Can you be a Christian without becoming one?

A rather prevalent idea today is that a person can be a Christian without becoming one, believing like one or acting like one. The term "Christian" is used as a broad synonym for U.S. or Canadian citizenship or for western culture in general. Such an understanding of Christianity is far from the biblical meaning of the term. Many who profess to be Christians in this "you don't suppose-I'm-a-heathen" sense have never trusted Christ as Saviour and are insulted when asked about their personal relationship with Him.

An example of this once appeared in the reader's opinion column of a local newspaper. A woman wrote a vigorous protest against Christians who try to make converts in this "already 100 percent Christian country." Because she had been baptized as an infant, attended church regularly, and was trying to do her best to be a good person, the woman wrote: "It is insulting to have someone insist that you 'accept Jesus Christ as your personal & saviour.' " Apparently, she had no personal trust in Christ as Saviour and Lord, yet she was trying to be a good "Christian."

To be a Christian, it is necessary first to become one. Being born into a Christian home does not make one a Christian. Neither does one become a Christian by the rite of infant baptism nor by joining a church. To become a Christian in the biblical sense of the word demands personal faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour.

Consequently, a person cannot become a saved Christian (the only kind which fits the Bible's definition) without believing like one. One becomes a Christian not by doing something for God but by believing that God has done something for him. To become a Christian one must believe that "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures" (I Cor. 15:3,4).

The very heart of Christianity is the glorious good news that Christ died for our sins and that salvation is a free gift which God grants on the simple condition of trusting Christ as personal Saviour.

Obviously, if a person does not know that he is a sinner and is lost, he will not see the need of trusting Christ to be saved. To be lost means to wander in spiritual darkness, to be away from God and to be far from God's home for the soul. Being lost is often evidenced by loneliness and frustration.

But people are not lost innocents; they are lost sinners. Like Cain, who murdered his brother Abel, the lost are spiritual fugitives and vagabonds. All have sinned; all have gone astray; every one has turned to his own way (see Rom. 3:23; Isa. 63 :6).

After death the lost will not enter the place which Christ is preparing in heaven for those who trust Him (see John 14:1-3) but will be sent to the place of judgment prepared for the Devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).

Jesus Christ came "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). He is the Way for lost sinners to get back to God. He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6).

Jesus also said, "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (10:11). He came to give His life as a ransom for the souls of mankind (see Matt. 20 :28). He died because of our offenses and our sins (see Rom. 4:23-25; I Cor. 15:3,4).

But you may ask, "How can His death save me from judgment for my sins?" Let me answer your question by asking, How can a holy God forgive sinners when His own government, based on His own essential holiness, demands the death penalty for sin? He said, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4). So how can He be a just God and at the same time pardon sinners?

The answer is that He provided a substitute to die in our place, bearing for us the curse of divine law. His own Son was that substitute: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13). His death in our place satisfied the demands of divine holiness and made it possible for God to forgive us righteously—to "be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26). The Bible calls this satisfaction of divine holiness "propitiation": "

He loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (I John 4:10).

Since Jesus Christ was delivered over to death for our sins by the "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23), it is evident that this is God's wonderful plan for our salvation. It is imperative that we put our personal Faith in our Christ as our Saviour. We must each decide personally to obey the gospel's demand to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do not be insulted because the necessity of this decision is emphasized. To commit the salvation of your soul to Jesus Christ involves, of course, recognition of your need. Each person who has become a Christian has bowed before the verdict of God's Word that he was a sinner in need of salvation. He renounced as useless all his own efforts to please God and recognized that his cherished "good works" and even his character fell miserably short of God's requirement. He faced the fact of the guilt of his sin and gladly believed that its dreaded penalty was borne for him by Christ in His death on the cross.

The person who claims to be a Christian should also act like one. Christ-like character and conduct can be produced only by the indwelling presence of Christ controlling the believer's heart. The Christian should seek to walk as Christ walked by depending on His transforming power.

Do not attempt to be a Christian without Christ. One cannot live the Christian life without God's gift of eternal life. Do not try to be a Christian without first becoming one. Become one by believing "on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31).

Such belief is more than mental agreement with the historical facts of the Christian faith. It means trusting Jesus Christ for your salvation by resting on His finished work. It means ceasing to rely on yourself, your church, your religion, or anything other than Him.

In love for the world, God gave His only begotten Son (see John 3:16). You receive God's gift by exercising saving faith. For "as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God" (John 1:12). If you believe, "thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31).

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Copyright. Last revised: January 25, 1998.