[Note: To simplify my life, I have decided to give up my second blog, Mohawk Valley Christians. So with this post, I'm starting the process of consolidating all my posts here, whether their flavor is political, religious, or chocolate-chip cookie-dough. Hope you enjoy!]
I am a Christian. Depending on the survey you look at, I am among the 76% to 86% of Americans who say that they are Christians.
As Webster’s 1989 Unabridged Dictionary has twelve different definitions for Christian, and more from the earlier editions, and there are a myriad of different Christian churches, each with their own doctrines and structures, I feel the need to try to narrow my definition. I’m going to start by ruling out some of Webster’s definitions that are still commonly understood today, and explain my objection to them, based on biblical principles. [The year shown reflects the Webster's edition that carries that particular definition. The 1828 and 1913 editions are available here. Thanks to the Founder's Bookshelf for the link. The 1989 edition sits by my desk.]
- 1913 – One born in a Christian country or of Christian parents, and who has not definitely become an adherent of an opposing system If you are born in America or of American parents, you are an American. The same, however, does not apply to becoming a Christian. As David du Plessis said in The Spirit Bade Me Go, God has no grandsons, only sons. We can’t ride our parents’ shirttails to heaven. We can only become Christians through an individual encounter with the Holy Spirit, as Jesus told us: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:3-6)
- 1989 – a decent or presentable person: Dress like a Christian and not like something the cat dragged in Unfortunately, many people still define a Christian by their outward appearance – Jesus does not. Scripture repeatedly points out that God looks at the heart, not at the clothing or hair. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” (Matthew 23:25-26)
- 1913 – civilized; kind; kindly; gentle; beneficent While these characteristics should apply to every Christian, they can apply to others, as well. Being “nice” and fitting into society does not get us into heaven. Doing “more good than bad” does not get us into heaven. The only way we can get to heaven is to acknowledge our sins and repent. Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
- 1989 – a member of certain Protestant churches Many believe that making an oath to a specific church and attending that church makes one a Christian. The Bible, however, gives no basis for this belief. In fact, Jesus told us just the opposite: But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil. (Matthew 5:34-37)
The Pew Forum conducted a survey this past summer, in which the majority (52%) of Americans who said they are Christians stated that at least some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life. When that 52% was asked which faiths, other than their own, can lead to eternal life, they responded “yes” as follows:
- Catholicism 73%
- Protestantism 74%
- Judaism 69%
- Islam 52%
- Hinduism 53%
- Atheists 42%
- People with no religion 56%
Let me state emphatically that this 52% who believe we don’t need Christ for eternal life are not Christians.
I can say that I am a mother, but if I have never had any children, my words are meaningless. A relationship with a child defines the term “mother.” In the same way, I can say that I am a Christian, but if I have no relationship with Jesus Christ, my words are meaningless. Christ defines the term “Christian.” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)
The following definitions of a Christian, while not perfect, are much closer to the truth.
- 1828 – A real disciple of Christ; one who believes in the truth of the Christian religion, and studies to follow the example, and obey the precepts, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by real piety
- 1913 – One who believes, or professes or is assumed to believe, in Jesus Christ, and the truth as taught by Him; especially, one whose inward and outward life is conformed to the doctrines of Christ.
- 1989 – one who believes in Jesus Christ; adherent of Christianity; one who exemplifies in his life the teachings of Christ: He died like a true Christian; exhibiting a spirit proper to a follower of Jesus Christ: Christlike: She displayed true Christian charity
As our best source for truth is the Bible, however, I will let God have the last Word.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”–that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:8-10)
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)