is enough evidence to convict you if you were accused of being a Christian?
If you answered ‘no’ to any of those questions, Jesus is longing for you to come to Him; to confess your sin; and to give full control of your life over to Him. It is not a fair exchange; in exchange for your sinful, powerless life He will give you His everlasting life– the only life that is worth living– and the Source of all power, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
written by Julie Van Gorp