What Does It Mean To Be A Christian?

5 min read

Questions are useful things. They shape and form us, as we learn as much from the journey as we do in finding the answers. There are big questions we all seek to understand: why do bad things happen? What is the purpose of life? How can I be sure I am making the right decisions?  These matter to all, regardless of creed or culture.

Then there are questions more specific to our faith. You may ask: where did God come from? How can I know I am saved? But perhaps the most important question any of us will ask is: what does it mean to be a Christian? 

What Does It Mean to Be a Christian?

In one sense, there’s an easy answer. A Christian is someone who believes in Jesus Christ and follows his teaching. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll see that easy answers frequently lead to more questions! What does it mean to believe in Jesus? And what does it look like to follow his teaching?

There’s a well-known leadership expression that goes, “Leaders are those who know the way, show the way, and go the way.” Interestingly, that is even more applicable to the definition of a Christian. We are the ones who know the way. We are told to follow the way and are asked to show others the way.

A Christian knows the way

In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He said this in response to a question from one of his disciples, Thomas, who wanted to know how he could follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

The issue Jesus raised here is of paramount importance for every one of us. He identified himself as the way—the only way—to be reconciled to God the Father and have a restored relationship with him. Scripture makes it clear that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). That sin resulted in a broken relationship between God and us, so that we need a way to be reconciled to him.

Jesus is that Way. He is the only Way. And we receive what he offers by faith.

Through his death and resurrection, Jesus made it possible for anyone who believes by faith to be restored to God. It’s not a formula; it’s a person! So a Christian is someone who knows Jesus as the way to a right relationship with our Creator.

A Christian goes the way

We are not called to just know Jesus. We are called to follow Him. Acts 11:26 tells us that the term Christian was first used in Antioch, a while after Jesus had ascended to heaven. Before this, Christians were simply known as Nazarenes. This marked them as followers of Jesus of Nazareth. In a world that competes for our devotion and allegiance, it is critical that we are clear on who we submit to and emulate.

In Mark 1:15, at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus proclaimed, “The time has come. The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Jesus brought forth his Kingdom, and we are saved into it. That means we live according to His way, not our own way. He brought His Kingdom, which is far above anything we can find in the systems of our world. It is a better way that reflects the very heart of God for His people and is one into which we step when we are saved.

The way of the Kingdom replaces whichever way we were living before we came to faith in Jesus. We know what it is and how to live it because Jesus taught about it throughout the Gospels!

Other New Testament authors, like Paul, Peter, and John, taught about it in more detail through their letters. We therefore have a clear blueprint to instruct us on how to live the way Jesus wants us to.

A Christian shows the way

In Matthew 28:18–20, we find the Great Commission. It is a summary of the mission Jesus gave to his disciples, which we now find to be our own mission. It was His final command to them—and to us! Here’s what it says:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

This is our mission: we know the way, we go the way and now we must show the way. In everything we do—word and deed—we are to reflect who Jesus is. This can look like proclaiming the good news that He died and rose again, or it can be forgiving someone who wronged us.

To show the way is to simply do as Jesus would do, wherever we are and whoever we find around us.

It’s not easy to show the way

We wrestle with our own humanity as well as the pressures of the world around us. Sometimes we want to prove that we are right. Other times, we may want to appease friends, family, or colleagues.

But to be a Christian means submitting to Jesus and following him in such a way that everyone can see what we are about. The apostle Paul calls this keeping in step with the Spirit in Galatians 5:25. He means that we are to live in such a way that the Holy Spirit leads us more than our own desires do.

That’s not easy, but if the Spirit wants to work through us, he will also help us to do so.

And that’s what it means to be a Christian. We know Jesus, we follow Jesus and we show Jesus to the world. What a privilege it is to be on this mission with Him!

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