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What Is A Christian?


Neil Armstrong B.A., M.Div.

On a CNN special a few years ago, Anderson Cooper asked the question, "What is a Christian"? Although there were commentators representing several different Christian viewpoints, it was troubling to hear the inadequacy of their responses. This was not to be unexpected. Many believers would be hard pressed to give a clear definition of a Christian. Over the years this lack of clarity has been one of many factors contributing to the confusion surrounding Christianity.

In order to help clear up some of the confusion, we will give a concise response to the question, what is a Christian? "A Christian is someone in whom the person of Jesus Christ lives by His Spirit." This means that Jesus Christ personally takes up residence within a believer and is living His life in and through this person. Amazingly, the Christian retains his or her unique identity while at the same time being changed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 This is what it means to be a Christian!

We will now look at several Scriptures which explain what being a Christian means. One very important passage which explains the believers relationship with the Father and Jesus Christ is John 17:1-26. As Jesus prays He reveals the oneness which will soon exist between the Father, Himself and those who will believe in Him. Jesus said, "Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." John 17:21 He concludes His prayer with these incredible words, "I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." John 17:26

The New Testament explains the reality of what it means to be a Christian by revealing one of the greatest mysteries of the ages. What is this mystery? Paul the Apostle writes, "To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." Colossians 1:27 He also refers to the unique indwelling of Christ in the Christian with these words, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. Galatians 2:20 In yet another place Paul writes, "And in him (Christ) you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2:22 Any one of these verses is sufficient to explain what a Christian is, but taken together they firmly establish what the New Testament teaches.

All of the verses we have read so far explain what a Christian is from an affirmative point of view. Sometimes the clearest way to express a truth is to say it negatively. We will end with a verse which clearly states the spiritual reality of the individual who is not a Christian. "And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ." Romans 8:9

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