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 Christianity.”

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 Pentecostals.

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 definition.

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” (Romans 10:17).

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 12:8, 9).

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” (Revelation 1:5).

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” (Acts 22:16).

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 Christian.

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 Christ. Amen.
Roy Davison

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