Today’s Christian climate is marked by much debate and disillusionment over Jesus Christ. We have various denominations and churches that seem to teach different ideas about what it means to be a Christian. Many individuals in America especially will even claim they are a Christian yet have no affiliation with any denomination, church, or know anything Jesus taught. Many people claim to be a Christian only on the basis of some decision they made or prayer they recited. But what does it mean to be a Christian? Is there any clear objective answer as to what it means to be a Christian?
I have heard various answers ranging from having a generic belief in any ‘god’ to following a set of rules. Some denominations teach that you must belong to theirs or you are not truly a Christian. Can we cut through all of this fog and get to the bottom line? Does a bottom line even exist? Yes, it most certainly does. So where do we find this answer?
The Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church and the Lord and Savior of the true Christian (Colossians 1:18). So if a person claims to be a Christian then they are claiming some type of affiliation with Jesus Christ whose title ‘Christ’ makes up the first part of ‘Christian.’ So then to answer what it means to be a Christian, we look to Jesus’ own teachings on this matter. Specifically let’s look in Luke chapter nine.
In Luke 9:23 Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Israel was under Roman occupation during Jesus’ day. The main form of exacting the Roman death sentence upon a criminal was called crucifixion. The offender was literally nailed to a wooden cross by their arms and feet. This was done after they were beaten savagely and physically weakened severely. They were then left there to hang until they suffocated due to the inhibiting position they were nailed in, or bled to death. When Jesus said for someone to take up their cross an instant image of horrible death would have sprang in to their minds.
Jesus’ statement would have been highly grotesque and controversial in His day. He was saying that if anyone wishes to be His follower [a Christian] then they must daily mortify themselves (figuratively of course). According to Jesus, for one to be a true Christian requires that one die. Jesus does not mean you must die physically, but that you must count your own life as good as dead for the sake of following Jesus Christ.
This does not mean you surrender only your physically life. To take up your cross daily means to say no to yourself every day and yes to Jesus Christ. It means your own life, including career, goals, aspirations, finances, and even family come second to being a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus drives this home farther in verses twenty-four through twenty-six. Jesus says that if a person values their own life, and the things of this life, more than Jesus Christ then they will certainly lose their life in the end. This means they will face eternal damnation in Hell.
Jesus continues by asserting that it is useless for a person to gain all the wealth and glory of this life, yet lose their soul for all eternity in Hell. Additionally, anyone who is ashamed of Jesus Christ or denies Him in this life will be denied by Jesus Christ in this next life.
So what is the bottom line of what it means to be a Christian? First of all it means that you have been born again to live a new life by putting your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as the only Savior for sins and from the punishment of God against all sinfulness. But this does not simply mean you recited a prayer, raised your hand at a revival, or belong to a particular church. Jesus said to truly be one of His followers you must have died to yourself.
One of the signs that you have true faith in Christ is that your faith has driven you to a place where you count your life as not your own. You view everything in your life as second when compared to Jesus Christ. You seek daily to die to yourself and live for Jesus Christ. You seek what Jesus wants with your life rather than what you want, your family wants, or anyone else wants.
Some feel this kind of commitment is too harsh. Other so called Christians may even teach that all it takes is to ‘believe’ in Jesus. But Jesus was clear that if you truly ‘believe’ in Him, it WILL change your whole life. True belief in Jesus will cause you to turn over your life to Him and only be concerned with His will and not your own.
Regardless of what any society or individual claims, a Christian is someone who has died to themselves and daily follows after Jesus Christ. Have you died to yourself? You who say you have faith in Christ, are you daily taking up your cross and surrendering your all to Him. The call to follow Christ is no less than a call to daily surrender your life to His will. You who think you are a Christian, do you seek every day to live for Jesus Christ by knowing the Bible and doing the Bible? Do you say daily to God, “Not my will but yours be done?”
This is what Jesus said defines a true Christian. It is no less than His words in Luke 9:23-26.