What is a Christian?

By   •   September 20, 2010   •   Topics:

Some years ago, I was in a cab when I asked the driver about his faith. He replied that he was a Christian, and I asked him how he became one. I’ll never forget his reply: “Oh, I was born a Christian.” But those who belong to Christ know that it’s impossible to be born a Christian because we start out with a sin-infected nature, lost and separated from God.

People often use the term “Christian” as simply a category for describing someone’s cultural, religious, or family heritage. Other people believe that a person is a Christian because he or she attends church or was raised in a godly home. For still others, the term “Christian” is no more than a box to check off on an application or survey form.

So what is a Christian? Jesus said that His true followers are those who have been “born again” by the Spirit of God. When a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus came to talk with Jesus one night, he declared that God was with Jesus because of all the miraculous signs Jesus performed. Jesus had this penetrating response: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. … Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:3, 6, NIV).

The phrase “born again” in Scripture literally means “to be born from above”–a spiritual rebirth. A Christian is a man, woman, or child who has experienced a spiritual new birth through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. That new birth is a gift of God, through Jesus Christ, given by the grace He freely offers to all.

Some believe you can be born into a faith. For example, a child born to Muslim parents is considered a Muslim by many people. A son or daughter born to a Jewish mother is typically considered to be Jewish, and someone born into a Christian family is often assumed to be a Christian. No one, however, is ever automatically a Christian by birth. To be a Christian, you must make a conscious choice to turn from your sins–that’s repentance–and by faith believe that Jesus is the Son of God, who loved us, paid the price of our sins on Calvary’s cross, shed His blood and died, was buried, and was raised to life on the third day.

The Bible says, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). The Bible also says that “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” (Romans 10:9). The moment we do so, the Holy Spirit makes us alive in Christ, imparting the gift of eternal life, and making us entirely new creatures in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).

How do we tell if it’s real in our lives? The Bible says, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands, … the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3–4).

A Christian, then, is a person who is born again by the Spirit of God as he or she wholeheartedly trusts in Jesus Christ and seeks to follow Him in obedience. There is no other way to the Father, no other way to be a Christian, than through personal faith in the Son of God. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus said. “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Hundreds of young people became Christians at each of our Rock the River evangelistic events in three major Canadian cities in August. As they heard the Gospel, the Holy Spirit convicted them of sin, and they repented. They turned in faith to Jesus Christ, were born again, and received new, resurrection life.

Please remember to pray for me as I preach the Gospel in Osaka, Japan, this month and in Eastern Europe later in the fall. Satan wants to take as many people to Hell with him as he can, but God wants all to repent and turn from their sin so they can enjoy eternity in Heaven with Him. The Bible says that God “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Your financial support and your faithful intercessory prayers make you a shareholder in the great work of evangelism and discipleship. This is all we do, because becoming a follower of Jesus Christ through the new birth is the most important step a person can make in this life, and for the life hereafter.

I’m sure there is someone you know–maybe a loved one or close friend–who has not experienced the new birth in Jesus Christ. I encourage you to continue in your prayer for that person and to ask the Lord for fresh opportunities to talk about what it means to be Christian. You might even share this letter with someone who needs to know.

Thanks again for all you do for the sake of the Gospel.


May God bless you,
Franklin Graham


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