WHO IS A CHRISTIAN?
E. J. Mathew
There are more than 100 crores of people known as Christians. But a pertinent question is, are they all Christians? If we make a scrutiny of such people in the light of the Scriptures, we come to the conclusion that perhaps only 10% of them are genuine Christians. That is a very disturbing situation. Many bear a Christian name. But if we question them about their Christian faith, soon we will know that they are not bona fide Christians. Let us look to the Holy Scriptures to find out who is a Christian and what his characteristics are.
Acts 11:26 says, "The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." That is the first mention of the word 'Christian' in the Scriptures. Christians are the disciples of the Lord Jesus. Who is a disciple? A disciple is a follower of Christ. Matthew 4:18,19 says that the Lord Jesus saw Peter and Andrew casting a net into the sea and the Lord said unto them, "Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men." And they straightaway followed Him. About John and James, Matthew 4:22 says, "They left the boat and their father, and followed Him."
The same was the case with all the other disciples. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matt.16:24). That means, a disciple who is a follower of Christ must renounce himself, take up his cross and follow the Lord Jesus.
The discipleship of the Lord Jesus is a very costly experience. First, one should give up his hold on material possessions and then take up his cross-which means the enduring of any hardship that may come up in following Him. To some disciples, it meant the forgoing of their livelihood through their fishing or tax collection. To Paul, it meant the giving up of substantial worldly income and other benefits. But what is the ground reality today? Rather than renouncing material income, fame or position in this world, many disciples work extremely hard to acquire as much wealth and material benefits of this world. There is a blessing that the Lord gives to His disciples; but today we are seeking material prosperity far more than what the Lord would give us and that too, by unfair or foul means. Are such people really Christians? A sincere, honest scrutiny of our Christian faith is highly warranted in today's context. Seeing that many nominal Christians in Western countries pursue the acquisition of immeasurable wealth, many believers here also pursue the acquisition of vast wealth for a luxurious life. Fellow Christian, neither the Lord nor any of His disciples ever sought large wealth for themselves. The Lord also said, "Ye cannot serve both mammon and God" (Lk.16:13). A large number of Christians ignore this principle and their lives are spent for acquiring mammon. Are they true Christians?
Children born and brought up in believers' homes are taught from young days to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and they testify to that effect in the churches and they are reckoned as saved ones. Whereas it is a good thing for such children to become saved from young days, it can also happen that many such children are not really saved. Recently I saw a book titled We Thought We Were Saved, which spoke about five persons who thought they were saved, but not really saved. By God's grace, they could realise the mistake and in due time come to the real experience. But quite a number continue with the same experience and end up in eternal damnation. Now, before a person could experience the joy of salvation, a pre-requisite is to have the experience of repentance of his sins, and acknowledgement of the fact that he is a sinner both by birth and by deed and that his future is eternal condemnation (Psa.51:5; Rom.3:10-12,23; 6:23; Jn.3:36). Having been convicted of this fact, he should accept the Lord Jesus as his personal Saviour and the death of the Lord Jesus for his sins and on his behalf (Acts.16:31). On doing so, the work of regeneration takes place in his heart and soul, and he enjoys the experience of being born again (Jn.3:3,5). A sinner who is born again by confession of his sins and trusting in the Lord Jesus is a bona fide Christian.
3. Crucified With Christ
A Christian is one whose very self has been crucified with Christ and in whom Christ lives. He lives by faith in the Son of God who loved him and gave Himself for him (Gal.2:20). In most human beings there is an 'I' which rules his thoughts and minds, viz., the proud 'self'. When a person becomes a Christian, he should reckon himself as dead with Christ and his further life should be depending upon the risen Christ indwelling him. A person who is controlled by his own self cannot lead a true Christian life. Many of the strifes among believers are caused by the proud self which has not been identified with the crucifixion of Christ. Romans 6 tells us that in Christian baptism, a Christian has been identified with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thereafter, he should reckon himself dead unto sin and his fleshly desires and alive unto God (v.11). The hymn writer says:
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life's narrow way
You ask me how I know He lives
He lives within my heart.
A Christian is a transformed person. "If a man be in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new" (1Cor.5:17). What a great transformation has taken place in Him! He has bidden goodbye to his old sinful life. God's Holy Spirit has been imparted into his person and consequently he shall receive a new heart and a new spirit and the stony heart will be taken away out of his flesh (Ezek.36:26). When a person repents of his sins and accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour, there should be a genuine and perceptible change in that person's character and conduct. The fruits of the Spirit (Gal.5:22) like love, joy, peace, longsuffering, etc., will be very patent in him. But alas! The ground situation in this regard is far from what the Scripture says. There has to be a turn-around in this matter among Christians, especially those known as believers.
