What Is A Christian?

// October 28th, 2018 // Sermons

This entry is part 2 of 15 in the series Last Days Christianity

Two weeks ago, I started this series…  You can listen online or download it and listen later…What Is A Christian?…based on “Living in Light of Jesus’ Return” or “Last Days Christianity”.  That first sermon, to help us grasp the context of this book, I took us on an introduction to this study on Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica.  We talked about the change that has taken place in the people of this church.  And so, to carry on from there, how would you define what a Christian is?  What does it really mean to be a Christian?

Some years ago, Rev. Al Sharpton caused a theological uproar while publicly debating with atheist Christopher Hitchens.  At one point he seemed to imply that Mormons don’t really believe in God, which caused a sharp response from presidential candidate Mitt Romney – Romney said Sharpton’s statement was bigoted.

Sharpton later said his statement had been misinterpreted.  To follow that up, CNN’s Anderson Cooper picked up on this controversy with a program called “What is a Christian?”  I never watched any of these broadcasts, but from what I read about them, those who watched were left more confused than they were at the start.

So what is a Christian?  The answer is not as easy as you might think.  It depends on how you define the word the word Christian.  Some think you are either a heathen or a Christian.  Some think that if you believe – regardless of what you believe – if you believe, you are a Christian.

I propose to you, that you won’t know who is a Christian and who isn’t, until you know what the term means.  And pollsters tells us that when you ask the general public the question, “Are you a Christian?” – you get all sorts of answers…

  • “Of course I’m a Christian. I was born in North America.”
  • “I was raised in a Christian home.”
  • “I’m a baptized Catholic, Lutheran, Mennonite, Baptist and so on…”
  • “Of course I’m a Christian. I go to Garrington Community Church.”
  • “I read my Bible every day.”
  • “I raised my hand; I signed a card; I said a prayer; I went forward when an altar call was given…”
  • Or, like I heard a someone say, “A Christian is someone who calls himself a Christian.”

It’s typically American to say, “I’m a Christian if I say I am.”  That reminds me of an essay I found when I was doing research for this sermon – listen to this:

We accept as Christian any individual or group who devoutly, thoughtfully, seriously, and prayerfully regards themselves to be Christian. Included are: the Roman Catholic church; the Eastern Orthodox churches, conservative, mainline, and liberal Christian faith groups; The church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons); Jehovah’s Witnesses and a thousand or so other religious organizations that identify themselves as Christian. Also included are those who consider themselves to be Christian even though they do not identify themselves with any particular religious group.

Wow!  That is a wide-sweeping statement.  The writer wants has made the definition so broad that it loses all meaning and purpose.  You are a Christian if you say you are a Christian.  But, since, in his/her mind, there is no consensus on what the word means, you’re in even if someone else says you’re out.

Pastor Ray Pritchard’s approach – he wrote:  First, it’s perfectly fine for people to identify themselves any way they like.  If you say you are Hindu, I won’t say that you aren’t.  If you say you are Muslim, I accept that at face value.  If you call yourself a Christian, far be it from me to argue with you.  So, go ahead and identify yourself in whatever way you want…it doesn’t make it true.

Second, acceptance doesn’t imply agreement.  I can be friends with many people who hold a variety of worldviews about ultimate reality.  And I can have a conversation with someone who disagrees with me.  To accept you doesn’t imply that I agree with you.  It doesn’t mean I think you actually are a Christian just because you tell me you are.

Third, since I try to base my faith on the Bible, I want to know what the Bible says about what it means to be a Christian and base my life on that understanding.

Some interesting things to consider:

  • The name “Christian” was not invented by early Christians. They were given that name by others.
  • Christians called themselves by different names—disciples, believers, brethren, saints, the elect, and so on.
  • The term – Christian – had a negative meaning in the beginning: like saying, “those belonging to the Christ-group.”
  • The name, Christian, was a term of contempt or derision – “you, Christian!”
  • It literally means “Christ-followers” – one who is Christ-like!
  • Over time the negative term became a positive identification for Christ-followers.
  • Even today you will hear people spit the term out in a negative way – “You Christians think you’re the only ones going to heaven.”
  • In the NT, there was suffering and reproach attached to the name.

The dictionary has these two definitions:

  1. One who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
  2. One who lives according to the teachings of Jesus.

Those are accurate definitions because they give content and context to the word.  To be a Christian means that you…Believe SomethingFollow Something….and, Live Something!

