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What Makes You a Christian?

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What Makes You a Christian?

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In addition to working on Compass Check and being a pastor, I occasionally get to answer PCD letters (Personal Correspondence Department). Back in the day, people used to write to the home office asking questions about what we believe, or for advice in dealing with an issue they might be going through. Nowadays, they mostly send emails, and I was recently asked to answer one of those emails. Here’s the question I was asked: “I’m no Christian and I wanna be one. The only problem is that I don’t know where to start from. Please help me know and be friends with Jesus.”

I was taken aback by this question. Most questions are more specific, asking things like, “Why do you go to church on Saturday instead of Sunday?” or “Why is abortion a sin?” While those questions are somewhat more difficult to answer, they do have specific answers, which can be explained in a few scriptures. But the question of “What Makes You a Christian?”—Whoa! That’s a big question . . .

What makes you a Christian? Is it simply believing in God and accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior?


Have you ever thought about what makes you a Christian? Is it simply believing in God and accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior? That’s how many people would define it. But that doesn’t speak much to your personal character. Lots of people would agree that God exists and that Jesus is their Savior, but they don’t bother to live by the guidelines given in the Bible.

Let’s narrow the question down a bit more. What makes you different from other people who call themselves Christians? Is it the fact that you don’t keep Christmas and Easter? Or maybe it’s because you don’t eat ham sandwiches or shrimp cocktails? Those things surely make you different from the vast majority of Christians on earth today, but are they what define your Christianity? Let me ask it another way: Do you want to be defined by the things that you don’t do, or by the things that you do?

Let’s go a step further. What is it about your life right now that if Jesus Christ were to come back and see how you are living, would show Him you are bearing His name? Just the fact that you are keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days? Those are things we should definitely do, but even the people who hated and killed Jesus kept the Sabbath and the Holy Days. Observing those doesn’t make you Christian.


The Bible gives a simple explanation of what a Christian is in Romans 8:9: “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” Christians are defined as those who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. 

So what about people who have not yet been baptized and received the laying on of hands that is necessary for God to give His Spirit (Acts 8:16-17)? Does it mean that you, as a teen who perhaps has not been baptized, are not a Christian? Have your efforts to understand the Bible and obey God been in vain?

Not at all. God desires that all people come to Him and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). This is a lifelong process, often referred to as a walk, or journey. No two people are at the exact same spot on this journey. Some, perhaps your parents or grandparents for example, began their journey 40 or 50 years ago. They have been baptized and received God’s Spirit many years ago. Others, such as the gentleman who wrote the email, are perhaps just beginning their journey toward being a Christian. Still others—such as you, a teen raised in the Church—are somewhere in between.


Getting back to the question at hand—“What Makes You a Christian?”—the gentleman who wrote me the email was not the first person to ask such a difficult question. In John chapter 4, Christ meets a Samaritan woman at a well. At that time, Samaritans and Jews did not get along (compare verse 9). Contrary to what the woman might have expected, Christ began to have a conversation with her, and soon the discussion turned to how to worship God. Christ answered her starting in John 4:21-24, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Christ explains that there is much more to worshipping God than just being in a certain place or following certain rituals. He explains that we must worship “in spirit and truth.”

While the woman at the well’s question was more specific, dealing more with the act of worship and understanding who Jesus was, it still boils down to the same basic question: What Makes You a Christian? Christ explains that there is much more to worshipping God than just being in a certain place or following certain rituals. He explains that we must worship “in spirit and truth.” So what does it mean to worship in spirit and truth? 

To worship in spirit means that when we obey God, we do it not because we want to avoid a punishment or gain a reward, but rather, because we want to. We don’t worship God because we think we have to. We obey Him, not out of fear, but out of love. In John 14:15, Christ pointed out that love must be the motivation behind our obedience when He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” We must worship God out of total love and respect for Him and His Son, Jesus Christ. 

So how about truth? What does it mean to worship God and Jesus in truth? This gets back to some of those things like not eating pork, or why we go to church on Saturday and not Sunday. In John 17:17 (New Living Translation), Jesus tells His followers (that includes you and me!), “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.” God’s Word, the Bible, is truth. 

Furthermore, the Bible defines what truth is. When we read and study what the Scriptures say, it’s clear that the things you have likely been taught from an early age are a part of what truth is: keeping the Sabbath, loving your neighbor and being humble and respectful in your words and actions. Being a Christian isn’t defined only by what we do, but if we are truly Christian, the things we do will reflect the truths of the Bible.


Too many times (especially in the religious world), people try to focus on arguing one truth against another. Worshipping God in spirit and truth is oftentimes one of those arguments. Some people say, “I worship God in the spirit of the law; therefore I don’t need to worry about the details of how I do that [the truth].” Others might argue, “I’m keeping the letter of the law perfectly, just as the Bible says; therefore, it doesn’t matter how I feel about doing it.” Neither one of these statements is correct. The correct answer is that we must do both; worship God in spirit (with the right attitude), and in truth (according to the Bible). When we do both of these in harmony, we are living as Christians!  CC