5. Reckon As Dead Galatians 5:24 tells us that they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. Galatians 5:19 describes the works of the flesh: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry (covetousness), sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, wrath, factions, seditions, heresies, envyings, drunkenness, revellings (excessive entertainments) and the like. Prior to our becoming Christians, all such works in various forms were being perpetrated by us. But on becoming a Christian, everyone should reckon themselves as dead to all such fleshly passions. This is possible only if we are able to realise that our flesh with its affections and lusts is crucified along with Jesus Christ as declared at the time of baptism. Alas, what do we see in reality among the so called Christians? Fleshly desires and ambitions are uppermost among believers. Of late, fornications and drunkenness along with drug addictions are becoming rife among believers. Are such persons believers? We need to examine ourselves if we are guided by our depraved fleshly desires or whether we have had the experience of new creation. Absolute surrender of our fleshly desires, as enjoined in Romans 12:1, is a must-our bodies need to be surrendered as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to the Lord.
6. Glory In The Cross
Galatians 6:14 tells us that a Christian should glory only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by whom the world is crucified unto him and he unto the world. The cross is a place of inexplicable suffering and humiliation. Our Lord Jesus humbled Himself even unto the death of the cross (Phil.2:8). As Isaac Watts has put it:
Forbid it Lord that I should boast
Save in the cross of Christ my Lord
All the vain things that charm me most
I sacrifice them to His blood.
However, believers (including certain evangelists) boast in worldly fame and achievements, rather than mortify their flesh. A servant of God has stated, "God put the church in the world; but Satan has put the world in the church." Very few can acknowledge and confess that they are crucified unto the world and the world crucified unto them. The moral degeneration that is prevailing around the world is perhaps unprecedented in the history of mankind. But what about believers? They seek to compromise with the perversions of the world and its allurements. It is time that believers wake up to the realities and renounce the things of the world so that they may truly seek to glorify Him.
7. Worshipping God
A Christian is one who has truly known the true and living God and worships Him. It is of utmost importance that a Christian should honestly and sincerely be worshipping God. There is a large number of so-called believers who offer lip service to God. He repudiates it and is not pleased with such worship. The Lord said to the Samaritan woman, "God is a spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth" (Jn.4:24). Worshipping God the Father through Christ our Lord with the assistance of the Holy Spirit should be the greatest occupation of a Christian. In eternity also, the Christian shall continue to worship, without break, the Triune God, acknowledging the great redemption through the Lord's blood, more precious than gold or silver. The ideal goal set by our Lord is, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind and with all thy strength" (Matt.12:30).
Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
It is also incumbent on a Christian to obey the Lord by taking water baptism by immersion and also to celebrate the memory of His death by participating in the Lord's Supper as instituted by Him.
8. Messenger Of The Gospel
A Christian should be aware and should seek to obey the Great Commission the Lord gave to His disciples, "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mk.16:15). Acts 1:8 says, "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and in Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth." It is imperative for every Christian to testify to the saving power of the Gospel to all other people. Some believers consider that the proclaiming of the Gospel message is the duty of evangelists only. This is not correct. Paul said, "Woe unto me if I preach not the Gospel" (1Cor.10:16). He also said, "The love of Christ constrains us (2Cor.5:14). Persuaded by the love of Christ and concerned about the salvation of mankind, a Christian should necessarily be a messenger of the Gospel. Paul spoke the Gospel to King Agrippa so convincingly that the former said to Paul, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (Acts.26:28). That should be the aim of every Christian.
9. Surrendered To Suffer
A Christian is one who willingly surrenders himself to suffer for Christ's sake. 1 Peter 4:16 says, "If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God." Physical suffering is assured to His disciples. The Lord said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer" (Jn.16:33). Some believers find it difficult to suffer insult, mocking, deprivation, physical assault, etc., when they proclaim the Gospel. 1 Peter 2:21 says, "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps." Further 1 Peter 4:13 tells us, "Rejoice in as much as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings" ye may be glad with exceeding joy." Someone has said that martyrs are the seed plot of the Christian church. Over the last 20 centuries, how many thousands have undergone extreme suffering all over the world and many have sacrificed their lives for faith's sake. The Scriptures speak so eloquently about the future glory that awaits the suffering saints. "If we suffer, we shall reign with Him" is the blessed promise that awaits every suffering Christian (2Tim.2:12).
10. Citizenship In Heaven
A Christian is one whose name is written in heaven in the Lamb's book of eternal life (Lk.10:20). His citizenship is in heaven and he looks forward to the glorious day in which he will live with Christ in transformed bodies upon the new earth. He awaits the glorious prospect of living with God and worshipping Him without end. The Lord Jesus is preparing for him a house not made with hands and he awaits fulfilment of the Lord's promise, "I go to prepare a place for you and after it is prepared, I will come back and take you unto Myself so that you will dwell with Me and where I am there you may be also."
Dear reader, may I ask you if you are a real Christian? The things explained in the paragraphs above, are they real in your case? There are many pseudo-Christians in this world today. So many are hypocrites. But nothing is hidden in His sight. He will judge everyone at the right time. Where will you spend your eternity? May God bless you.