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What Is A Christian?

by Robert Garrett

(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program)

GarrettsGreetings to all of our Words of Life listeners and to anyone who may be listening to this program for the first time. I want to begin today’s lesson with a question.  What is a Christian? Now if you were to ask different people, you would probably get a number of different answers. Many of them would be correct as far as they go, things like a follower of Christ, a believer in Jesus, a born again person. And those would be correct. But if we delved deeper and asked: What does it really mean to follow Christ?  We might find that different people have a rather vague idea as to what really constitutes a Christian.

So perhaps I need to rephrase the question. Can we find a verse or two of Scripture that really defines the meaning of a Christian? I want to present to you two verses of Scripture that sum up and portray what a Christian really is. We find this in 1 Thessalonians chapter one verses nine and 10.
Now in verses six through eight of this chapter the apostle Paul is praising the Christians in Thessalonica. He speaks of them as being imitators of the Lord. Now they became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and how the Lord’s message rang out from them to all those places and that their faith in God has been known everywhere. Then in verse nine he speaks of their reputation and what others had to say about them. So we read in verse nine and 10: They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Now these two verses sum up everything that a Christian is.  First of all, a Christian is someone who has turned. He has made a u turn. And there are two things involved in this turning.  A, it is a turning to God and, B, it is a turning away from something, a turning away from idols. We will come back to analyze those two things shortly.  Secondly, a Christian is someone who is serving the living and the true God. And, again, we want to analyze that later.  And the third thing is that a Christian is someone who is waiting for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And, again, we will see what that means.

Let’s go back to the first of these. A Christian is someone who has turned. He has made a u turn. He realizes his life is going in the wrong direction that he is headed towards eternal destruction and so he turns around. That is repentance. Now repentance is both a change of mind and an action. It is both negative and positive. One turns away from something and turns toward something as our text says: Turned to God from idols. But, you say, even though I am not a Christian I do not worship idols. But, my friend, in the Scripture the word idol, spelled I D O L, means more than just an image that a person bows down to.  It is an all inclusive word meaning anything that we serve or love in the place of God. It can mean self. It might mean riches, fame, sex, sport, leisure, family, the world, the flesh, the worship of ancestral spirits, the practice of witchcraft, magic potions, lucky charms. When one repents of his sin, one is making a u turn in his life.  To turn away from idols means to turn away from sin of all kinds and turn toward God. That is repentance.

Consider these Scriptures.  Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature, sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which are idolatry.  Because of these the wrath of God is coming. That is Galatians chapter three verses five through six.  One cannot be a Christian unless he has repented and repentance is more than just feeling sorry for your sins. Yes, it involves a deep regret, but it is a turning, a turning away from sin. The Lord Jesus in Luke 13 verses one to five repeated twice: Unless you repent, you will all perish. Unless you repent, you will all perish. The apostle Paul explaining the gospel that he had preached said in Acts 20:21: I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.  And, again, in Acts 20:26 he declared that wherever he preached he preached that people should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.  So, you see from that that repentance is the very first and important thing in turning to God.

Then in Acts 2:38, the very first words the apostle Peter spoke to his inquirers on the day of Pentecost was: Repent. When they asked: What shall we do?  He said: Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Now the whole act of turning to God includes more than repentance alone. It does include repentance, for the Scripture calls on us to turn to God in repentance. That is in Acts 20:21. Repentance is an essential part of turning to God, but the act of turning also includes faith, confession and baptism.  As I read for your certain Scriptures, notice how each of these four things are joined together in bringing us into salvation.


In Romans 10 verses nine to 10 we see that faith and confession are joined together for our salvation. For we read:  If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified. It is with your mouth that you confess and our saved.  And Jesus also said in Matthew 10:22: Whoever confesses me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. To confess Jesus as Lord is to make a pledge of allegiance. It is the promise to obey Jesus from that point on.

