And this is especially to those of you who claim and or profess to be Christians.
To know Christ and be known by Him is more wonderful than anything imaginable. Since the day of my salvation in 2014 my life has changed so much, and it has changed because God has been changing me. One of the things I have come to love and look forward to is being able to read and study the Bible. Quite often we tend to forget that the Bible is not just a collection of stories or books written by a bunch of men 2,000 or more years ago; but it is actually the very words of God to all of us. And if we would just take the time to prayerfully read and study it, we would learn so much; and, if we would simply do what God tells us to do in His Word, our lives would be enriched beyond measure.
One of the important things in the Bible, and probably one of the most important things in the Bible, is found in the New Testament, and it relates directly to us in the here and now. Today. At this moment, and at every moment. And that is, the instructions God gives on how to become a Christian, and how to be a Christian. Two different things.
On How To Become A Christian.
The very first recorded words of Jesus at the beginning of His ministry were, “Repent! And believe the gospel!” (Mark 1:15). When you read His words you immediately notice two things. First, the message is for everyone throughout the world, not just specific people. Second, it is not a suggestion, and it is not a request. This is a command from God Himself, our Creator. When the come face to face with this command, some people have the attitude of, “You’re not the boss of my life!” Well, actually, yes, He is. He created us, and the universe, and everything in it. He literally owns it all, and that includes us, so yes, He literally is our “Boss” so to speak. And refusal to obey His command brings with it a very stiff penalty: the remainder of eternity in hell after physical death.
Now the command is pretty straightforward. Repent, or turn away from living in sin and not following God, and turn toward God and not living in sin. This doesn’t mean you will never sin again, it just means not living a life of persistent, habitual sin. Believe the gospel is also pretty straightforward. What is the gospel? The gospel is this, that we are all sinners bound for hell, since hell is the penalty for sin. Jesus, however, left heaven, and became a human man, being born of a virgin. He lived a perfect sinless life and was crucified on a cross back in about 33AD, as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. In other words, Jesus paid the penalty for the sin of everyone who will simply believe in Him. That’s the gospel.
God has also said, if we will verbally agree that Jesus is Lord (meaning our Master whom we will obey), and if we believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead (which He did three days after Jesus died), then we will have salvation from the penalty for our sin: salvation from hell (Romans 10:9).
So there are the four things we must do in order to become a Christian.
2. Believe the gospel.
3. Verbally agree (in prayer to God) that Jesus is Lord.
4. Believe that God raised Jesus from the dead after He died.
Now to the more difficult part, and we must remember that these two are inseparably tied together. Only the first part (which we just went over) is required to become a Christian. But this second part, on how to be a Christian, is just as important. I mean obviously if we’re not “being” a Christian, then we clearly never “became” a Christian, and we’re back to square one.
On How To Be A Christian
While there are many aspects to being a Christian, I am going to try and consolidate them as best as I can, in order to keep this as short as I can, and not turn it into a novel! When I say, “Be a Christian” or “Being a Christian,” this can best be understood as identifiers. Just as everything else has identifiers – those things which we recognize, and because they are part of something, we know what that something is – Christians have identifiers. For example, if we look at an object and see that it has a certain shape, it has either two or four doors, a storage space in the rear of the shape, it has four wheels, it has an engine or motor, and it has a steering wheel, then we know by these identifiers that the object is a motor vehicle. Let’s look at the identifiers of a true, biblical Christian.
Being a Christian involves 2 areas of our life as a Christian.
1. Obeying Jesus (obviously); and,
2. The character of our life.
On Obeying Jesus
I think this is the most obvious of the two areas, and it is also, of the two, the most neglected. Jesus said, “If you love me, then you will keep my commandments. … He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him. … If anyone loves Me, he will keep my word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. … If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.” (John 14:21,23-24; 15:10)
Really, this is just common sense that Jesus is teaching here. If we are not going to do what He has told us to do (in other words live in disobedience to Him), then we don’t truly love Him; and if we don’t truly love Him, then how in the world can we even think we are one of His followers? Who marries someone they hate? No one! When we fall in love and get married, we love the person we are marrying. It is the same with Jesus and salvation. When we come to salvation it is because we truly do love Jesus, and have a legitimate, genuine, sincere desire to worship and serve Him with our entire heart, soul, mind, and life. I don’t know any other way to explain it.
But, Jesus also warns us. Obeying Him is not easy. In fact, it can be the hardest thing imaginable at times.
Jesus said to be a Christian, a true biblical Christian, we must deny ourselves (which means Jesus comes first, everyone else second, and ourselves last); and we must take up our cross and follow Him. This means be prepared for persecution, abuse of all kinds, and even death is not outside the realm of possibility for a Christian. Jesus said, “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In other words, if it comes down to it, and you aren’t willing to die a martyr for Christ, then you will find yourself sentenced to hell on judgment day because you were not a true Christian. However, if you end up as a martyr for Christ, then you will find that your life isn’t really over, but just beginning in the presence of God.
