What is a Christian?

What does it mean for someone to be a Christian?

Short Answer

There are many ideas of what a Christian is. To get the correct answer, one must look at the earliest source of where the word Christian is found. The Bible states that the followers of Christ were called Christians (Acts 11:26) because their behaviour, activity and speech reflected the Lord Jesus Christ.

Simply put the word “Christian” means “belonging to Christ” or a “follower of Christ”.

Many think that going to church, helping those in need, being a good person or living in a “Christian” country makes them a Christian.

The Bible doesn’t support these ideas.

The Bible teaches that good works can never make us right before God.

A true Christian is someone who has repented of their sin and trusted the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.

Some marks of a true Christian are love for others and obedience to God’s Word.

Are you a Christian?

A Christian is a work in progress. Christians are not what they once were, and they are not what they will one day be. To know what a Christian is we must look at their past, present, and future.

The Christian’s Past

The person who is now a Christian was once not a Christian. No one is conceived as a Christian in the womb or born as a Christian into the world. The history of every Christian is described as follows:

A Christian was dead.

They were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). They lived physically, but they were dead spiritually. They were separated from the life of God enjoying no spiritual relationship or fellowship with their Creator. Because of this, they were willingly subject of other forces, influences and beings.

A Christian was dominated.

Before conversion, a Christian was controlled by three mighty influences.

First, they were living “according to the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2) – being directed by the current of the world’s philosophies and living according to the world’s practices. In this, they were just like all others. Having no spiritual life, they were like a dead fish in a fast-flowing stream, carried along in the same direction as the current.

Second, they were following “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). They lived in submission to Satanic authority, although they may not have realised it. They were wilfully disobedient to God’s laws and rebellious against His authority.

Third, they were at the mercy of their sinful nature. They lived by “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Ephesians 2:3). They submitted to internal sinful impulses rather than to God’s authority. Out of their heart came “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19) and, in common with the rest of humanity, they indulged their desires and sought their selfish pleasure.

The Christian was doomed.

If the Christian remained as they were, they would have been eternally damned under divine wrath. This is because they were “by nature” a child of “wrath, even as others” (Ephesians 2:3). What is true of all humanity was once true of the Christian; they were exposed to the wrath of God which they had personally earned by their life of sinful rebellion.

The Christian’s Present

While the history of the Christian is no different than that of every other person, the present tense of the Christian is very different. The Christian who once was DEAD is now ALIVE. The one who once was DOMINATED is now RELEASED, and the person who once was DOOMED is now SAVED.

The Christian is alive.

This is the miraculous infusion of divine, eternal life into a spiritually dead person by God Himself. The Lord Jesus spoke similarly in John’s Gospel when He mentioned the necessity of being “born again” (John 3:3, 7).

Who gives eternal life? Receiving new life is far superior to, and altogether different than, turning over a new leaf. We do not receive this life through religious observances, or by personal reformation. It is a God-given gift. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life” (Romans 6:23).

Who gets eternal life? Those who receive Christ, those who trust in Him, are given the “right to become children of God”. These people are born into God’s family, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). New life is obtained by receiving Christ. The Lord Jesus said that He must be “lifted up” upon the cross so that whoever believes in Him “should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). The Christian is alive because God has given him eternal life.

The Christian is released.

At one time the Christian was under the power of the world, the devil, and the flesh, but now through faith in Christ, they have been released from these masters. It is not that they no longer feel these influences, but they are no longer under their authority.

Christ “gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world” (Galatians 1:4), and the Christian has received the benefit of this by trusting in Christ.

Released and regenerated, the Christian can swim against the stream and glorify God in their life.

Christ took to Himself holy humanity so that “through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15). With the devil defeated, the Christian has been delivered from the tyrant and now seeks to obey the Lord who has bought them.

The sinful nature remains in the Christian, but its authority has been broken. In fact, the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). Just as a bird can soar in the sky despite the law of gravity, so the Christian can (by the power of the Spirit of God) live for God’s glory despite their sinful nature.

The Christian is saved.

The one who once was on the road to eternal damnation because of their sins has been saved from the righteous penalty their sins deserved. It is not that the Christian hopes to be saved, but that the Christian has been saved. This is the language of certainty.

But how have they been saved? Is it because they have changed their lifestyle or attend a church or have been baptised? No. They have been saved “by grace… through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Even though they deserve only judgment, God has given them salvation as a gift. The Christian has received this salvation by faith, by trusting Christ as their Saviour, and by relying only upon Christ and His sacrifice to take them to heaven.

The Christian’s Future

The prospect for the Christian is bright, in fact, it could not possibly be better. God has made them alive so that “in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace” to them (Ephesians 2:7).

God’s plan for the Christian is that they will be the display of the full measure of God’s unmerited kindness. God has already blessed the Christian with “all spiritual blessings” (Ephesians 1:3), but this will be enjoyed to the maximum when, released from the influences of the world, the flesh, and the devil, the Christian enters the joy of the Lord and goes to heaven to be “with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23).


  • The Christian is a sinner who has been saved by God’s grace alone.
  • The Christian is relying on the risen Christ alone to take them to heaven and to keep them from hell.
  • The Christian has accepted Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross as sufficient payment for their sins.
  • The Christian has received eternal life, been released from captivity by evil forces, and is God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.
  • The Christian has received salvation as a gift and now delights to do good works, not to earn salvation, but because God has saved them for this purpose.
  • The future of the Christian is eternally secure and infinitely glorious.