This might be a simple question. But the answers, if we are to undertake a poll will reveal many erroneous ideas about who a Christian is. According to the 2010 population and housing census, 71%1 of Ghanaians identify themselves as Christians. Across the world approximately 2.2 billion2 people call themselves Christians. The history of the world is studded with stories of people who abandoned family ties, fled their countries and even others who have paid the ultimate price by giving up their lives in the name of Christianity. In the face of such staggering statistics and sacrifice, the natural question to ask is who is a Christian?
Societal versus Biblical Definition
For many, a Christian is an individual born in a Christian home. For others, a Christian is one who is punctual with church attendance. A Christian to others is a morally good person who loves their neighbour as themselves. The answers you get to this question might often depend on the culture the respondent has grown up in. With these differing notions and cultural undertones about who a Christian is, one wonders if there is indeed an accurate definition for who a Christian really is. Fortunately, we are not left in a limbo to figure out who a Christian is. There is a place to turn to−the Bible. Christianity is a faith built on the Bible as the anchor of its knowledge. Christians of all centuries hold to the Bible as its fundamental document of faith. It is therefore essential we turn to the Bible to answer the question, ‘who is a Christian?’
The word Christian is derived from the word Christ. It was first used in Antioch, an ancient city in modern day Turkey, describe followers of Jesus Christ (Acts 11:26). In the Bible, we are told of the origins of the world, human life and the entrance of sin. God created man in his image and gave him authority to rule over everything that he had made.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”(Genesis 1:26)
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16 & 17)
When God created Adam, He gave him a command to keep. However Adam and Eve chose to believe a lie about God’s intent for them. They doubted God’s word and chose the path of independence and autonomy from God. They disobeyed by eating from the tree God had forbidden them, because the devil promised them a lie of equality with God (Genesis 3:1-6). Ever since that first rebellion, all of us who have descended from Adam have inherited a sinful nature which seeks to rebel against a loving God. Theologians call it Original Sin.
Original sin is the doctrine which holds that human nature has been morally and ethically corrupted due to the disobedience of mankind’s first parents to the revealed will of God. In the Bible, the first human transgression of God’s command is described as the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden resulting in what theology calls the Fall of mankind. The doctrine of original sin holds that every person born into the world is tainted by the Fall such that all of humanity is ethically debilitated, and people are powerless to rehabilitate themselves, unless rescued by God3.
Sin and Repentance
Sin is in our DNA. Whether it is the crying baby who wants his way, or the toddler throwing tantrums or the teenager banging doors because they did not get their way or the proud self-centered adult, we all like Adam and Eve, have chosen the side of sin against God. We are separated from God by our sin (Rom 3:23). But God didn’t leave humankind to their fate, despite the rebellion. God stepped in. He issued a verdict and promised to send a deliverer who would deliver his people from bondage (Gen 3:15, Jer. 23:5). That promise was fulfilled in Jesus. He was the anointed one, of whom all the prophets had spoken about. For many Jews he did not foot the bill of the person they were looking forward to. They were awaiting a political figure who would redeem them from Roman domination. However, Jesus came primarily to reconcile humankind to God. His ministry, death and resurrection confirmed Him to be the Son of the living God prophesied about in the Old Testament. If Jesus indeed is the Christ−the anointed one and Messiah−then we must understand Christianity and a Christian in the context of what he did and taught. At the beginning of his earthly ministry, He laid out clearly the purpose of his coming as recorded in the book of Mark chapter 1:14 & 15
… Jesus came into Galilee … and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
There are three important points to note in this announcement: The first one is that Jesus came to usher in a kingdom. The other two deals with how to become part of this kingdom: to repent and believe the gospel. The question is what are we to repent from? Jesus’ message was and is that we repent and make a spiritual U-turn, to turn back to God. It is important to note that Jesus did not only call for repentance, but also to believe the gospel, because it is very easy to feel sorry without the resultant fruit. Repenting and believing the gospel means we take the side of God against our sin. In Genesis 2:17, God told man that the day he would eat from the tree he shall die. Death hangs over all of us, because like Adam and Eve we have all rebelled and disobeyed God. This death is not only a physical one, but also a spiritual one, a life lived in separation from God for all eternity. This is the state of all humanity, we are en route to hell and rightly deserving God’s wrath. Therefore our need is not a need from poverty or hunger. Our need is primarily spiritual, an abject need to be saved from the wrath of God. Though we have disobeyed and rebelled against God, in His grace and loving kindness, He made a way for us to be reconciled back to him at the cost of his own Son.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)
He who has been wronged paid the ultimate price by giving up his only Son that, whoever believes in him might not die, but be saved from the wrath that is to come. What an amazing love! Jesus came into the world and lived a perfect life, unlike us he never sinned but obeyed the Father perfectly. Although he was the only one who lived a perfect life, he was crucified on the cross. This is the mystery of salvation, that the sinless prefect Son of God should also be crucified. This is the gospel my friends! Jesus lived the perfect life we were supposed to live and couldn’t. He then was crucified for the punishment we justly deserve. This is the good news.
Believe the Gospel and Live
This is the gospel Jesus was calling his hearers to repent and believe. He said the time is fulfilled and the kingdom is at hand repent and believe the gospel. The question is, have you believed this gospel? It is possible to agree with all that I have said and still not believe. For many people this proposition makes sense, but in reality they have not believe it. Apostle Paul who himself repented and believed the gospel, tells us what it means to believe the gospel. He said in Romans 10:9-10
…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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
You must first of all acknowledge that you have indeed rebelled against a holy God. The bible tells us that there is no one that does right, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. You don’t need anyone to convince you you are a sinner, just look back on your day and you will have enough evidence of how depraved4 you are, from our thoughts to our actions. Once we see our need, we must then come to the cross believing with the heart and confessing with the mouth that Jesus is the only solution to our sin problem and we will be saved. A Christian is someone who has repented of his/her sin and believed the good news of Christ, he or she from then becomes a part of God’s kingdom. You might have been born in a Christian home or attended church all your life or perhaps been doing a lot of good stuff. One thing is clear, none of these things have saving power. Salvation is found only in repenting and believing in Christ Jesus. There is a warning for not believing in Christ;
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:18)
There are two final questions which you have to answer; “Are you a Christian?” “What makes you think that you are?”
To be continued…