What Is A Christian?
by Brian Anderson
What is a Christian? In our day and age there are numerous answers
being given to that question. Some believe that anyone born in
the United States is a Christian. Others believe that anyone who
attends a Christian church is a Christian. Still others believe
that anyone who lives an honest and upright life is a Christian.
All of these definitions are faulty at best and eternally damning
at worst. Let's remember that this question is not merely an academic
one without serious implications for our lives. As narrow-minded
as it might first appear, the Bible declares in no uncertain terms
that only Christians will inherit everlasting life in heaven (John
3:3; 3:14-18; 3:36; 14:6). Therefore, the question that I have
posed is one which you despise to your eternal undoing. To answer
my own question as simply as I possibly can, I submit to you that
a Christian is someone who possesses a new legal standing before
God, a new spiritual life from God, and a new loving relationship
First, a Christian is someone who possesses a new legal
standing before God. All men without exception are sinners
by nature and by choice. We have all inherited an evil nature
from our forefather Adam. After he sinned in the Garden of Eden,
he passed his sinful nature on to his descendants. All men save
one, the Lord Jesus Christ, have inherited this sinful nature.
That's why when babies are old enough to communicate their desires
they scream "mine!" when another child takes their toy.
That's why we have to teach our youngsters to be honest and kind,
whereas lying, stealing, and manipulating others comes quite naturally
to them. Not only is it true that all individuals possess a sinful
nature from birth, but all alike manifest their sinful nature
in willful choices of disobedience toward God. God regards any
deed or thought that is contrary to His holy law to be an act
of rebellion against Himself. Men and women commit these sinful
actions continually. This alone can adequately explain the serious
ills of our society such as drug addiction, alcoholism, thefts,
robberies, rapes, murders, brutalities, gang violence, and wars.
However, it also explains the "little" sins all people
commit like thoughts of greed, pride, unforgiveness, lust, and
jealousy. Since God is holy, all the unrighteousness of men must
receive His divine judgment. God must mete out His sentence of
everlasting condemnation upon all sinners as the just penalty
due for their rebellion to His holy law.
Is there no hope then, for anyone? We have already declared that
all men are sinners by nature and choice, and therefore under
God's just sentence of condemnation. Well, is this sentence fixed
and irreversible? No, thank God, a thousand times no! Though God
in His justice must punish sin, He has provided a way of salvation
for sinners because of His great love for them. God's answer to
the human dilemma must be one in which He finds a way to receive,
accept and manifest His love to sinful men, while at the same
time punish their sins to the full. But how is this to be accomplished?
God's answer is a Substitute. Someone else must step in and receive
the full brunt of God's holy fury and wrath against sin, so that
the guilty sinners themselves might be rescued from His judgment.
But who could that Substitute be? Perhaps God could designate
one of His mighty angels for the task. No, that can't be. It was
a human who sinned; therefore, a human must be punished for sin.
Furthermore, it must be a sinless human, for if the substitute
were a sinner himself, the punishment he endured would only be
the just penalty for his own sins. A sinful man or woman could
never atone for the sins of others. But, where was God to find
a sinless human being? When He surveyed the entire world of men,
there was not a single sinless human to be found. The testimony
of Scripture is, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory
of God" (Romans 3:23), and "Indeed, there is not a righteous
man on earth who continually does good and who never sins"
(Eccl. 7:20). God's answer to this dilemma was absolutely brilliant.
He, Himself, would become a man and die for sinners! Jesus Christ,
according to Holy Scripture, is the eternal Son of God who became
flesh and dwelt among us in order to die in the place of the guilty.
When a person recognizes his guilt before a holy God, and turns
to Christ in faith to save him, two wonderful things take place
simultaneously. First, Christ's perfect, righteous life is credited
to him. He is treated by God as if he had lived the perfect life
that Jesus lived. Secondly, all his sins are pardoned, forgiven,
and removed from him forever. "As far as the east is from
the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us"
(Psalm 103:12). From this moment on, God as judge declares that
the believing sinner is justified. That is, he is to be treated
as if he'd never sinned! The law cannot condemn him, for a Substitute
has borne the full penalty of the law, even unto death. The believer
stands before his holy God, dressed in the righteous garments
of Jesus Christ. When God looks upon him, He sees only the perfect
righteousness of His Son! The Scripture declares, "Having
been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord
Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). "God made Christ who knew
no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness
of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). This brand new legal standing
before God has absolutely nothing to do with an individual's good
deeds. His justification before God was earned by the life and
death of Christ, not by anything of himself. His righteous standing
before God is received, not by doing, but by trusting something
done -- the perfect life and substitutionary death of Christ on
his behalf. He casts Himself without reserve upon the mercy of
God in Christ for his salvation. Oh, the joy of possessing this
brand new legal standing before God!
Not only is it true that a Christian possesses a new legal standing
before God, but it is also gloriously true that he is the possessor
of a new spiritual life from God. Please notice
that I said a new "spiritual" life. It is true
that all men possess life in a limited sense. They possess a temporary,
physical life. But when a person becomes a Christian he is given
a whole new kind of life; he receives the very life of God. This
is the "eternal life" the Scriptures speak so much about.
