What is a Christian?
1st Baptist Church,
Des Moines, NM
Hello again KLMX listeners! I’m Bryan Kimsey from the 1st Baptist Church in Des Moines, NM. In dealing with non-Christians and even some who do profess Christ, I run across many misconceptions about what exactly Christianity is. I can understand a lot of the misconceptions because it was only about 10 years ago that I, myself, was an unbeliever. So, this week I’d like to start off by asking the question “What is a Christian?” and then move on to the subject of false prophets and those who claim to be Christians but are not. May God grant me the words to speak and you the ear to hear, to His glory, through His son Jesus Christ.
Let’s start by defining “What is a Christian?” This is a good question and if you’ve read or listened to me before, you know that I always like to define the terms I’m using. The term “Christian” is no exception. The word means, literally, “little Christ” and was used in a derogatory sense by the pagan world. In the Bible, we first find the word in Acts 11:26 where we read:
Acts 11:25-26 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. (26) And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
We should note here that the disciples were called Christians. This is important because it immediately says something about these “Christians”, something that is often lost in today’s use of the term. It’s easy for people today to say “Oh, yeah, I’m a Christian” but these people were disciples of Christ. That is, they were not just Christians in name only, but they were people who actually followed and obeyed the teachings of Christ. We’ll cover this point a little more when we talk about those who call themselves Christians, but aren’t but let me point out what Christ says in Matthew 7:
Matthew 7:21-27 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (22) Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' (23) And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' (24) "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: (25) and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. (26) "But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: (27) and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall."
In this passage we clearly see that some who say “Lord, Lord” will not enter the kingdom of Heaven and Jesus will say to them “I never knew you, depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” He then says “Therefore, whoever hears these sayings of mine and does them I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock”. And the man who does not do them, is one who builds on the sand and whose house falls and “great was its fall.” From this, we should see that Christians hear the sayings of Christ and do them.
How does one become a Christian? Romans 5 tells us that we were enemies of God, Romans 3:11 says “THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS; THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS AFTER GOD.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 and 2:14 tell us that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” and “the natural man does not receive the things of God, for they are foolishness to him.” So, how does one become converted from being an enemy of God, to whom the things of God are foolishness (or, literally translated, “moronic”) to one who can be called a “little Christ”? The answer is found in several places. Let’s start with:
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, (9) not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Here we see the essentials of Christianity- we are saved through faith, a faith which is not of ourselves but is, indeed, a gift of God, specifically not of works, lest anyone should boast of their salvation. And what does this faith believe? It believes that all men have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), that Christ was the complete and full propitiation or substitutionary payment for those sins (1 John 4:10) which reconciled us to God (Romans 5), and that as Christ was resurrected after death so shall those who have faith in Him (Romans 6:8). And all of this occurs because of God’s grace.
So, our former enemy of God is now a Christian, thanks to God’s grace and thanks to God’s gift of faith in Christ. Our person, being born again, starts off as a spiritually immature baby Christian. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:2 and the author of Hebrews says in 5:12, that spiritual babies need to be fed spiritual milk. Like all babies, our new believer grows in knowledge and understanding (as we’re told in 2 Peter 3:18 and Colossians 1:10) and should eventually require solid food. Just like our natural birth, some grow quickly and some grow slowly, but all grow. Anything that doesn’t grow is, by definition, dead. As this baby Christian grows, they should become less and less like the old man- the one that was dead in sins and trespasses- and more and more like Christ, the perfect man. We can see this in several places, among which are:
Romans 8:28-29 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (29) For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
The word “conformed” means to be formed, shaped, molded and we see from this passage that “those who are the called according to His purpose” are “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…” Therefore, Christians should become more and more Christ-like as they grow and mature in the faith.
During this process of conformation, though, the Christian is, in the flesh, far from perfect. The apostle Paul himself says in Romans 7:
Romans 7:18-25 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. (19) For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. (20) Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. (21) I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. (22) For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. (23) But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. (24) O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (25) I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
Here we see Paul himself wrestling with sin in his flesh. He says “I delight in the law of God according to the inward man, but I see another law in my members [that is, in his flesh]”. “O wretched man that I am!”, he proclaims. Here we see the classic and ongoing battle between spirit and flesh. The Christian delights in the law of God according to his inward man, his spirit, his heart, but his flesh remains corrupt and sinful. It’s a war, and it also helps explain why Christians often do things they shouldn’t. Non-believers frequently look at the acts of Christians and say “Those hypocrites! They say one thing and do another.” This is a valid accusation as Christians often do not do what they preach. However, the non-believer is looking at the flesh. God looks at the heart. The true test of a Christian is “has their heart changed?” When the flesh causes sin, does the person say “Oh well, that’s just the way it is. Everyone does it”, or do they say, along with Paul, “O wretched man that I am!” Where is the person’s heart? Does it hate the sin and push it away, or does it accept sin or worse, accommodate it?
The heart is the issue and we can see this from various passages such as:
Matthew 5:28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Matthew 12:35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.
Acts 8:22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.
Acts 16:14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (27) I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
I was talking to 2 people recently. One of them said “Oh, those born-again Christians! They say one thing and do another! What a bunch of hypocrites.” This person is looking at the flesh and the visible actions of the proclaimed Christian. Whether they realize it or not, they are advocating a religion of works. By sharp contrast, the other person I was talking with said, about a mutual friend, “I don’t know if he’s changed his ways much, but his heart sure has changed.” Bingo!!! There’s much in this statement- his ways haven’t changed much (yet!) but his heart has changed. As we saw in Matthew 12:35 above, it is the heart which directs actions. As we’ve seen in this study, conformation to Christ-likeness is a process. We’ve also seen that baby Christians, regardless of their physical age, are spiritual babies. Therefore, if our man’s heart is changed we can be confident that a) he is a new creature in Christ, and b) we will eventually see works reflecting his new heart.
Wrapping this up, then, a Christian is a person saved by God’s grace through faith. This faith is not of themselves, but is a gift of God. The believer has had his or her sins paid for by Christ and has been reconciled to God. They have been given a new heart, one that now seeks and desires the things of God instead of hating them and branding them as foolishness. All Christians have different rates of growth- some grow quickly, some slower but all grow. While they are growing they can and will do spiritually childish things, they will stumble and fall, and they will sin. However, instead of embracing or accommodating these mistakes, their heart should hate the sin that remains in their flesh. They should desire and seek to become more and more Christ-like, thanks again, to their new heart.
That’s about it for today’s message. I’ll be back, tomorrow with a closer look at some of the evidences of a Christian. Praise God for His abundant grace and mercy. May He increase our faith and conform us to the image of Jesus Christ.
False Prophets (2)- Evidence of a Christian