What Is A Christian?

The biggest question for anyone who ever encounters Christianity in any form must be “What is a Christian?” Because if you don’t know what something is, then how do you know when you see it?

Mahatma Gandhi famously said “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Gandhi was a learned man. He read the Bible, so he knew what Christ was like, what he came for, and who he claimed to be. The Christians he saw, on the other hand, represented the British Raj, under whose boot India had suffered for nearly a century.

What is a Christian? I can tell you what a Christian isn’t.

A Christian isn’t someone who is uninterested in becoming more like Jesus. So, by studying Jesus, we know what the goal of any Christian should be. Not to die on a cross–or to be the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world–those are attributes unique to the Son of God–but to care about what Jesus cared about.

My pastor spoke about what the Church should be like this morning. He used the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) as his scripture reference. A lawyer asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him what the Law said.

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

The lawyer, knowing that he kept the Law to every jot and tittle, as interpreted by the legal experts of the day, wanted Jesus to give him assurance. He was looking for a legal answer: Do A and B and C. Jesus answered with the quintessential parable of “how to be like Jesus.”

The answer is surprisingly simple: anyone suffering, regardless of background, color, parentage, wealth, language, or beliefs is your neighbor. Nobody is born better than anyone else. Nobody is above anyone else.

The one attitude a Christian must have is humility. Humility before an all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign God, and humility toward others. A Christian without humility is not a Christian at all. Anyone who claims to be a Christian who mocks, insults, belittles, or harms others is not what they claim to be.

Also, anyone who claims to be a Christian who denies, twists, or otherwise justifies themselves against the word of God is not what they claim to be. The first commandment is to love God with all your soul and strength and mind. Using your mind to corrupt yourself and make God agree with you exalts “you” above God. That’s not humility, and that’s not Christian.

A Christian humbly submits to God’s word, and God’s will for their life. It actually is a “super spiritual” thing. The old saw that you can be “too spiritually-minded to be of any earthly good” is false. The truth is the only way you can be of earthly good as a Christian is to be completely spiritually-minded.

Human nature is selfish and self-centered. We want to be comfortable. We want to be wealthy. we want to be accepted and loved. God’s love is too far away for most of us. Knowing some heavenly being loves us and died for us and took away all our sins is useless to people unless someone is acting on God’s behalf right here and now.

The Samaritan–roughly synonymous with today’s Palestinians–saw a naked, unconscious man bleeding on the side of the road. While the religious leaders saw an unclean person to be avoided, the man’s enemy saw a suffering human and went out of his way to render assistance. It’s easy for the rich to give pocket change to help someone poor. It’s easy for me, walking through the slums of Calcutta, to give one man a thousand rupees ($15), more than he would see in a year.

Mother Teresa gave her life to the poor of Calcutta. Her homes admitted only those who had been refused by other charities–the poor and suffering who were beneath other organizations’ minimum standards. She was a Christian.

The only way to be a Christian is to aspire to do what Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonika.

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

(1 Thessalonians 5:14-18)

It’s not hard to determine who is doing this and who is not. It generally can’t be determined by only looking at that person’s Twitter feed or Facebook posts, but when someone is not a Christian, those things can provide strong clues.

I’m not really talking politics here, but the political applications are fairly obvious. None of the presidential candidates from major parties are Christian by Biblical standards. As for their supporters, treat them with patience, kindness, and wisdom. Do not pay back wrong for wrong, and do not support those who would.

Many who read this will be suffering some paper cuts to their consciences right now. The impulse is to just deny what was read, attack the writer, or dismiss the feeling. There’s a strong impulse to justify beliefs, especially those which have been publicly declared or emotionally bonded. If there’s any advice I can give, it’s this:

Don’t do it.

Pray to God instead. God may prescribe a U-turn. Humiliation may follow. Humiliation is a result of humility. Humility is required to be a Christian. If this is you, you’ve just made progress in your walk with God. Don’t miss the opportunity.


About the author

Steve Berman

The old Steve cared about money, prestige, and power. Then Christ found me. All at once things changed. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I spent 30 years in business. Now I write and edit. But mostly I love. I have a wife and 2 kids and a dog and we live in a little house in central Georgia.

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