Many people consider themselves to be Christians. Why not? We enjoy a rich Christian heritage. But suppose you conducted an informal opinion poll near where you live, and asked ten people to explain what it takes to make someone a real Christian. Most likely, you would get ten different answers! Most people are as confused about this crucial issue. God wants each of us to know where we stand in His eyes. That’s why it isn’t mere chance that you have visited this page.Ask yourself, “Am I a real Christian?” You can know for sure!
What Is a Real Christian?
Maybe you were raised in a Catholic or Protestant home. Or maybe you were brought up in some other religion. And you tell yourself, “Well, I think I’m all right. Don’t worry about me.” No matter what your background, I encourage you to take an honest look—beyond the myths—about what makes someone a Christian.
To begin, let’s explore what you think makes a real Christian. Below are some common ideas about that.
Myth #1: Being Born in a Christian Nation Makes You a Christian
I’ve met people who have told me, “I was born in Christian nation, so of course I am a Christian. What do you take me to be, a heathen?” The truth is that they could be a lot of things. Others have said: “I’ve been a Christian all my life; I was born in a Christian home” or “in the church.” But since when does where you’re born determine what you are? As one of my friends quipped, someone may be born in a stable, but that doesn’t make him a horse. Nor does being born in an airport make someone an airplane. Be thankful for where you were born and for the family and church in which you were reared. But don’t assume that automatically makes you a Christian. God has no grandchildren.
Myth #2: Thinking Positively Makes You a Christian
Some people also think that if you give a hearty handshake, pat others on the back, smile, and ask, “How are you doing?” that you’re somehow a Christian. Now, normally a Christian is cheerful and excited about life and genuinely cares about others. A Christian also understands that he or she is valuable in God’s eyes because He made us and loves us deeply. But you could develop a certain sense of well-being and self-worth apart from knowing what God’s Word, the Bible, teaches us about thinking right in an un-right world. So thinking positively about life in general and about yourself in particular doesn’t automatically make you a Christian.
Myth #3: Living a Good Life Makes You a Christian
And, then, living a clean and moral life doesn’t make anyone a Christian. Many atheists live a decent, straight life. Anyway, how good is “good”? That is the real issue. Most people have a warped idea of the true standard against which our goodness should be measured. Compared to a mass murderer, you may feel that you’re ready for sainthood. Even compared with your family and friends, you may come out okay. But God’s standard of goodness is very different. He puts you up against His Son, Jesus Christ, who lived an absolutely perfect life here on earth. Compared with this level of perfection, our own goodness looks pretty shabby. Remember, the world has always had plenty of “good” people. So if goodness were enough, God need not have sent Jesus. The fact that Jesus had to come to die on the cross to make our forgiveness possible shows that goodness doesn’t make someone a Christian.
Myth #4: Going to Church Makes You a Christian
Last Sunday four out of ten Americans went to church. But does that mean that all these people are Christians? of course not. Even some thieves go to church. Some people go to church because it’s a social habit. Others attend because their family makes them go. At the encouragement of a minister, they may even go to special classes for confirmation or membership. It is true that Christians go to church and take an active part in church life. But attending church doesn’t make you a Christian.
Myth #5: Giving to Others Makes You a Christian
Many of us were taught since childhood to give a portion of our income to charity or to the church. Whether rich or poor, we feel it’s our “Christian” duty. Even Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, says he feels a “duty to do something” so that “in some way I can make life a little less stinking for some people.” So he donates part of his wealth to worthy causes. And that’s commendable. But that’s not what makes somebody a Christian. Yes, Christians give to others. More than anyone else, they help the needy and less fortunate. But you can give away everything you own and still not be a Christian.
Myth #6: Receiving a Sacrament Makes You a Christian
Maybe you were baptized as a child or young adult. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a Christian. Many violent inmates in penitentiaries were baptized years ago. But few people would consider these inmates Christians.
