We hear the term “Christian” all the time. It might refer to Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and all the evangelical denominations as well as a few sects labeled “Christian.” Many times, it’s used to describe a religion based on the teachings of Jesus as opposed to others, for example: Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, New Age etc.
From the Bible, we know that the name “Christian” was first used to describe the believers in the city of Antioch. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch (Acts 11:26). The word Christian simply means “follower of Christ.”
Let’s look at what Jesus Himself said about what’s required to be His follower. A Pharisee (religious Jew) named Nicodemus approached Jesus at night and said, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Look carefully what Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Jesus said that people need to be born again. He elaborates: Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
Nicodemus didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about. How can these things be?
Jesus answers him with prophecy about His own death as a payment for the sins of the world. He cites a passage in the Old Testament, which is a figure of His death on the cross: And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived (Numbers 21:9). Jesus said, And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. Jesus drew the parallel between the saving of those bitten by the serpents—in judgment for their sin—when they looked at the lifted up brass serpent, to His own sacrifice on the cross.
Jesus makes it very clear in the next few verses: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
So biblically, what is a Christian? According to Jesus Himself, it’s someone who has believed on Him for salvation from sin.
Q—Can a person be a Christian by being good?
A—No one can be good enough. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God (Mark 10:18).
Q—Not even good works?
A—No. Salvation is only by grace through faith. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Q—So if a person believes in Jesus, that’s enough?
A—If he believes in his heart, yes. That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness (Romans 10:9-10a).
Q—What exactly does a person have to believe about Jesus?
A—That Jesus died for his sins on the cross, that Jesus was buried, and that He rose from the dead. It is placing one’s faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to pay for his own personal sinfulness. The Bible says it like this: I declare unto you the gospel . . . which also ye have received . . . By which also ye are saved. . . . For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures (from 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Q—So the difference is in believing? Salvation is a gift?
A—Absolutely. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life (1 John 5:11-12).
Q—Can you know?
A—Yes, God gives the Holy Spirit to every believer. That’s what the Bible is talking about when it says “witness” in this next verse: He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. . . . These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God (1 John 5:10, 13).
To sum it up quickly, a true Christian is a person who has been born again through faith in Jesus’ death for him on the cross, Jesus´ burial, and His resurrection. A person who has been born again knows it deep down in his soul.
(The quoted passages about the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus are from John 3:1-18. If you want to know more about Jesus, His life, and resurrection, why don’t you read the Gospel of John? It’s 21 chapters. Find out for yourself Who Jesus said He is.)