Jesus went on to say that anyone who starts out thinking they are a Christian, but then backs off when it becomes difficult or pressure is put on them by the world, then they are not a true biblical Christian, and they are not fit for the kingdom of God; or, if they place even their own family before Him, they cannot be a disciple of Jesus Christ, which means they are not a Christian, and are back to square one. (Matthew 16:24-25; Mark 8:34-35; Luke 9:59-62; 14:26-27; Hebrews 6:4-8)
So again, this is all pretty straight forward. Harsh, yes, but straightforward, non-negotiable, no wiggle-room, no if’s, and’s, or but’s. If we obey Jesus, obey what He has told us to do in the Bible, then we are truly Christians. But, if we don’t obey Jesus, don’t deny ourselves, don’t take up our cross daily for Jesus, then regardless of what we call ourselves, we are not actually or truly Christians, and we are still bound for hell.
In order to obey Jesus, we have to look at what He said. I mean, He is in heaven after all, and doesn’t speak to us audibly, at least at the moment; so if we want to know what Jesus said, we have to read the Bible. It is the only way.
The three biggest commands of Jesus in the Bible are:
1. Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37);
2. Love everyone else as much as you love yourself (Matthew 22:39); and,
3. Tell the gospel to everyone, and make disciples of them (Matthew 28:19-20).
Of course, there are other commands given in the New Testament, and even some (though not all) in the Old Testament that we are to obey as Christians, but these are the big three. The rest of them can be discussed later if you want, but these three are not open to negotiation. If we are not obeying them, then we are very likely not truly Christians.
On The Character Of Our Life.
The second identifier is the character of our life. This concerns our attitude, our behavior, our actions, and our words. The Bible sets forth some very straightforward characteristics that are to be not simply displayed in the Christian’s life, but actually to be part and parcel of the Christian’s life. In other words, you can do them outwardly and still not be a Christian. Instead you would be a false Christian. They must be ingrained in us. They must be our true character, coming from within our heart, our spirit, from our very soul. Now, there is also a qualifier (or is the word quantifier? I can’t remember) to all of this, and I will mention it the end.
The Bible presents us with many passages that define the character of true biblical Christian, as well as false Christians. I am just going to focus on those that define us as true Christians.
Perhaps the primary, “go-to” passage that defines the character of a Christian is Galatians 5:22-26. This passage describes what are known as “The Fruit of the Holy Spirit.” Since every true biblical Christian is indwelt with the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation, it is only logical that every true biblical Christian should exhibit those characteristics associated with those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Those characteristics are known as the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
These characteristics, or fruit, are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The passage goes on to say that those who live by the Spirit (meaning true biblical Christians) have put to death “the flesh with its passions and desires,” meaning we no longer live according to the sinful desires, wants, likes, passions, etc., that we had before we became Christians. As Christians we have different desires, wants, likes, passions, etc., that are all based on and centered around God. The passage also goes on to add “not boastful,” “Not challenging one another,” and “not envying one another.” Since these 12 characteristics encompass all other characteristics of the true biblical Christian as mentioned in the Bible, we will just focus on these 12. Let’s briefly go through them.
1. Love. This is the primary characteristic of the true biblical Christian. We have a sincere love for everyone. This is not a sloppy, slobbery, sappy, emotional, sentimental kind of love; but rather, it means that we genuinely care about the physical and spiritual well being of every single person, regardless of who he or she might be, and we actively take steps to ensure everyone’s physical and spiritual needs are met, to the best of our ability.
When you stop and think about that for a few minutes, and just who it is we are to genuinely care about, and who is included in that (everyone, and I mean everyone outside of ourselves, friends and enemies alike and equally) you begin to realize just how difficult that really is; and you can begin to appreciate what Jesus said about the difficulty in being a Christian!
2. Joy. This doesn’t mean we are always super happy all the time, exuding sunshine and butterflies 24/7. That’s just empty headed nonsense. Rather, it means we are content and satisfied in all manner of situations. We have true contentment and confidence that God will see us through any situation, provide for all our needs all the time (mind you, I said needs, not wants, and He knows our needs better than we do). The Bible tells us to be content in all things, and to count it all joy when we find ourselves in the middle of a hardship or difficult circumstance. We are not to whine and complain about it, but instead seek the Lord in prayer to figure out what it is we or someone else is supposed to learn and/or be blessed by our difficult circumstance. I know that sounds strange, but trust me, it’s biblical and it’s true. If you have questions, just ask me and I will explain it further.