Or maybe you take Communion every Sunday. If you’re a Christian, that’s great. But I’ve had someone tell me, “I’m confused. I take Communion every week, but I don’t know what it means to be a Christian.” You see, both baptism and Communion are biblical. God commands Christians to observe these ordinances. But receiving either one won’t make you a Christian.
Myth #7: Believing in God Makes You a Christian
Eight out of ten people in America say they believe God exists. But are they all Christians? Colonel James Irwin, remembered for his Apollo 15 moon mission, said that while he was in the Middle East, a Muslim leader said to him, “You talk about God so much–why aren’t you a Muslim?” Do you see my point? If you can be a Muslim and believe in God, then it is not “believing in God” that makes you a Christian. I have a good friend who believes in exercise. But he never does any. He is forty-five pounds overweight and hopelessly out of shape. I know countless small boys who believe in soap. But they are not a shade cleaner in spite of their belief. Belief, on its own, makes no difference. That is why belief, by itself, doesn’t make someone a Christian.
Myth #8: Talking about Jesus Christ Makes You a Christian
Many people talk about Jesus Christ and even speak well of Him. They may be teachers, ministers, church leaders, or “just plain folk.” But they may not even believe that the Bible’s message about Jesus is true. Some actually have a distorted view of Jesus that fits their own way of thinking, rather than seeing the Jesus of history and the Bible. And that disqualifies them from calling themselves real Christians.
Myth #9: Praying Makes You a Christian
Certainly Christians pray. But someone can pray and still not be a Christian. Hindus pray all the time. Muslims pray five times a day. When traveling abroad, the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat carried a little prayer rug on which to kneel five times daily. But he was a Muslim, not a Christian. So praying in itself doesn’t make someone a Christian.
Myth #10: Reading the Bible Makes You a Christian
Of course Christians love the Bible. Some of us read it daily. But just reading the Bible doesn’t mean you are a Christian. When Karl Marx was seventeen years old, he wrote a fantastic explanation of part of John’s Gospel in the New Testament portion of the Bible. Great theologians agree with much of what he said. But Karl Marx eventually rejected the Bible’s authority, and during his adult life he called himself an atheist, a communist–anything but a Christian. Nikita Khrushchev, the former premier of the USSR, read the Bible when he was a boy. Yet later he made it his ambition to bury the church in the Soviet Union by 1965. Instead, he is buried, and the Russian church continues to grow.
Read the Bible all you can. It explains how to settle this issue once and for all. Since it’s God’s Word, not man’s, we can trust it completely. But remember, just reading the Bible won’t make you a Christian.
You can’t be born a Christian, and if thinking positively, living morally, going to church, giving to others, receiving a sacrament, believing in God, talking about Jesus, praying, and reading the Bible doesn’t make you a Christian, then what does? What is a real Christian?” Let me mention three basic principles from God’s Word that describe a real Christian. Then I’ll explain how today you can become a real Christian.
Principal #1 Walking in the Way of Life
First of all, the Bible says that a Christian is someone who has found the way of life rather than the way of death. That way to life is found in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Notice that Jesus does not say he will show you the way. He says, “I am the way!”
Jesus also spoke of a narrow road and a wide road. Many walk on that wide road, which in the end is the way of death (see Matthew 7:13).
Do you sometimes feel as though you are lost and don’t know where you are going? When you become a Christian, you have found the way of life.
You ask, “What kind of way is this way of life?”
It is the way of peace. God’s peace fills your heart when you walk in the way of Christ. Jesus said to His followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). God’s peace is a gift available to each of us.
When you walk in the way of Christ, you experience an inner peace–tremendous quiet in your heart. The broken pieces in your life are put together again. Oh, the psychiatrist can analyze you. The psychologist can pinpoint some of the problems in your past. But only God can give you lasting peace.
The way of life is also the way of purity. The Bible says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). If you are fooling around with sin; if you are playing with immorality; if you are not being truthful in your business; if you are dishonest in your school, in your work, in your play, in your home–then you know nothing of the way of life.
