What is a Christian you ask? Good question. There are many fake Christians. They use the name of Christ freely but bear little resemblance to Jesus. These phony people do more harm than good. Do not be deceived by their self-centered lives. I cannot be the judge, only God is. However I can observe certain Biblical traits that are clearly associated with the real Christian life.
If you want to know what a Christian really is, look to the Bible. Bear in mind that we are all a work in process. We are unfinished, incomplete, and sometimes a real mess. But every person who claims to be a Christian should be learning and trying to model these qualities.
1. A Real Christian Surrenders to Jesus
Christians surrender to Jesus just as Jesus surrendered to the Father.
A clear mark of a disciple is that he surrenders himself to the will of another, in this case, Jesus. Our Lord set the standard by his surrender to the will of the Father. Consider this exemplar from Luke 22:42:
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
These humble words were uttered in Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer. As he struggled between heaven’s mission and earthly fears, Jesus fully surrendered to God’s plan (Acts 2:23). Paul writes that he humbled himself and “became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (Philippians 2:8). Jesus did more than talk about submission. Jesus was a living example of it.
Consider the words of Paul.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Symbolically, Paul died with his teacher. But then he exchanged the entirety of his life for that of his teacher. In a sense, Paul no longer existed. Jesus had claimed his life, and Paul had willingly given it. He had surrendered to Jesus.
Later, the apostle would write: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 7:19, 20). The idea of being bought suggests slavery. It’s not surprising that Paul spoke of himself as a servant of Jesus. Paul was owned by Jesus.
When you meet a true Christian, you will see someone motivated by a desire to be like Christ and serve him. Over time, for it is a process, that person will become more and more like his teacher.
2. A Real Christian Loves Like Jesus
Love may not be what you think. The Bible’s definition of Christ-like love has little to do with feelings and instead focuses on commitment. Jesus fully committed himself to all of mankind before the world was created (Ephesians 1:4). The Father loved us so much that he gave Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins (John 3:16; Romans 5:18). There were no “warm and fuzzy” feelings on the cross, just pain and humiliation.
There’s a penetrating statement in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” A Christian loves like Jesus because he shows true love, and true love means surrendering to another, giving your life for them.
The love command in John 13:35 that became the identifying characteristic of Jesus’ disciples.
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
What is a Christian? A Christian is one who loves like Jesus. That’s how we can identify disciples of our Lord.
3. A Real Christian Serves Others Like Jesus
Serving lies at the heart of the Christian life. It is impossible to be a Christian and not serve.
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
There has never been one more worthy of serving than Jesus. Yet, his mission was to serve others, even giving his life for people who hated him. The last phrase is incredibly important. Jesus came to serve “and to give his life as a ransom for many.” His service included dying for us. Paul says he died for people who actually hated him: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Now that is service!
In John 13, Jesus washed the disciple’s feet. A dozen pairs of nasty, sweatyIt was an object lesson of servitude that the Lord taught his followers (John 13:12-15).
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
A true follower of Jesus would learn this lesson of humility and service and would quickly duplicate the Lord’s example in his own life.
4. A Real Christian Is Not Perfect
I have a close friend who owns automobile body repair shops. He takes a terribly damaged car and makes it like new again. But it doesn’t happen overnight. He must assess the damage, order the new parts, tear away the damage, look for underlying, hidden damage, install new parts, paint the new parts, polish the new parts, detail the car and then return it to the owner. He’s efficient, but he will not rush. It just takes time. It’s the same with a Christian.
David was an adulterer and a murderer (2 Samuel 11). Peter struggled with prejudice (Galatians 2:11-14). Paul was constantly fighting his own demons (Romans 7:13-25). Today, true Christians are no different.
There is no such thing as a perfect Christian. Apart from the blood of Jesus, we are sniveling, whining creatures of wrath.
Tell me. Do you know an athlete that has never missed a shot? Do you know a musician who never misses a note? A physician who has never erred? You have also never met a Christian who was perfect. Major League Baseball has seen only 23 perfect games in its modern history, and no pitcher has done it more than once. As of this writing, it has been 10 years since the last perfect game.
We all sin (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8). While we want to do better, we often fail. A Christian is not perfect.
Many claim to be Christians, yet their words are hollow and their actions contrary to the claim. Maybe they want to be a disciple, maybe their want to follow Jesus but not enough to do the hard work of surrendering, loving, and serving.
Jesus tells, and Luke records, the Lord’s rebuke of those who talk but are unwilling to act. Read Luke 9:57-62. Three people with three seemingly reasonable reasons to delay following Jesus. One wanted stability, but the Lord could not promise that. The second wanted to give his father an honorable burial. Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead.” The third wanted to say goodbye to his family. Jesus said no. Jesus must come first (Matthew 6:33). Some are just not willing.
A true Christian, a true disciple of Christ, is a person of action. Those actions fit the example of Christ. Do not be deceived by those claiming to walk after Jesus. Check their actions.
One final warning, my friend. Do not assume that counterfeit Christians represent true Christians. It is unfair to paint with so broad a brush. Real Christians are out there. They are in the minority, but they are there. Seek them out.
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