3. Peace. On the one hand this goes right along with the joy we saw above in number 2. Peace and contentment in all situations. On the other hand, however, it also means that as true biblical Christians we always seek to be at peace with everyone. We are not antagonistic in that we do not seek nor do we start altercations of any kind – whether verbal or physical, with other people. That is especially true of other believers, but it also includes unbelievers who need to hear the gospel, not threats from us. Now I grant you, there may very well be times when we must stand up and assertively state “No More!”
Examples might include a child being physically or sexually abused, or someone being physically or sexually assaulted, and similar situations. This also includes defending ourselves from harm; but always, and in all situations using only the amount of force necessary to stop a given situation. Never excessive force, and never deadly force unless death or serious bodily harm is imminent and it cannot be stopped any other way. It is always, always, always a last resort, and if at all possible best left for law enforcement personnel to handle. Again, that is a topic for another time. Suffice to say, being at peace in all situations and with everyone is a vitally important characteristic of a true biblical Christian.
4. Patience. All of these are difficult, but this one is really difficult. We are to be patient. God repeatedly tells us to bear others in love. This is what it means to be patient. Be patient with your wife, with your husband, with your children, with your co-workers, with your boss, with your neighbor, with the person who just cut you off in traffic or who won’t stop honking their horn. Be patient with all people, at all times, and in all situations. Be patient, be content, be at peace, and show the person the love of God. I told you this one is really difficult, but it is also very important just as all of these are.
5. Kindness. I think this one kind of goes without saying, but since God did say it, and He put it in with these other characteristics of a true biblical Christian, then we should pay attention to it. Be kind. Be kind to everyone. That means we don’t gossip about people, we don’t slander people, we don’t trash talk people – even it is only to ourself. Other people may not hear, but God does, and it offends Him. We don’t sabotage people, we don’t seek revenge on people, we are to be kind to people. To everyone. In addition to simply being kind to people, one aspect of being kind is forgiveness. We forgive people. Remember that line in the Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6:9-13? Specifically verse 12: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” And this means regardless of the sin that is committed against us, we are to forgive them just as God forgave us. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:14-15, if we want to be forgiven for our sins by God, then we must also forgive others who have sinned against us; and, if we do not forgive those who have sinned against us, then the Father will not forgive our sins, which means we do not then have salvation as we may have thought.
6. Goodness. The character of goodness refers to being “upright in heart.” This is demonstrated through beneficence, and being both spiritually and morally virtuous. This means we don’t use swear words, we don’t use any kind of derogatory slurs, we are not racist, we are not anti-Semitic, we are not hateful to any one regardless of who they are. Another qualifier here: we also do not excuse sin, nor do we “water it down.” But we don’t beat people over the head with it. We don’t shove it down people’s throats. We should be more concerned with a person’s salvation than with their immoralities. Those can be dealt with after they come to salvation. If they come to salvation. We ourselves are also not involved in immorality of any kind, especially sexual immorality. And this is not simply limited to watching porn. It also means we don’t involve ourselves in adultery or fornication. This also means we do not view as entertainment any sin that Christ died for. That means we don’t watch movies or television programs or videos or video games, or read books with gratuitous violence, or sex, or foul language, or blasphemy, and so forth; or treats or presents any of these things in a positive or neutral manner.
The long and short of it is this: sin is an abomination to God, and we are not to view it as entertainment.
Also do you see that elderly couple down the road who are no longer able to get out and mow and water their lawn? Why aren’t you doing it? Or that sick neighbor? Why haven’t you gone to check on them, perhaps cook them some food or take them to the doctor. Or that young couple in town who are struggling to make ends meet and now have a new baby? Have you checked in on them and see if they need anything? Perhaps you have, or know where to get, baby clothes. Or maybe you can help them with diapers and formula. And maybe they just need someone that has experience with babies and children to offer them some help now and again, even if it just means letting them vent their frustrations at you. We all need a sympathetic ear from time to time. This is how we demonstrate the love of Jesus to others, by meeting their physical and spiritual needs.
7. Faithfulness. Our faithfulness should be to our spouse, our children, our friends and our church. When – not if, but when they need us, we should be available to them to help in whatever way we are able. But primarily, our faithfulness is to God, for it is God whom we ultimately serve. It is God to whom we owe everything. This means we do not forego our worship of Him. And yes, this means we go to church. Somewhere that proclaims the gospel, and that teaches the Bible completely and truthfully, and all to the glory of God. Some believe they can worship God alone. No, you can’t. The Lord requires His people to engage in corporate worship (Hebrews 10:25). God expects us to be faithful in our worship of Him, and He expects us to be faithful in our obedience to Him. When we don’t attend church, and when we don’t obey His commands, then we are in rebellion against God, and that is serious sin.