You may consider yourself a nice person, perhaps the life and soul of the party. But you are not a Christian, because the way of Christ is the way of purity.
When you come to Christ, He forgives your sins and purifies your heart. That doesn’t mean you suddenly become holier than everyone else. On the contrary, you become more conscious of your shortcomings. But God gives you the power to live a righteous life. The way of life in Christ is also the way of love. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” Jesus said (John 13:35). The Bible adds, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers” (1 John 3:14).
Today, the word love has been robbed of meaning. It’s used to describe a person exploiting the emotions of another for his own satisfaction and selfishness. But that is not love. True love wants the very best for someone no matter what it may cost us.
The way of life is also the way of obedience. The way of the Christian is to serve only one master–Jesus. The Bible describes Him as “Lord of lords and King of kings” (Revelation 17:14). The Christian lives as though this is true. Jesus becomes your Lord, your Master, your King. What He says goes. The servant of a king waits for the slightest hint of a command, then rushes to obey. A soldier following the leadership of a great commander willingly obeys every order.
Similarly, real Christians give God complete authority over their lives. We will go wherever He wants us to go, do whatever He wants us to do. And we do not care what it may cost in terms of comfort or reputation.
Jesus has every right to rule like that. Remember, He is not supreme because He inherited authority from His ancestors like an earthly king or lord. Nor does He rule like a corrupt military dictator, by using great power to destroy.
Jesus is Lord and King because He made us, He gave His life for us and our sins, and He always does what is best for us.
Principal #2 Enjoy Eternal Life
Second, a Christian is someone who enjoys eternal life. He has a more full and complete life.
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
Life with Christ was not only God’s original design for us; it is the way He intends for us to live today. That is what makes life with Christ abundant. And eternal life never ends. It goes beyond physical death–forever and ever. Do you have eternal life? You may say, “Well, I’m not sure.” If I asked if you were married, would you say, “I think so”? Or suppose I asked if you are pregnant. Would you say, “A little bit”? Of course not! These are things you can be absolutely sure about. Do you know that you have eternal life? If you’re already a Christian, you know it.
Jesus said concerning those who follow him in faith: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
Do you have that triple security?
- First He says, “I give them eternal life.”
- Second He says, “They shall never perish.”
- Third, “No one can snatch them out of My hand.”
What more could you want? A Christian is someone who discovers these three things to be true. The Bible also says, “He who has the Son has life” (1 John 5:12). In other words, eternal life is Christ in your heart. Can you say, “Yes, I know I have eternal life. I can remember when Christ came into my heart”?
Principal #3 Becoming God’s Child
Furthermore, a Christian is someone who has been born into God’s family and therefore has become one of God’s children. You say, “I thought everyone was a child of God. Isn’t God the Father of all mankind?”
According to the Bible, God is the Creator of all people but not the Father of all people. Many people don’t even want him to be their Father. You become a member of God’s family by being born into it. The Lord Jesus said, “Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). What does that mean? When you and I were born into the human family, we had no choice about the matter. That’s physical birth. But to become a child of the heavenly Father, you must have a spiritual birth. This happens when we repent of our sins and put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
Every year we celebrate our physical birth with parties and gifts. But do you remember your second birth? If not, you must make a decision. Do you want to become a part of God’s family by receiving Christ? The Bible says, “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
“But My Life Is So Bad!”
A few years ago, while visiting a South American country, a World-renowned Christian missionary spoke privately with the president of that country, a military man. “Mr. President,” he asked, “do you know Jesus Christ?”
The president smiled and said, “I’ve led such a hard life that I don’t think God wants to know me very much.”
“Mr. President, no matter what you’ve done, Christ died on the cross for you, and He loves you. If you want to know Him, you can meet Him right now.”
As they continued to talk, the missionary explained what Christ had done on the cross, how He died to receive the punishment that should be ours for the wrong we have done. He continued, “Sir, would you like to receive Christ now?”
