Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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What is a Christian and How Do You Become One?

By Dennis Pollock


Early in my Christian days, I was trying to witness to someone who did not appear to know Jesus, and he asked me, "What would you say is the definition of a Christian?" This was a good question, and I struggled a bit to try to explain it to him. I guess I wasn't so sure myself, although I knew Christ had become very real to me. Later I was ashamed of myself for not being able to succinctly answer such a fundamental question.


Today, some fifty years later, I think I can better answer that question, and I want to do that in this study, using some of the Bible's terminology and insights. One way to do this is to consider and understand some of the Bible’s expressions for the experience of becoming a Christian.


The first expression we will consider comes from the mouth of Jesus. In the third chapter of John Jesus told a man named Nicodemus, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3). So here is an expression of what it means to become a child of God coming directly from the mouth of Jesus – to be born again. Jesus tells us that this is a must; unless you are born again, you will never see the kingdom of God. In other words, you will never go to Heaven.


When I was younger, I made it a practice to go out every week, knock on doors, give out Christian literature, and ask people if they were a Christian. But I soon found out that in Texas, nearly everybody would answer "yes" to that question. Today, I don't think that would be the case, even in Texas, but in those days, it was rare to have someone tell me, "No, I am not a Christian." So I changed my tactics a bit and started asking people if they had been born again. Suddenly, the percentage of people responding positively dropped significantly. Many either did not know what it meant to be born again or felt that this experience had never happened to them.


Saved by Christ


Another word that the Bible uses for being a genuine Christian is the simple word saved. This was the most common expression used among evangelicals in my childhood and youth. Instead of asking people if they were Christians, people would ask, "Have you been saved?"


This idea of being saved comes straight from the Scriptures. When the angel appeared to Joseph, informing him that Mary's pregnancy was of the Holy Spirit, he went on to say that the baby who would be born would "save His people from their sins." The apostle Paul wrote: "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9).


This, of course, infers that without Christ we are not saved; we are lost and in spiritual peril. The apostles once asked Jesus, "Lord, are there few who are saved?" (Luke 13:23). Jesus informed them that there were more who were unsaved than saved, saying, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able." (Luke 13:24).


According to Jesus, being saved is a minority position. Most men and women go through life under the wrath of God, unsaved, unforgiven, unjustified, and unacceptable to God. I must confess that it kind of bugs me when pastors and ministers refuse to use the Biblical terms for this concept of receiving new life in Christ and come up with their own terms instead. I once attended a church where the pastor's term for salvation was that we "cross the line of faith." If he was talking to non-Christians, he would not say that they had not yet been saved, or that they needed to be born again. He would declare that they had not yet crossed the line of faith. I understood he was talking about the new birth, but I could not figure out why he didn't just say "born again," "saved," or some of the other Biblical terms for this experience and instead came up with a new, non-Biblical term of his own.


As Many as Received Him


In addition to "born again," and "saved," another Biblical term for being transformed from darkness to light is simply to receive Jesus. John writes: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name." (John 1:12). We are spiritually transformed and become children of God when we receive Jesus. The concept of receiving indicates that there is a submission of the heart and of the will involved with the act of putting our faith in Jesus. We do not reject Him, deny Him, or oppose Jesus; we receive Jesus, and we do this by putting our faith in Him, in an act that opens our hearts, our lives, and our will to Him.


Yet another Biblical term for the experience of salvation in Jesus is the word "conversion." Jesus once called a little child to Him as an object lesson, and told the crowds that surrounded Him, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3). Jesus says, "Unless you are converted, unless you are radically changed from your present state, you will never see Heaven, you'll never enter heaven, you are not a child of God, and you have no hope for eternity. You must be converted; you must be spiritually and radically transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart. Unchanged people who go through their lives without a radical conversion to Christ are in a godless, hopeless state.


These are different expressions, but they mean the same thing – a powerful, spiritual transformation that occurs when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. We will not look any different, we won't sound any different, but we will be completely different because of the Holy Spirit suddenly taking up residence within us when our hearts, minds, and wills are subdued and overwhelmed by a revelation of the beauty and majesty of God's only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. This is all summed up by the words "believe on Jesus." When asked by the jailer at Philippi, "What must I do to be saved?" Paul and Silas told him, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." (Acts 16:31). The jailer, along with his family did believe in Jesus, were baptized that night, and became disciples of Jesus.


Linked to Jesus


This experience of being transformed and repositioned from darkness to light, from death to life, is entirely linked with Jesus Christ. You will never experience this by reading philosophy books, trying to be the nicest person in your neighborhood, or turning over a dozen new leaves. It happens when people hear about the Lord Jesus Christ: who He is, what He said, taught, and did, His death on the cross for our sins, and His resurrection three days later. The repentance and faith that arises in the heart after learning about Jesus, created by the Holy Spirit, working on and in our hearts, brings about this amazing experience the Bible calls being born again, being saved, receiving Jesus, being converted, or simply believing in Jesus. It is to be followed by baptism and then a lifelong commitment to be a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ. And the end the result is eternal life. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23).



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