8. Gentleness. This is the meekness that Jesus spoke about in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5). This does not mean wimpy, simpering, spinelessness. Not by a long shot. This refers to having a gentle strength. The ability to express power with reserve and gentleness, and is often expressed in the Christian’s steadfastness in the Lord – an unwillingness to compromise on the truth of Scripture. This is a virtue that can only operate through the Holy Spirit. A false Christian cannot exhibit this characteristic. At least not completely, and not truly. It only happens with the Lord’s divine inspiration, direction, and empowerment. It can only operate through true faith in Jesus (see 1 Timothy 6:11 and 2 Timothy 2:22-25).
9. Self-Control. This refers to having control or dominion over one’s own desires and passions. Also referred to as self-mastery, or self-restraint. This is demonstrated most commonly during situations where either frustration sets in and a desire to lash out begins to build within us; or, we are faced with sensual temptations, and in either case we are able to successfully master those desires rather than give into them. Usually, one will simply be able to dismiss those situations and not give them a second thought. But even if they persist, when exhibiting Holy Spirit enabled self-control we possess complete mastery over those situations.
10. Not Boastful. True biblical Christians do not exhibit self-righteousness, empty pride, conceit, or pretentiousness. We do not boast or brag about ourselves in any way, shape, or form. This is what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 6 when He said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men in order to be noticed by them … don’t announce it when you give to the poor … when you pray don’t use vain repetitions in public but go into your room and shut the door and pray to the Lord in private … and when you are fasting, do not put on a gloomy face so everyone will know what you are doing.” And also in Luke 18 when He gave the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. As the tax collector stood there praying, and beating his chest in remorse, he begged God to forgive him for being a wretched sinner; while the Pharisee was standing there saying to the Lord, “Thank you Lord that I am not like that tax collector over there!” Jesus said that it was the tax collector who went home justified, and not the Pharisee!
11. Not Challenging One Another. Not only are we not to challenge one another in the sense of calling each other out, challenging them to a fight or some sort of physical challenge to test ones prowess; but also we are not to irritate one another, especially to the point were the one we are irritating is becoming frustrated with us and about ready to lash out at us. This is a form of challenging, and we are not to do it. This is where our love of others, our peace, patience, and self-control come into play.
12. Not Envying One Another. True biblical Christians are not jealous, and especially not jealous of one another. On the contrary, Christians are to be joyful for the successes of our brethren, not jealous or envious of them. Nor do we become bitter because of another person’s success, instead, we are happy for them, congratulate them and celebrate with them.
In a nutshell, Christians are to be imitators of God. We are to walk in love just as Christ loved us. We are to be God-fearing, and humble; forgiving, compassionate, courteous, and respectful. Christians are not attention seekers, and they will stand firm on and in biblical standards, and they will do so with courage and serenity born of the Holy Spirit.
(See: Matthew 10:28; Luke 6:35; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Ephesians 4:2,32; 5:1; Colossians 3:12; 2 Timothy 1:7; Titus 3:2; James 4:10; 1 John 1:6-10; 2:3-6,9-11,15-17,23,29; 3:6-10,14-15,17-21,23-24; 4:7-13,15-17,20-21; 5:1-3,10-12)
Now, I said there was a qualifier (or quantifier, again I can’t remember which it is) that comes into play with all of these characteristics. And that is, they do not happen all at once at the moment of salvation. Some Christians may experience one or two of them to a greater degree than others at the moment of salvation, but let’s face it, at the moment of salvation we are no different than a new born baby. We have to learn all of these things just as an infant must learn how to walk and talk and so forth. And, just like all children, Christians grow and mature at different rates. I know of some who are true biblical Christians and have been for several years, but their spiritual maturity level is equal to that of a five year old. Others I know who have been saved only a couple of years and are already theological and spiritual giants. Yes, they still have growing to do, as do we all, but the Lord has truly blessed them, and through them, blessed the rest of us as well.
All of this to say, we all have some growing to do, and will be growing until the moment we go to be with the Lord. We will all still sin, but we will not live in persistent, habitual sin. And, as true biblical Christians, we will possess and exhibit these characteristics to one degree or another, and in increasing measure as we grow spiritually. So it is best that we do not simply judge others who claim to be Christian just because we don’t think they are spiritually mature enough. We should be discerning, and judge other professing Christians on whether or not they actually believe what the Bible clearly says regarding the foundational beliefs of Christianity (again, another topic for another time, if you have questions, ask me), coupled with how they exhibit the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
In closing, I would like to say that I know I have a lot of growing to do myself. I am far, far, far from where I need to be spiritually. I know that throughout my life I have hurt a great many people, including some of you. I have a lot of regret for that, and I hope and pray that those whom I have hurt will be able to find it in their heart to forgive me. I love you all genuinely and sincerely, and desire only the best for all of you. May the love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.