Who is a Christian according to the Bible?
Many people think they are Christians when, according to the
Scriptures, they are not. Few people understand what it means
to be a Christian in the Biblical sense of the word.
Some incorrect definitions will be considered first; then we will examine
the Biblical definition.
What are some non-biblical definitions for being a Christian?
How does the dictionary define a Christian?
Dictionary definitions explain how the word Christian is used in
society. A dictionary does not try to determine who is a
Christian from a Biblical perspective.
The first definition in my dictionaryA is: 1a: an adherent of
This definition refers to someone who, in the broadest possible sense,
can be designated as a Christian. This distinguishes him from
adherents of non-Christian religions such as Judaism, Islam,
Hinduism and Buddhism. Considering the extremely low level of
adherence to the teachings of Christ this designation requires,
this is not the Biblical definition of a Christian.
The second definition in my dictionary is: 1b: a member of one of
the Churches of Christ separating from the Disciples of Christ in
1906 and seeking a united New Testament Christianity.
This is closer to the Biblical definition. It distinguishes Christians from
members of denominations such as Catholics, Anglicans,
Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians and
Yet, this is not the Biblical definition either because one can be a member of a
local church of Christ without meeting the New Testament
requirements for being a Christian.
What are some denominational definitions?
Obviously, various denominations have conflicting definitions for being a
Christian because their doctrines differ greatly on how one
becomes a member and on the level of adherence required to
be recognized as a member. These variations are so great that
we can examine only a few of them.
Denominations with extremely low requirements for membership will be
ignored because they do not even attempt to apply a Biblical
Among those who believe that division into separate denominations is
acceptable, the definitions for being a Christian must be either
very broad or behavior-based because they must accommodate
great differences in doctrine.
A prevalent definition is that faith in Christ is all that is required for one
to be a Christian. Faith is certainly essential but faith alone is
not enough. James writes, "Even the demons believe - and
tremble! and Faith without works is dead (James 2:19, 20).
Through James, the Holy Spirit states: You see then that a
man is justified by works, and not by faith only (James 2:24).
John tells us, Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in
Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him,
lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved
the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:42,
43). More than faith is required for one to be a Christian.
Another incorrect definition is that a certain level of piety makes
someone a Christian. The conversion of Cornelius proves this to
be false, because although Cornelius was a devout man and
one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms
generously to the people, and prayed to God always (Acts
10:2), he was not saved. He had to hear the gospel to be
saved. Peter explained: And he told us how he had seen an
angel standing in his house, who said to him, 'Send men to
Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell
you words by which you and all your household will be saved'
(Acts 11:13, 14).
What is the Biblical definition for a Christian?
According to the Scriptures, a non-Christian becomes a Christian
through regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
Nicodemus believed that Jesus was a teacher come from God. Yet Jesus
told him, You must be born again (John 3:7). Nicodemus had
trouble understanding this, so Jesus explained: Most
assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the
Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5).
Peter says that, to be a Christian, one must have been born again, not
of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God
which lives and abides forever (1 Peter 1:23).
To be born again through the word of God, one must hear the gospel:
Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God
One must hear and believe the gospel to become a Christian. But faith is
just the beginning. Faith must be confessed: For with the
heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth
confession is made unto salvation (Romans 10:10).
We learned about Jewish leaders who believed in Jesus but were afraid
to confess Him (John 12:42, 43). I once taught two brothers in
West Flanders who believed the gospel but refused to confess
their faith because they were afraid the villagers would stop
coming to their shop.
Jesus warned, Whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man
also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies
Me before men will be denied before the angels of God (Luke
Repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins are also required.
When those who believed Peter's message on Pentecost asked,
What shall we do? Peter replied, Repent, and let every one
of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission
of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts
2:38). Repentance means that one is sorry for his sins and
resolves to turn his life around and serve God.
Jesus taught that baptism is required: He who believes and is baptized
will be saved (Mark 16:16). Someone who believes Jesus,
must accept His teaching that baptism is essential to salvation.
It is only through the blood of Christ that one can be saved, of Him
who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood
One gains access to the blood of Christ through baptism. As Paul was
told: And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized,
and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord
Later Paul wrote: Or do you not know that as many of us as were
baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death,
that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the
Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life
(Romans 6:3, 4).
Thus at baptism, based on faith, repentance and confession, one is born
again of water and the Spirit, and begins a new life as a
One becomes a Christian when he is baptized into the church of Christ,
which is His body (Colossians 1:18). For by one Spirit we were
all baptized into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13).
Being a Christian is a matter of citizenship. For our citizenship is in
heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the
Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).
Pious living is a consequence of becoming a Christian, not a way to
become a Christian. We are saved by grace, not by meritorious
works. Baptism is a gift of grace by which we are saved: But
when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man
appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done,
but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing
of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4, 5).
God defines who is, and who is not, a Christian: Nevertheless the solid
foundation of God stands, having this seal: 'The Lord knows
those who are His,' and, 'Let everyone who names the name of
Christ depart from iniquity' (2 Timothy 2:19).
Who then is a Christian according to the Bible?
The Scriptures teach that a Christian is someone who has heard the
good news of salvation through Christ, who believes that Jesus
is the Son of God, who repents of his sins, who confesses his
faith in Christ, and who has been baptized into the body of
The Scripture quotations in this article are from The New King James Version. ©1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers.
AWebster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, London: G. Bell & Sons, Ltd., Springfield, Mass.: G. & C. Merriam Co., 1963.
Published in The Old Paths Archive