It is the very life of God planted in the soul of a man. The very
same life that God has possessed from all eternity is given to
the believing sinner. Whereas before he was alienated from God
and thus dead to Him, now he is alive to God in a brand new and
The reception of this new spiritual life is expressed in various
ways in Scripture. Sometimes it is referred to as passing "from
death to life" (1 John 3:14). In another place it is referred
to as "becoming a partaker of the divine nature" (2
Peter 1:4). Still in other places it is referred to as "being
born again" (John 3:3). The change that takes place is so
great that nothing less than these vivid expressions can adequately
I hope it is becoming apparent that becoming a Christian cannot
simply be equated with turning over a new leaf, deciding to attend
a church, or trying to live by the Ten Commandments. It is nothing
less than receiving the very life of God into your soul, so that
you are not the same person that you once were. You are born all
over again. God describes the great change that takes place when
a person is born again in this way, "I will give you a new
heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart
of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel
36:26). To receive a new spiritual life is to have a heart transplant.
It is to receive a whole new set of desires and affections. The
Christian is a person who now loves what he once hated, and hates
what he once loves. He is as different from what he once was as
a cat is from a pig. The essential natures of cats and pigs are
altogether different; pigs love to wallow in mud and filth, while
cats prefer to stay clean. Because God has made a radical inward
change in him, the Christian, likewise, no longer loves to wallow
in sin, but loves righteousness, holiness, and those things that
he knows will please his Father. Since his affections and desires
have experienced this dramatic change, it is proper to say that
he is now a new creature. He will never be the same person that
He once was.
How exactly does this new spiritual life become ours? Well, in
order for a person to receive the life of Christ, he must be united
to Christ. This, the Holy Spirit does sovereignly in our lives.
At a point in time appointed by the Father, He enters into our
lives, makes us uncomfortable in our sin, changes our hearts,
unites us to the resurrected Christ, and settles down to dwell
in us permanently. From that moment on we are personally and vitally
united to the risen Christ, sharing His life, nature, and desires.
We are born of the Spirit! Becoming a Christian means nothing
less than experiencing this radical inward change.
Finally, a Christian is someone who possesses a new loving
relationship with God. This new relationship is likened
in some portions of Scripture to the relationship between a son
and a father. The Bible states, "You are all sons of God
through faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26). As soon
as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in a person, granting him
a new spiritual life, he finds that he has entered into a new
relationship with God. No longer does his relationship to God
consist of observing religious rituals or legalistic rules. Instead,
he possesses a simple trust and childlike love for God, such as
an earthly child has for his father. In spite of the fact that
an emperor is addressed with all kinds of honorific titles by
the subjects of his kingdom, his own son dispenses with all the
formalities and simply addresses him as "Papa". In the
same way, the Christian possesses an intimate and familiar relationship
with God, so that instinctively he feels that God is closer to
him than any person on earth and he cries out to God in prayer,
"Father!" As a child depends on his father for everything
that he needs, so the Christian learns to trust his heavenly Father
to provide all that he needs.
The loving relationship that a Christian possesses with God is
also likened to the relationship between a wife and her husband
in the Bible. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ
also loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Eph.
5:25). In a healthy marriage a wife naturally respects and reverences
her husband. Additionally, she loves him, serves him, is devoted
to him, and seeks to please him. Likewise the husband loves and
cherishes his wife. He provides for her, nourishes her and protects
her. A husband and wife share secrets between each other that
they disclose to no one else. They spend time with one another
cultivating their marriage and deepening their relationship with
each passing year. In all of these ways the husband-wife relationship
mirrors the relationship between a Christian and his God. The
Christian has a deep reverence for God, loves God, serves God,
is devoted to God and wants above all things to please God. Likewise,
God loves, cherishes, provides for, nourishes and protects His
believing people. A Christian experiences many happy moments in
prayer as his relationship with God is deepened. At the same time,
God discloses more and more of Himself to the hungry soul who
This then, and nothing less than this, adequately describes a
Christian. He is an individual who has gone from a standing of
condemnation to one of justification before God. Having put his
complete trust in Christ alone, God has declared him to be righteous
in His sight. Not only that, but he is an individual in whom the
Spirit of Christ has come, granting him a new spiritual life.
This life is mighty and transforming, changing his heart and filling
him with new and noble desires. Finally, he is a person who has
come into a brand new loving relationship with God. He relates
to God as a son does with his father or a wife does to her husband.
He loves Him, knows Him, talks to Him about all things and relies
on Him for everything. Now that I have answered the question,
"What is a Christian?" let me ask the most important
question of all. "Are you a Christian?" Your eternal
welfare hangs upon the answer you can honestly give to that query.
This is not a question to trifle with. Jesus Himself said, "He
who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who does not
obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on
him" (John 3:36). If you can't honestly say that you possess
a new legal standing before God, a new spiritual life from God,
and a new loving relationship with God, I urge you to enter into
the joy of these realities by faith. "For by grace you have
been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it
is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should
boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). Cast yourself wholly and solely upon
Jesus Christ for mercy. Confess and forsake your sin. Bank your
soul on what Christ has done for sinners by dying in their place.
You can be sure that "Whoever will call upon the name of
the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13)!