A friend of mine who works among Muslims has stopped using “Christian” or “believer” and started using “disciple” or…and the one I prefer:  A Fully Devoted Follower of Jesus – this bring up two things…

  • This doesn’t happen by accident. You are not “born” a Christian nor are you a Christian because of your family heritage.  Being a Christian is not like being Irish.  You aren’t a Christian simply because you were born into a Christian family.  Werner said, at the Creation Conference – “It’s just like, you are not a car just because you stand in a garage!”  Being a Christian is an intentional decision.
  • It requires a change of the heart. When Jesus said that we are to be His disciple, He went on to say that we are to deny our self, take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23).  The heart itself must be changed so that you become a follower of the Lord.

To help us answer “What is a Christian?” let’s look at 1 Thess. 1:4-10. Because the believers that made up the church in Thessalonica had been idol worshippers they offer us a ground-level understanding of what it means to be a Christian.  Their transformation had been so complete and so obvious that these former idol-worshipers had a huge impact as brand-new Christ-followers.  They had “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

This is Christianity in its purest and rawest form, stripped of centuries of religious tradition.  This is the message that spread like wildfire, upsetting both the pagans and the hyper-religious.

So, what is a Christian?

1) One chosen by God

  1. 4 says, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.” “…he has chosen you…” speaks of the sovereign grace of God in salvation. If God had not chosen you, you would never have been saved.  Like I said in my opening sermon in this series, salvation begins with God, not us.

A Christian is person who has been called and chosen by God Himself.  The “how” and “why” of being a Christian is not a work of merit but an act of God’s free grace.  Secondly, a Christian is…

2) One who heard and responded to the gospel message

  1. 5 – “Because our gospelcame to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.“ This is the other side of the coin.

God choosing us becomes effective in us through the preaching of the gospel.  When the Word of God is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, it produces conviction deep in the heart of the hearer.

When I do my very best as a preacher, it counts for nothing without the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the hearers.  That’s why the phrase “full conviction” is so important.  It means a person is so deeply convicted of their sin and their need for a Savior that they run to the cross and embrace Jesus as their only hope of heaven.

And for this reason, we must preach and pray…and then, we need to leave it to the Lord to give people the grace to respond with saving faith.

This explains why two people can listen to the same message and respond in different ways.  Helps us to understand why one person decides to follow Jesus while another completely rejects the gospel; why one person believes and the other says, “I want nothing to do with Jesus”.  Without “full conviction” to believe the message, no one will ever become a Christian.

So, a Christian is someone who has been called/chosen by God and responds to the gospel message…thus, they are saved.  #3, a Christian is:

3) One who values Christ more than earthly troubles.

  1. 6 – “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”

This speaks of how the Thessalonians responded to the gospel message. Because of their background of idol worship, they faced huge cultural pressure.  No doubt some had family members who thought they were crazy to believe in Jesus.  Like today, it wasn’t popular/cool to be a “Christ-follower.”

The phrase “in much affliction” means to be “pressed to the limit.”  It carries the idea of being under the thumb of another person.  The new believers in Thessalonica were so glad to be saved they couldn’t be stopped, not even by persecution.

Like I said 2 weeks ago – “Jesus never invites us to receive him on a trial basis.  True conversion means that you continue to follow Christ even when things get tough!

On April 18, 2007, three Christian workers were brutally murdered in eastern Turkey by a group of young Islamic men.  The irony – they were murdered at a Bible publishing house about 300 miles northeast of Antioch where believers were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).  The Christians were of the understanding that the young men were coming to meet with the three Christians for a Bible study.  But they had come for a different purpose.

It is relatively easy to be a Christian when everything is “coming up roses” – but, it is another thing when you plant roses and only get the thorns!

What is a Christian?  A Christian is one who joyfully chooses to follow Christ no matter the cost. #4 – a Christian is…

4) One whose life has been glorious changed by Jesus

  1. 7-8 – “You became an exampleto all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forthfrom you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”

The word “example” shows us the great secret of evangelism.  The best way to win others is by the example of your own changed life.  When Jesus was talking to the former demon-possessed man, who wanted to travel with Jesus, He said – “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19).  We need to make sure we are living for Christ and thereby showing others the difference Jesus makes.

