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What Is a Christian?

Thursday, September 17, 2015 @ 10:02 AM
What Is a Christian? In the 2016 election, Christian faith and practice are working their way to the forefront. Rusty Benson brings some clarity to the issue of what being a Christian means.
a Christian’s sense of his unworthiness grows as Christ becomes greater in his eyes. - Rusty Benson

As I write this, Americans have only 418 days, 14 hours, 20 minutes and 18 seconds to decide whom to vote for to be our 45th president. (Follow the countdown here.) 

On the Republican side, a CNN/ORC poll has business tycoon Donald Trump at the top of the Republican heap with 32% of Republican voters, followed by Ben Carson at 19%. 

While I’ll leave the political commentary to more qualified bloggers, I find one part of that poll particularly interesting – among white evangelical voters, a significant voting block, Trump is leading Carson 32% to 28%. That’s interesting because Carson, a celebrated surgeon and best-selling author, has always been out front about his Christian beliefs. 

Trump, on the other hand, has not been known for his support of biblical values. In fact, Dr. Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, told NPR, that Trump is “someone who is an unrepentant serial adulterer who has abandoned two wives for other women. ... I don’t think this is someone who represents the values that evangelicals in this country aspire to.” 

All that has led to a bit of mild public sparring between the two Republican frontrunners over the sincerity of The Donald’s religious beliefs. 

It’s a long haul to November 6, 2016. By then, Trump vs Carson may be yesterday’s news. But the exchanges between them in the media about what qualifies a person as a Christian raises a question that we would all be wise to answer: What is a Christian? 

As you can see below, this blog is an attempt to answer that question by appealing to the source – The Bible. Seems logical, right? But I’m not taking for granted that we all agree on that approach. After all, 50 Americans are likely to give 50 different answers to that question. 

And, granted, even in the Scripture, the right answer is expressed in different ways. So, if you don’t mind, I'll throw in on this. Most of these thoughts are not original but came from teachers* who have impacted my thinking. Feel free to respond or to add to the list in the comments section below. 

  1. I Peter 1:23 – “having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,”

A Christian is a person who has been “born again,” that is, radically and supernaturally changed by God. In the Old Testament (Ezekiel 36:26) this change is described like this: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

  1. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 – “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

A Christian is one who is so gripped by Christ’s love that he dies more and more to any other person, thing, or idea that would compete for his allegiance. 


  1. 
Luke 15:21– “And the [prodigal] son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”

Romans 7:24 – “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” 



When he first repents, a Christian sees himself in the words of the prodigal son. Though he progresses in the Christian life, he never outgrows his need for Christ and the gospel. In fact, a Christian’s sense of his unworthiness grows as Christ becomes greater in his eyes. 


  1. Matthew 21:10 – “And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, ‘Who is this?’”



Though none can fully understand this mystery, a Christian believes that Jesus is God in the flesh and his only Savior. Like Thomas the apostle, a Christian proclaims that Jesus is “my Lord and my God!”
 (John 20:28)

  1. 2 Corinthians 5:21 – “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

”

By faith, a Christian trusts that Jesus fully paid the penalty of sin due each of us and perfectly satisfied God’s justice. It’s a transaction in which Jesus willingly takes the punishment for a Christian’s sin; the Christian gets Jesus’ perfection.


  1. 1 John 3:1a – “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!

”

A Christian never gets over the wonder of God’s love for him and mercy given to him through Christ. He is forever overwhelmed at the miracle of his own salvation. The heart of the Christian resonates with hymn writer Charles Wesley:

And can it be that I should gain

An interest in the Savior’s blood?

Died He for me, who caused His pain –

For me, who Him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be,

That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
 

Outside of Scripture, there is no illustration that perfectly depicts a sinner’s astonishment with the love and mercy of Christ. However, in my opinion, Les Miserables by French author Victor Hugo comes as close as any work of art I’ve seen. 

In this scene from the 1998 movie based on the book, ex-convict Jean Valjean has stolen from and physically abused Bishop Myriel who has had compassion on him. When police catch Valjean and take him back to the Bishop, the ex-con knows he will be returned to prison and likely hung. However, Bishop extends mercy that Valjean can’t understand. Valjean promises to never forget Bishop’s mercy. He is changed forever and begins a new life of sacrifice and service to others. 

*Dr. Tim Keller –The Acid Test of Being a Christian

Dr. John Piper –What is a Christian?

Wayne Mack –The Bible’s Answer To The Question: What Is A Christian? 

(All Scripture references cited in this blog post are from the NKJV, unless otherwise noted.)

Rusty Benson Associate Editor, AFA Journal More Articles SHOW COMMENTS
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