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What Does the Bible Say About... Who Is a Christian?

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So what is a Christian? A couple of billion people on the planet all claim to be Christians, but their beliefs, doctrines and practices vary widely. What does being a Christian mean? Let's take a quick look at what the Bible says a Christian is.

The word Christian is used three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26 Acts 11:26And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
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; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16 1 Peter 4:16Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.
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). Followers of Jesus Christ were first called “Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11:26 Acts 11:26And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
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) because they believed in Christ and followed His example. The word was initially used by their detractors in a derogatory sense, but believers embraced the term as a badge of honor.

While the first-century Christians did follow the teachings, practices and example of Jesus Christ at that time, since then the term has virtually lost its meaning—as it's usually not accompanied by the same way of life and understanding. Today many claim to be Christians yet don't really follow Jesus' teachings.

A Christian responds to God's calling

God's Word is quite clear that one cannot just choose to be a Christian! There is a calling or invitation involved. God is not calling all of mankind at this time (Matthew 22:14 Matthew 22:14For many are called, but few are chosen.
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; John 6:44 John 6:44No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
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), nor the particularly rich, famous or powerful of the world (1 Corinthians 1:26-27 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 26 For you see your calling, brothers, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
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).

God most often calls ordinary people who can more readily acknowledge their human weaknesses and learn God's way. These are people who have made mistakes, know it, yet appreciate the forgiveness that God extends to them (Matthew 21:23 Matthew 21:23And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority do you these things? and who gave you this authority?
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, 31-32). Children who have a parent who is a genuine Christian are all invited by God to also become Christians (Acts 2:38-39 Acts 2:38-39 38 Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.
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; 1 Corinthians 7:14 1 Corinthians 7:14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
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).

To be a true Christian, a person must change— really change! Acts 2:37-39 Acts 2:37-39 37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brothers, what shall we do? 38 Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.
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shows that Christians must “repent” and walk a different way of life. After repentance, a Christian must also be baptized (immersed in water) by a servant of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
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; 8:14-17).

In biblical terms, this process of change, of surrendering one's life and turning it over to God is called conversion. Obviously, a human being cannot change everything at once, but one can have a repentant attitude and turn in the right direction, making basic changes as he or she embarks on a new path of overcoming sin, bearing “fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8 Matthew 3:8Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
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).

Following water baptism, God offers His Holy Spirit to the repentant believer (Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
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). A person is not “of Christ” unless the Spirit of God is in him or her (Romans 8:9 Romans 8:9But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
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). This Spirit is imparted by the laying on of hands by an authorized representative of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:17-18 Acts 8:17-18 17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. 18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,
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). Through repentance, baptism and the receiving of God's Holy Spirit, a Christian is then able to understand the spiritual truth of God and His Word (1 Corinthians 2:11 1 Corinthians 2:11For what man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knows no man, but the Spirit of God.
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).

The example of Jesus Christ

The apostle Paul also helps us understand what a Christian is by simply stating that we should imitate Paul as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1 1 Corinthians 11:1Be you followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
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). Later in the first century, the apostle Peter likewise reminded the Church that they were to follow Christ's example (1 Peter 2:21 1 Peter 2:21For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps:
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).

Christ's example included worshipping God on the Sabbath day (from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday) and on the Bible's annual Holy Days (Luke 4:16 Luke 4:16And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
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; John 7; compare Leviticus 23). His example also involved compassion and love for others (John 3:16 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
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; Matthew 9:36 Matthew 9:36But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.
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) along with keeping the commandments of God (Matthew 5:17-19 Matthew 5:17-19 17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass, one stroke or one pronunciation mark shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
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).

Christians will understand the teachings and way of life in the Scriptures and will strive to live by them (Luke 4:4 Luke 4:4And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.
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).

According to the Bible, a Christian is someone who responds to God's calling, repents of his sins, is baptized, receives God's Holy Spirit and lives as Jesus lived. While God expects us to be loving examples to our families and others (Matthew 5:13-16 Matthew 5:13-16 13 You are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his flavor, with which shall it be salted? it is thereafter good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it gives light to all that are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
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), Christians will put their calling before everything and everyone else! (Luke 14:26-33 Luke 14:26-33 26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first, and counts the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? 29 Lest haply, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, 30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. 31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sits not down first, and consults whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an ambassador, and desires conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whoever he be of you that forsakes not all that he has, he cannot be my disciple.
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). VT

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