Though slipping in overall percentage, Christianity remains the world’s largest religion with around 2.4 billion adherents—about 30 percent of the globe. Yet it’s severely divided, with widespread disagreement on interpretation and acceptance of the religious text it’s based on. In America, the largest professing Christian nation, the majority of Christians (58%) say the Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it is to be taken literally, while 25 percent say it should be interpreted literally (“Fewer in U.S. Now See Bible as Literal Word of God,” Gallup, July 6, 2022).
The fact is, no matter which country we are from and what those around us believe, we as Christians need to look to God’s expectations for us—and these are found in the Bible. How does this vital resource, which is indeed the Word of God, define a Christian?
1. Christians have faith in Christ
In Romans 10:9 we are told “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
When a man from Ethiopia learned from the deacon Philip of Christ’s fulfillment of prophecy in dying for our sins and asked what he needed to do to be baptized, Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may” (Acts 8:37). The man answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (same verse). The man expressed faith in who Christ was and in Christ’s sacrifice for his sins.
The Bible clearly states that we are saved by the grace of God “through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Without faith we cannot be called Christians. The faith we have is a gift from God that begins with our calling from Him.
2. Christians abide in God’s Word
The Bible is our guide in life. Its message leads us to faith (Romans 10:17). Jesus Himself said that His disciples abide in His Word, which came from the Father (John 8:31; John 12:49). Christians are those who study and actually do their utmost to live by God’s Word in its entirety as their guide for life (see John 17:6; John 17:17).
This fact is made abundantly clear in the book of James. James was inspired to ask the question, “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20).
Abiding in the Word of God requires acting on our biblical faith. Christians must “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). We must follow the example of Jesus Christ in life and “walk just as He walked,” becoming obedient to the Word of God and its commandments (1 John 2:3-6).
3. Christians repent of their sins
In preparation for Christ’s ministry, John the Baptist preached a message of repentance. Many people came to him to be baptized and have their sins forgiven by God. Besides confession of sin, a vital aspect of repentance is beginning to live a life of obedience to God, or, as John explained to the unrepentant Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him, we must “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8).
Part of walking as Jesus walked is striving to live a life without sin. Christians must be willing to turn from their sins, changing the way they live.
The Father and Christ demonstrated supreme love for us in Christ’s death in our place for our forgiveness. We demonstrate our love for Them, and our acceptance of that sacrifice, by repenting of our sins and living a changed life of obedience. Jesus told His disciples: “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 15:10).
4. Christians are committed to God
Repentance is a prerequisite to baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands of Christ’s ministry (see Acts 2:37-38; Acts 8:17; 2 Timothy 1:6-7).
Sins separate us from God (Isaiah 59:2), and to have a relationship with Him those sins must be forgiven by Him and rejected by us. Christians must commit their lives to God by entering into a covenant with Him—the New Covenant relationship Jesus introduced to His disciples on the eve of His death (Matthew 26:28).
His death would make possible their forgiveness, and soon His resurrected life in them through the Holy Spirit would enable God’s laws to be written on their hearts and minds, empowering continued obedience (see Hebrews 10:16-18).
5. Christians are guided by God through the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the power that proceeds from God the Father and from Jesus Christ. It is the projected essence, mind and life force of God through which God the Father is creating His spiritual family. His children are those who live according to guidance He gives through that Spirit.
Through the indwelling of God’s Spirit we can truly be changed from the inside out. Christians are connected to God through the Holy Spirit and live according to that Spirit (Romans 8:6-9).
In fact, we are directly told that only those with that Spirit, who are led by it, truly belong to Christ as God’s converted children (Romans 8:9; Romans 8:14).
6. Christians live the Way
Before his own calling to the truth, the apostle Paul zealously hunted and persecuted the people “of the Way” (see Acts 9:2). This description of Christ’s followers shows a group of people on a spiritual journey along a spiritual path.
The disciples were later called “Christians” (Acts 11:26)—apparently by others but they soon embraced the name, referring as it did to the fact that they were followers of the Way led by Jesus Christ.
He is the head of the Church of God, which means He directs the way we go, how we live our lives and what kind of people we are supposed to be. Christians live according to the way of life Jesus Christ has taught and shown through His words and example.
7. Christians show the love of God
Jesus came and died for our sins, showing the great love both He and His Father have for mankind. We show our love to Them by keeping Their commandments (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3). We are called upon and expected to show that love toward one another. Jesus commanded us to “love one another” as He first showed us love (John 13:34). And He pointed out this characteristic as an identifier of His followers, stating, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Of course, the Bible also makes it clear that Christians will not always live up to what we are called to, but they continue repenting and striving to live according to God’s way with His help (Romans 7:14-25; Romans 8:1-4; 1 John 1:8-10; 1 John 2:1-2).
What should be clear is that belief and profession alone do not define a true Christian. James 2:19 reminds us that even the demons, rebellious angels under Satan, believe in God.
Jesus asked the question, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). We must not only call Jesus our Lord but actually accept Him as Lord—as Master and Ruler—of our life. And we must then live as He has called us to, following what the Bible, the Word of God, says about what it truly means to be a Christian!