What is a Christian?

This article was published on: 2 February, 2012
Last modified on 26 March, 2021

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People on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway platform. What is a Christian?
What is a Christian? Can you see if any of these people on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway platform are Christians?

On the Christianity page Wikipedia states:

Christianity is the world’s largest religion, with about 2.4 billion followers.
Its adherents, known as Christians, make up a majority of the population in 157 countries and territories, and believe that Jesus is the Christ, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, called the Old Testament in Christianity, and chronicled in the New Testament.”

Wikipedia [i]

In a National questionnaire involving all adults: 72% said that they were ‘Christian’ ( yes that is 72 out of every 100 adults). [ii]

But only 5 out of 100 go to church!

So that begs the question: “What is a Christian?”

A Christian is not defined by a set of rules or rituals

So many people see that being a Christian is just following rules.
But the Bible tells us that it is not about keeping rules and laws:

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands.
The law simply shows us how sinful we are.”

Romans 3:20 NLT


The commandments;
‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’
‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’
and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command:
‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
Love does no harm to a neighbour.
Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.”

Romans 13:9-10

God’s love in us makes us naturally want to fulfil his laws.

A Christian is also not defined by doing rituals, or even attending a church.

What the word ‘Christian’ actually means

Man mocking someone.

To help answer the question: ‘What is a Christian?’ did you know that the word ‘Christian’ was a nickname!
It could have been a mocking name, to make fun of them.
The reason for the nickname was because these people based their whole lives on the teaching of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, if we call ourselves a Christian, we are saying that CHRIST is the most important thing in our lives.

Perhaps we can’t say that.
Perhaps we replace the Christ bit with ‘ME’ –

  • I am my own boss’
  • ‘I am the most important thing in my life!’

But a Christian is someone who follows Jesus Christ, not just occasionally, but for the rest of their lives.

It took discipline to follow Jesus day after day.
Jesus’ followers were called ‘disciples’, because they were disciplined.

Jesus laid out the rule for being one of His followers:

If anyone wants to be a follower of Mine, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
For anyone who keeps his life for himself shall lose it; and anyone who loses his life for me shall find it again.
What profit is there if you gain the whole world – and lose eternal life?
What can be compared with the value of eternal life?”

Matthew 16:24-26 The Living Bible

This speaks of the cost of being a follower, a disciple, of Jesus.

It doesn’t mean that we must die to follow Him.
Jesus is talking about living our lives for Jesus and not selfishly for ourselves.

Where does the word ‘Christian’ appear in the Bible?

The Bible actually tells us where Jesus’ followers were first called ‘Christians’:

So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people.
The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”

Acts 11:26

It obviously became a well known term because king Agrippa knew these groups of believers as ‘Christians’:

Then Agrippa said to Paul,
‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’ “

Acts 26:28

The Bible itself uses this term ‘Christian’ for believers of Jesus Christ:

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”

1 Peter 4:16

The term ‘Christian’ may have started off as a nickname – even a mocking term, but the Bible tells us that it is great to be a Christian and that you can thank God for being his child.

So being a Christian is about friendship – a friendship with Jesus Christ.

A man pointing at you

Are you willing to follow Him?
Is Jesus Christ the most important person in our life?

See the next article: What is God like?

[i] Christianity Wikipedia
[ii] National Census 2002.
Cartoon Images: thanks to Serif ARTGallery CD

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By Peter Reason

Copyright for NotManyWise: Peter Reason © 2004-2022 Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire PE28

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