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


God works through people like you to change the world by the power of the Gospel.


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  1. Ruthie says:

    John 11:25 What a miracle to be transformed. Today people need to be compelled to surrender all, to be crucified with Christ to have true victory. We must be over comers of self, connect with the Holy Spirit to be lead daily for every decision for our life on earth. Oh the blessings we miss by not tapping in the Word and Will of God for our daily walk. We all need to identify sin, be convicted to be set free, to live a Holy life, that God can be magnified, so others can see Him through us.

  2. Dan says:

    It's really neat to read all the comments and know that there are other Christians out there that all struggle everyday in their walk with Christ. We are all as little children leaning on Jesus arms and asking him questions daily. Satan walks about as a roaring lion seeking to devour us and render us useless to our Lord by placing doubts in our minds about our salvation. What Franklin is telling us is that we can know for sure that we are children of God by simply asking Jesus into our heart and trusting in his word that he will give us the free gift of everlasting life. As followers of Christ we must all encourage each other in the faith. As we mature in our faith, God will give us the answers to our questions. Listen for his still small voice. He does talk to us. He does love us and cares for us. He is always with us and will see us through to the end if we put our faith and trust in him. Even the apostle Paul struggled and fought the fight but he kept the faith. May we all continue in our faith in our Lord and not yield to the devils lies.

  3. Wayne says:

    To Kanawha1Kanobi's plea….I feel you….I am in that same boat. I accepted Christ as a child, I love Jesus more than life itself, but I too battle with temptation daily….some days the battle is not as great as others and sometimes I lose. I too, ask for pray to be set on the right course, avoiding temptation at all cost! Pray for me!!!

  4. Kenneth says:

    Mr. Graham, Thank you for posting this. In your citation of 1 John 2:3-4 you left out “is a liar”…its ok to say it…the Holy Spirit does.

  5. LISA says:

    DENNIS: the first version of the Bible was actually written in Greek.

  6. Mike says:

    Acts 2:38 says to be “baptized for the remission of sin”. But the word “for” in the greek language can also be translated “because of”. Translating it this way would read to be “baptized because of the remission of sins”. Therefore, salvation is through belief and trust in Jesus.

  7. Carolyn says:

    Sometimes I find myself asking, What is the purpose of my life. I experienced hearing a word from God. As I laid on my hospital bed, suffering from a heart attack, I knew that I was going to die. But I heard the voice of God say, It is not your time, you have work to do. I have learn to be still to hear from God. I still do not know what God has planned for my life, but I am glad He saved my life. I thank Him for His grace. He gave me another chance to get it right and to do His will..

  8. Dave says:

    One problem with applying the statement of the Lord Jesus Christ to Nicodemas (John 3:5-6) to include 'water baptism' and the Acts 2:37-38 sermon by Peter is the salvation of the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43). He was not baptized, but he was told by the Lord that he (the thief) was going to be with Him in Paradise that very night. When the jailer asked the Apostle Paul “What must I do to be saved?” the answer given did not include water baptism, but only “belief”. He was water baptized later, but it was not part of Paul's answer to his question (Acts 16:30-34). Romans 10:8-13 gives exactly what it takes to be saved, without even mentioning water baptism. Paul said in another scripture, “I thank God I haven't baptized any of you, except two specific individuals whom he called by name. If water baptism was needed for salvation, why would he be glad he hadn't baptized any except to of the ones in the church to whom he was writing? We are saved by grace ALONE, through faith ALONE, because of Christ ALONE! Just read John 3:16 ; 1 John 1:12, and John 5:24 to solve that question.

  9. Blanca says:

    Thanks for Bill Franklin letter covering what salvation is as simple as it is! – and as soon as the person is born again – the Lord Jesus himself through his word will take you from faith to faith and glory to gloryFAITH = believing and speaking

  10. BRENNY says:

    When you belong to God the world and all its evil will hate you, just as they hated Christ. Stand on Gods every word.