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. It’s only by God’s mercy and grace that anyone is launched and sustained on the Christian walk. But God graciously uses means, and the very fact that you’re on this website and have clicked on this link, is perhaps God graciously guiding your steps and working in your heart/mind to prepare you for such a miracle, if He hasn’t done so already.

As the apostle Paul wrote, ‘it is God who said, “Light will shine out of darkness,” who has shone 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 will do that for 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)

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, as the above shows. 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 to God.

Who is Jesus?

The Jesus of the Bible is amazing – in fact he’s God! The Bible teaches that Jesus is 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, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth… Grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The one and only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him.’(John 1:1,14,17-18)

Believe in Jesus

Jesus Himself taught that we are to believe in His divinity, as John records, ‘“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 concludes 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

But saving faith is more than just believing. After all, even demons believe in God (!), as James appropriately and importantly reminds us in his letter in the Bible. 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, not to earn forgiveness – see below regarding forgiveness).

Live by the Spirit

Jesus taught that after His death, ‘“the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you”’(John 14:26) and the Holy Spirit is the driving force in all true Christians today, as the great Spirit inspired teacher the apostle Paul wrote, ‘If we live by the Spirit, let’s also walk by the Spirit.’(Galatians 5:25). A lot of Paul’s writings in the Bible explain this further.

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. Anything sinful cannot enter the presence of God; not only that, since God is perfectly just He must punish sinners (i.e. us) if He is to be true to His perfect justice. He cannot simply sweep our sinfulness under the carpet and pretend 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 condition commonly known as Hell). However, there is good news (gospel means good news).

God is not only perfectly just, He is 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 punished in our place – that’s what happened when Jesus died on the cross, and why Jesus cried out, ‘“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”’(Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Since Jesus was fully man he could act as our substitute, but being fully God He could rise from the dead. By uniting ourselves with Christ (i.e. becoming a Christian as described above) we, ‘were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might 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).

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.