The command of Jesus in Mark 16:16 joins salvation to believing and baptism.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. But whoever does not believe will be condemned. Then in Acts 2:38 the Scripture joins repentance with baptism as the avenue towards salvation as we have already read: Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  We see, then, that the initial act of turning to God involves faith, repentance, confession and baptism.

Now the second characteristic of a Christian is that he is one who is serving the living and the true God. Let’s look briefly at the second part of what it means to be a Christian.  Having turned to God the believer is now going to serve the living and true God, serve him, working, living for Christ.  Titus 2:14 says: He is one who is eager to do what is good.

This brings us to the third characteristic of a Christian, the one who is waiting for his Son from heaven. Jesus is coming back. We are eagerly waiting for his return.  But this waiting is not like the passive waiting one might do in a doctor’s office. One does not sit doing nothing, but is busy about his master’s business serving the Lord.

Notice how these three characteristics of a Christian are all intertwined in the following verses.  Just as the different parts of a beautiful flower make up the flower, so do these things make up the whole of being a Christian.  Living holy lives, serving the Lord and then holding that blessed hope, the return of Jesus Christ. Here is a passage that emphasizes the necessity for holy living, Ephesians five verses three to six. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or of any kind of impurity or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people, nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words. For because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.

And then in 1 John chapter three verses two and three we see that the hope of the Lord’s coming is joined with pure living.  We read: Dear friends, now we are children of God and what we will be has not yet been known.  But we know that when he appears we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.  Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure.  There he speaks of what is going to happen when the Lord returns for his saints.  Our lowly bodies will be transformed and made like his glorious body, and if we have that hope, he says, then we will purify ourselves. We will want to live holy lives just as Christ is pure.

Then our Lord Jesus also warned and encouraged us to be faithful in serving him while watching for his coming.  In Matthew 24 verses 42 to 51 he said: Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord comes.  But understand this. If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.  Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.  I tell you the truth. He will put him in charge of all of his possessions.

Then the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:8 spoke of the reward that Christ will give to all of those who long for the return of Christ.  We read: Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge will award to me on that day and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.  It is easy for us to understand that Christ will give Paul a crown of righteousness. Look how he served the Lord. But Paul says that that crown of righteousness can be given not only to him, but to everyone who has longed for the appearing of Christ.

And then in Hebrews 9:28 we read these encouraging words.  Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people and he will appear a second time not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.  So, my friend, are you waiting for him?  As we said earlier, it is not the kind of passive waiting where you just sit and wait for your name to be called in the doctor’s office. No, it is an active waiting, serving for him.

There is a companion passage to our text that also describes these different aspects of real Christianity. It is Titus chapter two verses 11 to 14 where we read that the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good, end quote.

We do good works because we have been saved, not in order to be saved. Let me give you an example. God has blessed my wife and me with a number of six children and 25 grand children and a number of great grand children.  Now a big bunch of grandsons, great strapping guys and the other day I needed some help and I had four of them around and I asked four of my grandsons to help me and they did. They helped me to spread a tarp over my carport.  Now they did that because they are my grandsons, not in order to become my grandsons. So it is we serve God, we do good works not in order to become God’s children, but because we are his children.
Another important passage on this subject is found in Ephesians two in verses one through nine which describes how we have been saved by the grace of God not by our works, but saved to do good works.  It concludes with these words: We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

So we see, then, that a Christian is one who has turned to God from idols, he is serving the living and true God and he is waiting for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Another thing of importance in our beginning text and also in this last one, Titus 2:11-14, is that the true Jesus is identified. There are many false Jesus, figments of evil imaginations.  The true Jesus is the one who God raised from the dead.  The true Jesus is our great God and Savior Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own. Again, he is the Jesus who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Have you made that u turn?  Or are you still going on without a Savior, without the only one in the whole universe who can save you from eternal destruction? If so, I urge you to turn in repentance, confess Jesus as Lord and be baptized into Christ for the remission of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. If we can help you in any way, please let us know.


                      Robert Garrett is missionary to Zimbabwe, having served there for many, many years.

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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33