The Most Asked Question "WHAT IS A REAL CHRISTIAN?"
Clayton D Steep
Thousands have asked us. According to Jesus, there is a simple way to identify a real Christian. Do you know what it is?
WHAT is a Christian? What is true Christianity? It is time to clear away the uncertainty.
Why Such Confusion?
Jesus clearly explained what a real Christian is like. He left no doubt. As we consider what he said, we need to ask ourselves why the qualities he described seem to be so difficult to 'find even in the Christian — professing nations of the world. Take, for instance, one of Jesus' teachings in what is often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Luke 6. Surely nothing is more central to Christianity than this portion of the Scriptures. But how often do you see Jesus' statement in verse 27 put into practice? It says: "Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you." Some of the most bloody battles in history have been waged by "Christian" nations. "No nations are more warlike than those which profess Christianity," observed Pierre Bayle, a 17th-century French philosopher. Professing Christians have even risen up in war against each other. They have impaled each other, burnt each other, blown each other to pieces on the battlefield, all the while praying to the same God for victory. The English poet Shelley commented: "The same means that have supported every other popular belief have supported Christianity. War, imprisonment, assassination and falsehood; deeds of unexampled and incomparable atrocity have made it what it is." How can this be? The one who is supposed to be the Founder of the "Christian" religion — the One whom professing Christians call "Lord" — taught his followers, "Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you" (Luke 6:27-28). This instruction of Jesus certainly is not followed in times of war. But then it is hardly followed in times of peace either. Where is it put into practice in neighborhoods, in social circles, among the people you know on a day-to-day basis? Jesus also said: "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise" (verse 31). That has been called the Golden Rule. It is thought of as a good slogan to hang on the wall, or to dangle from a charm bracelet, or to teach little children. But live by it? That is something else! Jesus, however, did not mean it as a suggestion. He didn't give it as a thought for the day. For Jesus it was a living law that he commanded his followers — Christians — to apply in their daily lives.
But Will It Work?
"Be ye therefore merciful," continued Jesus, "as your Father [God] also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven" (verses 36-37). Look around you. How often does merciful kindness govern what is said and done? Think of the competition and greed in business — the cheating, the gouging. A primary emphasis in today's world is to get the advantage over others, even if it is necessary to hurt them a little to do it. The political sphere resounds with name calling, propaganda and condemnation. Gossip, judging and backbiting are ever popular themes in private conversation. Movies, novels and television programs — including children's shows — dwell on the idea of getting even or seeking revenge. Where is forgiveness stressed? Instances of genuine mercy from one human being toward another are remarkable and memorable because they are so uncommon. Jesus' teaching even applies to simple lacks of consideration such as a blaring radio, a loud motorcycle, littering the landscape with rubbish, damaging public facilities, spraying graffiti on walls — factors that make life unpleasant for others. Yet so commonplace are infringements of the principles Jesus gave, it makes one wonder: Where are the Christians?
Is This a Christian World?
The Bible describes what a society is like when its religion is a mere form, not having the power to change people's lives. It reads like the front page of a newspaper. "For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it" (II Tim. 3:2-5, RSV). It all sounds so familiar! As Jesus was speaking, he knew there were some listening to him who would call him their "Lord," who would profess to belong to him, but who would not put his teachings into practice. These are the words of Jesus to them: "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46.) A "lord" is a ruler, a master, one who is to be obeyed. In plain words, Jesus said: "If you don't obey me, don't call me 'Lord'!" Too often people talk about "the Lord," or "the Lord Jesus," when they don't have the faintest idea what Jesus said his followers are to do. Jesus exclaimed: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21). That, in simple terms, is what makes a person a Christian. He or she does what Jesus said to do. He or she follows Christ. The ones who are allowed to become members of his spiritual family are "these which hear the word of God, and do it" (Luke 8:21). "Ye are my friends," Jesus stated, "if ye do whatsoever I command you" (John 15:14). Again, "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Clearly, only a person who does what Jesus said to do has the right to call him "Lord." That is the biblical
"'Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.' This instruction of Jesus certainly is not followed in times of war. But then it is hardly followed in times of peace either."
definition of a real Christian.
