What is a Christian? (how to become one?)

It’s difficult to write a web page like this without implying that birth into spiritual life can be reduced to following a dry formula or tick box exercise, which it can’t. Every Christian’s walk of faith is initiated then sustained by God’s Holy Spirit, through His mercy and ‘grace’(Ephesians 2:8). But God graciously uses means, and the very fact that you’ve clicked on this link, and are on this website, is perhaps God graciously guiding your steps and beginning to work in your life, heart and mind to prepare you for such an encounter, if not a Christian already.

The apostle Paul wrote about the ‘eyes of… hearts’(Ephesians 1:18) seeing spiritual truths and God shining ‘in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’(2 Corinthians 4:6). My hope and prayer is that God, by His grace, might similarly shine in the hearts of some who read this or other pages on Etheldreda.net, where ‘we have this treasure in clay vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves’(2 Corinthians 4:7).

So although basically a Christian is someone who follows Jesus Christ, there’s a supernatural dimension to it that’s quite different from following anyone or anything else. A Christian is someone who’s had their spiritual eyes opened to see and believe who Jesus is, who trusts and follows Him, and who lives by God’s Holy Spirit. Importantly, it’s through Jesus that we find forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

Who is Jesus?

The Jesus of the Bible is amazing – in fact He’s God! The Bible teaches that Jesus was both fully man and fully God. As the apostle John put it at the start of his gospel: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh, and lived among us. We saw His glory… of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth… Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The one and only Son, who is in… the Father, has declared Him’(John 1:1,14,17-18).

Believe in Jesus

Jesus Himself taught that we’re to believe in His divinity, again as John recorded: ‘“I and the Father are one”’(John 10:30) and, ‘“Whoever believes in me, believes not in me, but in Him who sent me. He who sees me sees Him who sent me”’(John 12:44-45) and, ‘“Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me”’(John 14:11). It’s by believing in Jesus in this sense that Christian life begins to develop, as John concluded his gospel: ‘Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name’(John 20:30-31).

Follow Jesus

However, saving faith is more than just believing. After all, even ‘demons… believe’(James 2:19)! Saving faith involves acting on our belief in Jesus by trusting and following Him. In Jesus’ own words again: ‘“My sheep hear my voice,… and they follow me”’(John 10:27) and, ‘“If you remain in my word, then you are truly my disciples”’(John 8:31). This involves ‘repentance’ – turning from doing wrong to pursue right, but out of ‘“love”’(John 14:23), not to earn forgiveness (see below regarding forgiveness).

Live by the Spirit

Jesus said that after His death the Father would send ‘“another Counsellor… the Spirit… He… will be in you”’(John 14:16-17ff.), and He’s God too (Father, Son & Holy Spirit). So God’s Holy Spirit is the driving force in all true Christians today, as the apostle Paul wrote: ‘If we live by the Spirit, let’s also walk by the Spirit’(Galatians 5:25). Many of Paul’s writings in the Bible explain this further, good examples being Galatians 5:16-26 and Romans 8:1-27.

How does God forgive us?

God is absolutely perfect in holiness, and we, in comparison with Him, are obviously not. Again as the apostle Paul wrote: ‘all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God’(Romans 3:23). Therefore we have a problem, since ultimately nothing sinful can ‘enter’(Revelation 21:27) into the presence of God. Not only that, God is also perfectly just, so must punish sinners (i.e. all of us) if He’s to fulfil His perfect justice. He can’t simply sweep our sinfulness under the carpet pretending it doesn’t exist – it must be dealt with one way or another. So the bad news is that we deserve to be excluded from the presence of God and punished (a literally hellish terminal condition!). However, there’s good news too (gospel means good news).

God is not only perfectly just, He’s also perfectly loving. His plan for our salvation is that God the Father sent the Son (i.e. Himself in a sense) to be excluded from the presence of the Father, and take the ‘punishment’(Isaiah 53:5) we deserve – that’s what happened when Jesus died on the cross, and why He cried out, ‘“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”’(Mark 15:34). As a human being he could act as our substitute, but through God’s ‘“power”’(John 10:18) and authority He could rise from the dead. Through being united with Christ (i.e. becoming a Christian, as described above) we’re ‘buried… with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father… we also… walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, we will also be part of His resurrection’(Romans 6:4-5), graced ‘forever’(Hebrews 10:14) with His perfect ‘righteousness’(2 Corinthians 5:21), ‘freely’(Romans 3:24), through ‘faith’(Romans 3:22, cf. Ephesians 2:8-10).

So Christians live with this new life already ignited in them; yet we long for its full realisation, the great Christian hope: future resurrection life – bathed in God’s light forever, in God’s eternal peace.

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