What is a Christian?
The world has many qualifications for what makes one a Christian. Being born of Christian parents, being baptized or being a part of a church are all interpreted as making one a Christian. However, the Bible has its own definition, and as the final authority for Christian life and practice, the Bible's definition is what counts.
In Romans 10:9, we find this statement:
“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9 ESV)
This is a statement of what it takes to be saved. According to the Bible, this is the starting point. Three points stand out in this statement. First, a Christian believes that Jesus is God. Second, a Christian believes that Jesus died. Third, a Christian believes that Jesus rose from the dead. Using almost the same words, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 gives these same points as being the most important.
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV)
Here the author is saying that what he delivered is of “first importance.” In this statement, he adds that Jesus’ death was for our sins, and that all this was done in “accordance with the Scriptures.”
First, let’s consider the statement “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord.” In and by this statement, the Scriptures are calling Jesus “God,” and also making the acknowledgement of this fact a requirement for salvation. John 8:58 says:
Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58 ESV)
By using the words “I am” to describe Himself, Jesus is claiming to be God. The Old Testament Scriptures speak of the coming Messiah and use terms like Psalm 110:1 which says:
The Lord says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool." (Psalms 110:1 ESV)
Jesus used this passage where the Psalmist says, “…the Lord said to my Lord” to argue that the Old Testament Scriptures foretold that the Messiah would be God. This is the God of the Old Testament. This same God brought plagues on Egypt when they would not let the children of Israel go. This is the same God that slew 70 of the men of Beth-shemesh because they looked into the Ark of the Covenant. (1 Samuel 6:19). This same God instructed Moses to take off His shoes because he was standing on holy ground when he approached the burning bush. The Jews could not accept that this God became flesh and dwelt among us, but to those who did accept this truth, He gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12).
God sent His Son into the world with a purpose. John 3:17 tells us:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17 ESV)
God’s purpose in sending His son was the salvation of the world, and this involved suffering and death as a means of paying for the guilt of our sins. God made this clear even in Old Testament times. In speaking of the work of the Son of God, Isaiah 53 says:
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:3-9 ESV)
In taking on flesh, it was the mission or purpose of the Son of God to die for our sins. God became man in order to die. Isaiah 53 and other Scriptures speak of this. As we saw from Romans 10:9, Christians believe Jesus died.
The historical fact of Jesus’ death on the cross is essential to our Christian faith. As Christians, we remember the death of Christ on the cross not out of a morbid interest in death and suffering, but because on the cross Jesus paid the penalty for all of our sins. Colossians tells us:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15 ESV)
Death on a cross is said to be one of the most horrible ways to die. The suffering Jesus went through physically was something that others experienced. Thousands of people were and have been crucified. However, the difference is that Jesus did not deserve to die. The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death. Jesus had no sin so the penalty He paid was not for Himself. What took place on the cross is summarized for us in the words of 2 Corinthians 5:21:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)
Jesus was different from all others who died on the cross because He had no sin for which to die and therefore death had no claim or right to take Him. He also was different from all other men because He rose from the dead. This is the third essential we mentioned, “…a Christian believes that Jesus rose from the dead.” We remember the death of Jesus on the cross because death could not hold him.
Death is a dark and terrible thing. The cross is a picture of the suffering that is in the world because of sin. Before going to the cross, Jesus’ soul was in anguish as He took on the weight of the world’s sin and God’s punishment of that sin. His anguish was such that the Bible tells us He sweat drops of blood. He asked His three closest friends to pray with Him, but as He prayed and cried out to God, His three closest friends went to sleep. Twice He went back to them and encouraged them to pray with him and each time they went back to sleep. The third time He came and woke them was when the soldiers came to arrest Him. Humanly speaking, Jesus fought this battle alone. However, Luke 22:43 tells us, “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.” (Luke 22:43 ESV)
Even as He faced the anguish of dying in our place, Jesus was not alone, but as He came to the final moment on the cross He cried out, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” Then He was truly alone.
He did this so that we would never have to be alone like He was. A Christian is one who has confessed with his or her mouth that Jesus is Lord and believed in his or her heart that God has raised Him from the dead. But this is only the starting point, because a Christian is one who is never alone. Jesus has promised He will never leave us or forsake us. In our darkest night when all our friends, even our three closest friends, have abandoned us, He never will.
Whatever anguish of soul you are facing, Jesus can identify with you and He can understand. Whoever has abandoned you and left you alone, Jesus never will. If you have confessed with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the grave, that makes you a child of God and a Christian, and you will never be alone.