There is much confusion today, even among professing believers, as to what exactly a Christian is and what the Christian life is all about. So I offer what I hope will be a useful summary or handbook that can help us to refocus our faith. At the end are links to articles here for further reading.
The Christian faith is grounded on one central fact: Jesus rose from the dead. So it is vital that we know who Jesus is, and is not, before we can place faith in Him.
The Jesus of Christianity is the Jesus of the Bible. Only the Bible contains a large portion of prophecy, the fulfillment of which can be verified by history. Jesus also quoted those scriptures, giving additional support for their being from God. He fulfilled the hundreds of prophecies about the One who would come to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world, with the resurrection being the ultimate focal point of those prophecies. And the Gospels are the eyewitness accounts of what Jesus said and did. Only the prophecies about his final coming remain.
So the Bible is our authority on how to identify Jesus. Any alleged Jesus that doesn’t exactly fit the description in the Bible is a fake, an impostor. We can’t have faith in just anyone; it must be in the right and only Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6). There are no other paths to God, no other ways or methods or techniques or shortcuts. Both “Jesus Plus” and “Jesus Lite” are impostors.
We are told in no uncertain terms that a Christian is one who believes the facts about Jesus (John 6:29, Rom. 10:8-13, 1 John 4:14-15). But we are also told that facts alone are not enough (James 2:19). This is not to say no facts are needed at all, but that one must accept them for the purpose of being reconciled to God (Rom. 5:1-2, 10, 2 Cor. 5:18-20). Reconciliation is the goal; faith is the means; Jesus is the Gate.
We have evidence and eyewitness testimony about Jesus, and that is the basis for our faith that we will be saved by trusting in this Jesus alone. Faith, according to scripture, “is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). As explained already, this is no blind wish in the impossible, but a reasonable expectation based on the facts we know.
To be reconciled is to live in peace, to seek to please the other, to walk with them. If someone only wants a ticket to heaven, they do not have this relationship with God in mind at all; they are only after “fire insurance”. While we all have times of backsliding and carnality (ref. Paul’s letters, esp. to the Corinthains), the important thing is why we came to Jesus in the first place. God may allow us to drift, but if we were truly His at one time, he will, like the father of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:22-24), accept us back with open arms.
So if we claim to have faith in the right Jesus and no one or nothing else, and if we claim to have peace with God, we must seriously question those claims if we live in sin or show little concern for God in our lives. Jesus said that if we are ashamed of Him, He will be ashamed of us (Mark 8:38). He also said that if necessary He will rebuke and discipline those He loves (Rev. 3:19, Heb. 12:7-10), so we cannot presume that if we suffer it is because we are lost— or because we are suffering for the cause of Christ.
Most of what scripture tells us about righteousness is for the purpose of testing our own claims, not those of others (e.g. 1 Cor. 9:24, James 2). Yet we do have to test the claims of others who claim to be in fellowship with us and with Jesus (many passages, esp. 1 John 4 and 2 John 1:10 concerning both love and true doctrine, as well as 1 Cor. 5:12-13 concerning those professing Christ). There can be no fellowship with impostors (2 Cor. 6:14, 1 John 1:6).
To sin occasionally is our common experience as fallible humans, but to wallow in sin, to refuse to call it sin, or to deny we sin is cause for alarm. We must be willing to face it in ourselves, but also to show love for others among us by confronting them about sin. And if necessary, we must, for the purity and safety of the Body of Christ, expel them from fellowship as a last resort. We cannot ignore the command against being “unequally yoked” and hide behind our own occasional failings as an excuse. Remember that the worldly, carnal, infantile believers at Corinth were charged by Paul with expelling a man living in sin, and later to accept him back when he had obviously repented.
Fellowship is for Christians; witnessing is what Christians are to do for the lost, going out to them instead of adding them to our fellowship while they are still lost. We are to keep the faith, but not from others! We are ambassadors, and as such we must proclaim the gospel accurately and fearlessly. If we truly care about the lost we will not be content with showing them how nice we are and how much charity we perform. ANY religion can do those things, even atheism, so we must include words with deeds (Rom. 10:14-15).
We dare not wait too long to verbalize the gospel to the lost; we do not know how close anyone is to their passing from this life. Paul wrote that God’s prophecies to Israel will not be completed “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:25), so if we truly long to see Jesus we will pick up the pace and get to that number even faster. And of course Jews need the gospel too (Acts 2:38-40, John 5:23, 6:40, 1 John 2:23).
What is a Christian? Someone who has identified the one and only Jesus who can save us, has accepted the facts about Him found in the Bible, has put their faith in Him alone, and has done so with the motive of having peace with God. Beyond that is a long process of spiritual growth, of getting to know God better and seeking to please Him, and of telling others the only Way to God.
A Christian behaves according to that saving faith, gradually exhibiting the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23) as s/he is transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit through prayer and instruction in the Word (Rom. 12:1-2). We must be careful to face and root out any sin in our own life, and care enough for other believers to help them see and expel sin in their lives too. Instead of rebuking the less mature we must learn to nurture them, but willful and knowing sin surely must be rebuked or we sicken and weaken the Body of Christ.
That’s all very basic, fundamental, essential Christianity, the correct foundation to build upon. “Bread and circuses” are the very weights and obstacles we are warned to avoid (1 Cor. 9:24, Gal. 5:7, Heb. 12:1), along with being “unequally yoked” or not taking sin and correct doctrine seriously. That doctrine is found only in the Bible, so it is to the Bible we look for authoritative teachings.