A Way of Life
True Christianity is not merely a set of beliefs. It is not joining a church. It is not something to be practiced one day a week or at odd intervals. It is a way of life. Early Christians referred to original Christianity as "the way of the Lord" (Acts 18:25) and "the way of God" (verse 26). "I am the way, the truth, and the life," Christ declared (John 14:6). True Christianity is the Christian way of life. No one can follow what Jesus taught without experiencing a marked change in life and life-style. Notice how this fact is illustrated in the following example: A rich young man once came to Jesus and asked: "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" (Matt. 19:16.) This man knew following Christ involves doing something. He asked: "What good thing shall I do?" Many today would have answered: "Why, there is nothing to do. Just accept Christ and it's all done for you. There are no works involved in salvation." How different was Jesus' answer! "And he [Jesus] said unto him... if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" (verse 17). There was no doubt that Jesus was talking about the Ten Commandments. When the young man asked, "Which ones?" Jesus named specifically the commandments having to do with showing love toward one's neighbor. To this, the rich man responded that he had been keeping those commandments since childhood (verse 20). The young man, of course, had been reared a Jew. But he wanted to become a follower of Christ. Which church today would not welcome with open arms such a wealthy and moral individual into its ranks? But Jesus did not do so. He required in his followers true depth of conversion. He knew the young man had a problem — keeping in their true intent those commandments regarding love toward, giving to, one's neighbor. So Jesus bluntly told him that his wealth was an obstacle to him, that he needed to get rid of it. Only after that could he become a follower of Jesus — a Christian. Sadly, the young man departed, unwilling to change his attitude toward life. Most people, it is true, do not have excess wealth as their major problem. The fact remains, though, that literally keeping the Ten Commandments is essential if you are to inherit God's free gift of eternal life. So said Jesus! Maybe you think you have been keeping the Ten Commandments fairly well — like the rich young man. Have you really? Try something. Read them off one by one (they are found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5) and see if there is not room for improvement in your life. In this materialistic, industrial age, you may be especially surprised at what the fourth and tenth commandments have to say. Our free booklet The Ten Commandments explains the commandments in detail, gathering together the various scriptures to show how each one is applicable in today's world. You may have a copy through the link above.
Being a real Christian involves every moment of every day. Every activity, every social situation, every endeavor, every goal and plan — Christ has revealed laws that bear on every facet of life. We are even to let our thoughts be ruled by the Lord Jesus, "bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ," as the apostle Paul expressed it (II Cor. 10:5). To some that sounds extreme. But it's in the Christian Bible. The apostle Paul was only repeating what the Bible says time and again: To do God's will is to follow his way of life totally. There is a price to pay, however, and for some that price may be too high. That price is surrender of the SELF. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts...." God says through the prophet Isaiah. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:7-9). A real Christian is one who seeks God's way of life, his thoughts, his will. What Isaiah was describing was genuine repentance — the kind of repentance necessary to begin the Christian way of life. When multitudes asked the apostle Peter how to become Christians, Peter responded with the same thoughts (Acts 2:38). But these inspired instructions are seldom followed today. Why? Why in the mass evangelistic campaigns of the world are people encouraged to make a spur-of-the-moment "decision for Christ" and to come forward in an "altar call," and to be pronounced "saved" or "born again"? — when that is not how Peter said to receive the Holy Spirit, which is God's free gift that leads to eternal life. No wonder such "conversions" often last only a matter of days or weeks!
Why Do So Few Know?
Here is where many people stumble. They begin to grasp what real Christianity is all about, then they look around them at the people they know. Or they think of individuals they have known in the past-friends, relatives, perhaps. And they use them as standards of comparison. They say to themselves: "Uncle Henry and Aunt Ruth and my friend John did not literally obey Jesus' instructions. But they weren't 'bad' people either. They lived the way they thought was right. I'll take my chances along with them and with the millions and millions of other professing Christians who are just average people. Surely God won't deny eternal life or salvation to them! God is merciful." God is merciful. That's true. But then what did Jesus mean when he said keeping the commandments and other lesser requirements are necessary to inherit God's free gift of eternal life? He meant exactly what he said. Uncle Henry and Aunt Ruth and friend John and all the millions who have professed Christianity without ever understanding what it really is to become a Christian — a follower of Jesus Christ — will eventually have their opportunity to understand. They too will learn that it is necessary to keep the commandments. If it doesn't happen during this life, then it will happen in a future period of judgment when God's government rules the earth and all the dead who have not had an opportunity for salvation will be resurrected and given the opportunity to choose the way of life that is based on obedience to God's laws — the only way to true happiness. That period of time is described in Revelation 20:11-13. Every human who ever lived will have an opportunity to receive salvation. For most people that time comes after they have lived their entire lives and died. God is just not trying to save the entire world now. That's why the Scripture says that in general, "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this [in a future resurrection!] the judgment [not a sentencing, but a period of testing and judging — their first and only genuine opportunity for salvation]" (Heb. 9:27). Jesus told his disciples: "Enter ye in at the strait [restricted] gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many [the millions, the hundreds and thousands of millions] there be which go in thereat: because strait [restricted] is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and FEW [during this present age] there be that find it" (Matt. 7:13-14). You probably have not understood this before. So why not write for our free article "Is This the Only Day of Salvation?" Don't make the mistake of judging what the Bible describes as true Christianity by the lives of people you have known who may not even have understood what real Christianity is. To be a real Christian is simply to do what Jesus said to do. He showed the way to truly abundant living. His words are recorded in the Scriptures. But they will only profit someone who reads them there and follows them. "If ye know these things," Jesus exclaimed, "happy are ye if ye do them " (John 13:17).