The original wording for “sounded forth” is to strike the cymbal.  When the Thessalonians shared Christ, the message reverberated throughout the region.  And, this is the evidence of true Christianity:  First you receive God’s Word, then you live it on a daily basis.  And, as you do, the message of the gospel reverberates in all directions.

The wife of one of the three Turkish martyrs was asked during a television interview how she felt about the young men who had killed her husband.  She told the reporters that she did not want revenge.  Then she said, “Oh God, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  She was echoing the words of Christ on the cross (Luke 23:34).  One columnist wrote, “She said in one sentence what 1000 missionaries in 1000 years could never do.”

A Christian is a person whose changed life, changes others, because of a commitment to be like Jesus and to follow Him wherever He heads.  #5 a Christian is…

5) One who lives “all in” for Jesus

  1. 9-10 – “You turnedto God from idols to servethe living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (vv. 9-10).

Notice the key verbs in these two verses:

You turned, you serve, and you waitThe whole Christian life can be wrapped-up in those six words.

  • You turned from your former way of living.
  • You now serve the living and true God.
  • You patiently wait for Jesus to come back again.

This reflects the three tenses of the Christian life:

  • In the past– you turned from your idolatry;
  • In the present– you are now serving the living God.
  • In the future– you wait expectantly for Jesus to come back.

You have to come to a point in your life when you decide to go “all in” about what you believe.  That means you are so convinced that you are willing to risk everything.  Somewhere along the way you have to make a stand.

In my final year at Nipawin, I decided to go “all in” for Jesus.  I decided to go “all in” that He is the Son of God, that He died on the cross for my sins, that He rose from the dead on the third day, that He is the Lord of the universe, and that He will someday take me to heaven.

Lewis Sperry Chafer said that believing in Jesus means trusting him so much that if he can’t take you to heaven, you aren’t going to go there.  I like that.  If Jesus can’t take me to heaven, then I’ll never make it because I’m going “all in” with Jesus.  I don’t have a Plan B.

So, “How is a Christian defined?”

A Christian is a person who has been truly converted to Jesus Christ.

  • It starts with God choosing us.
  • There needs to the true preaching of the gospel.
  • We need to be open to a genuine, heart-felt acceptance of Christ as Lord and Savior.
  • The result is a changed life that is passionate to other lives changed.
  • Truly converted means that being “all in” for Jesus.

It really is all about God – it begins with God; it is based on who Jesus really is; and, it changes everything about my life!

Have you ever asked yourself, “Do I have enough faith to live the Christian life?”  I don’t know of any true follower of Christ who would say, “Yup, my faith is strong all the time!”  We know how prone to wander we are…

The answer to the faith question depends on where you look.  If you look within yourself, you will always be disappointed because your faith will almost always seem like it isn’t enough.

If you look at your heart, you will see your own sinfulness.

If you look at your outward performance, you will be discouraged by your failure to live like a true Christian.

And so, an honest self-examination leads to the conclusion that we all do things we shouldn’t do.  And, we have left some things undone that we should have done.

Either way, we’re all fail miserably; if God only wants 24/7 success stories in heaven, we’re never going to make it.  “Because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” – Rom. 3:23.

You have to look to the Lord to find hope.  When we look to the Lord, we find that 2000 years ago Jesus died on the cross, shedding His blood for our sins.  He died in our place, bearing our sins, taking our punishment, so that we might be saved, cleansed, forgiven, declared righteous, be born again and become the true children of God.

When God looked down while Jesus was dying on the cross, He said, “I am satisfied with what my Son has done.”  The Resurrection is proof that the work of God the Son met the requirements of God the Father.

Consider this:  God is satisfied with what His Son accomplished!  So, the big question:  Are you sufficiently satisfied with Jesus so that you know there is nowhere else to look for what you need most?

That’s the big question of the spiritual life.  Are you satisfied – content – with trusting Jesus only?  Is Jesus enough for you?

What is a Christian?  A Christian is a person who is truly satisfied with Jesus and what he did on the cross.  A Christian is someone who is so satisfied with Jesus that he says, “I am trusting the Lord Jesus Christ completely for my salvation.”

A Christian is one honestly says, “If Jesus can’t take me to heaven, I’m not going to go there.”

It’s not enough to be religious.
It’s not enough to go to church.

Look to Jesus for your salvation.  Trust Him completely.  Place all that you are and have, in His hands.  It’s as simple and as profound as that.

That’s what it means to be a Christian!

Let’s pray…

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