What does it mean to be a Christian? This article was inspired by a friend of mine whom we’ll call Mark. Mark just recently started going to church on a regular basis. He’s always believed in God and always considered himself a Christian. But he’s never really seen himself as a “religious” person like those other “hard core” Christians (like me).
Mark is not one of kind. He’s not the only person in this boat. There are tons of people like Mark. The vast majority of people who consider themselves Christians are like Mark. They go to church regularly or occasionally, believe in God and try to be a good person; but, don’t really consider themselves religious or hard core Christians like some of the other Christians they know.
What is really the big difference between Christians like Mark and other “more serious” Christians? Other than the obvious of course. The answer to that question is found in answering the question of what it really means to be a Christian. It’s impossible to fully answer that question in depth in the short span of one article. So we’re just going to look at a three simple points.
To Be a Christian Means Believing In The Gospel
The most distinctive mark of what it means to be a Christian is that Christians believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although they may enjoy going to church and believe in God most people like Mark don’t really “get” the whole gospel thing. Mark has told me before, “I just don’t get the whole Jesus thing.” What I admire about him, and people like him, is that he doesn’t let that keep him away from church or cause him to lose faith in God.
So what is the gospel? What is the “Jesus thing”? Here it is in a nutshell. One day God is going to judge the world for all of its wrong doing. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” And check out this passage from Revelation:
“And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.” Revelation 20:12-13
One day we’re all going to be judged according to our deeds. The problem is that we’re all going to be found guilty of something (or a lot of somethings). In Romans 3:23 we see that “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (NLT). The unfortunate thing for us is that the penalty for our sins is death (Romans 6:23). When we stand before the judge to be judged according to our deeds we will be found guilty and the penalty will have to be paid.
The good news is that Jesus paid the penalty. “Getting” the gospel is coming to accept the reality that I can either pay the penalty for my sins myself on that day. Which means death (eternal separation from God in hell). Or I can choose to believe in Jesus, follow Him, and accept His payment on my behalf. Which means life (eternal life with God in heaven). The choice is your’s.
That’s the gospel. That’s the Jesus thing. We have sinned. There is a penalty for our sin. Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins. A Christian is someone who has accepted the fact that they have sinned against God and through Jesus they have forgiveness of their sin. Those verses I quoted from Romans earlier go on to tell the rest of the story:
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.” Romans 3:23-24, NLT
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23, NLT
To Be a Christian Means New Life
But forgiveness of our sins is just the beginning. For the Christian this doesn’t mean just forgiveness but a whole new reality – a brand new life better than anything we could have ever possibly dreamed of ourselves.
The Bible says that we’ve been given this opportunity not only to be forgiven by God but to live at peace with God, in harmony with God, be transformed by God, underneath the blessing of God and to one day see God, face to face, and live forever in His presence.
This isn’t just some feel good, hallelujah, amen stuff. It’s truth. Truth that defines what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is one who has put their faith and hope in this truth which the Bible presents. And this is really the biggest difference between people like my friend Mark and the rest of us religious nuts.
I believe this stuff with all of my heart. But Mark, he’s not so sure about how much of this stuff he believes or how much believes the stuff he does believe. The church is sometimes too hard on people like Mark. It’s not that he doesn’t want to believe. It’s that he’s just not sure. Doubt and questions, fears and insecurities, cause him to pause and kind of just linger at the door pondering if this is really a house he wants to enter.
To Be a Christian Means There is Faith Even in the Midst of Doubt
I want to offer you a word of encouragement if you’re like Mark. Your doubt doesn’t have to be the end of the road for you. It doesn’t have to keep you standing at the door pondering. I like the approach to ministry the church where I met my fiancé takes. Their motto is “a safe place to process doubts.” Because they understand if we ask you to believe it all before you come in then you’ll be stuck at the door. And we all need a safe place to process our doubts. Even those of us with the deepest convictions.
There’s a story in the ninth chapter of the gospel of Mark in the New Testament. This father had a son who was often tormented by an evil spirit. The father said the spirit would seize him from time to time and “often throws him into the fire, and into the water, trying to kill him” (v. 22).
He brings the boy to Jesus and begs Jesus, “Have mercy on us, help us, if you can” (v. 22). Jesus responds, “What do you mean if I can? Anything is possible if a person believes” (v. 23). Then the Bible says the father immediately cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (v. 24).
The boy’s father did believe. But somewhere inside there was doubt. He could’ve just walked away. But he didn’t. Instead he asked Jesus to help him. And Jesus did. He had faith even in his doubt and still got the healing he was seeking.
If you can relate to my friend Mark then you can also relate to this boy’s father in Mark 9. His prayer can become you’re prayer. “God, I do believe, but please help me with my unbelief.”
If you’re not like Mark and none of this relates to you I’m sure you too have some friends like my buddy Mark. I pray you’re able to take something away from this article that will help you relate to, and be a blessing to, the Marks in your life.
– Joseph Sterling