The President paused and quite seriously said, “If Christ will receive me, I want to become a real Christian.”
Right then they bowed their heads and prayed together. This general opened his heart to the Son of God and received Christ into his life. He thought God would never receive him because of his past. But when they finished praying, he stood and in typical Latin fashion gave the missionary a tremendous hug. “Thank you,” he said. “Now I know that Christ has really received me and forgiven me.”
What About You?
Have you decided to trust Christ yet? Would you like to know that you have eternal life? Would you like to start walking in the way of Jesus Christ, knowing that you are a child of God and that you are going to heaven? Let me tell you how you can become a real Christian–right now, before you finish reading this page.
Joining God’s Family
First, the Bible teaches that you must admit that your sins have separated you from God. That’s what I liked about that South American president. He readily admitted he was a sinner. In fact, he was so convinced of the evil and rebellion in his life that he felt God would never receive him.
Have you ever owned up to God about those things in your life that hurt Him–selfishness, pride, greed, immorality, and all the rest? Have you ever admitted that you’ve been walking in the way of death? You see, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
You must admit that your sins have separated you from God.
The Bible also says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That includes you and me. Is it time to own up to God You must believe and to receive the forgiveness that He wants to give you?Second, you must believe what Christ has done for you on the cross. The Bible says, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). When Jesus died on the cross, He conquered death so that each of us may be forgiven. We deserve to be punished for the wrong we have done in God’s eyes. But God sent His Son to receive our punishment in His body on the cross (see 1 Peter 2:24).
You must believe what Christ did for you on the Cross
It is like a judge finding a prisoner guilty, taking the prisoner’s place, and receiving the sentence himself. What magnificent love.
“But I Don’t Understand!”
You must confess Jesus Christ as your Lord.
The final step you must take is to confess Jesus Christ as your Lord. You cannot inherit faith. It’s not enough to say, “My father was a fine Christian, and I was brought up in a fine Christian home.” That will not make you one of God’s children.
Experience Christ for yourself! All of us who belong to Christ had to come for ourselves. Have you come to Him yet? Have you ever made that decision? You ask, “How?” The Bible says: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10).
The best way I know to make Jesus the Lord of your life is to simply bow your head in prayer, confess your sins to God, by faith open your heart to Christ, believe in Him, and receive Him. If that’s your decision, then tell God now–silently if you wish–right where you are. You may wish to use this prayer: “Heavenly Father, I want to be a real Christian. I realize that my sins have separated me from You. Please forgive me. I believe in what Christ did for me on the cross. I don’t completely understand it, but I accept it by faith. I do want to be a child of Yours. Please come into my life, Lord Jesus, and make me Your child right now. I’ll follow You and obey You forever. Amen.”
After You Become a Real Christian
Have you decided to receive the Lord Jesus as your Savior? If so, you’ve made the most important decision of your life!
You now belong to God’s family, and of course you will want to get to know God better. The best way is to read His Word. I suggest you begin with Luke’s Gospel in the New Testament. Remember that God speaks to us through the Bible. So as you read, look for examples to follow or instructions to obey. Saturate yourself with the Bible. Your thoughts and emotions will begin to change as you read the Word of God daily. Second, meet with other Christians. Find a church that believes the Bible, honors Christ, and teaches what a real Christian is. Go to church and talk to the minister. Say, “I received Christ,” and see what happens. If the minister doesn’t seem interested in helping you grow spiritually, then find some church that can help you. Third, begin to pray. You talked to the Lord just now. He answered your prayer. He loves you; He’s your Father. Since communication is the key to any relationship, your relationship with God can grow only as you talk to Him in prayer. If you have truly asked the Lord Jesus to become your Savior, you have taken the most important step in your life. You’ve begun an exciting journey that only gets better!
And now, as a fellow Christian, I want to be the first to say, “Welcome to God’s family!”