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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  1. Rhonda says:

    Dear Brother Franklin, Thank you for being a servant of Our Father and obeying His will for your life. Your letter and the comments that follow are very insightful and easy for even the newest Christian to understand. Many who are not yet saved can read this and be convicted of their need for Him. I look back at my life and see where He lifted me up and put me back on His path when I could not. I am also convinced that He truly did KNOW ME BEFORE HE FORMED ME IN THE WOMB. He is my Savior and the LOVE of my life and I ask for prayer that I may live as He wishes me to until He takes me Home.

  2. Becky says:

    It is for sure the term needs clarified on what it means to be Christs follower. I know of a lady who has chosen to not believe any longer, believing now there are many ways to God. Jesus is the only way. And my heart is very sad that a long time friend and a believer for over 15 years is being deceived and does not want to believe any longer. please pray.

  3. Alje says:

    I have been soul-searching for a couple of months now as to where would I attend a spiritually-fulfilling and God-centered Sunday service because of an attitude of mine to not embrace something that I believe is really spiritually wrong. I am very glad that the things I've been preparing to (supposedly) share to the current group I belong with are the very things you've raised here (including the scriptural verses)! AMEN!! However, I have noticed that you didn't include baptism. Please give light to this Sir. Thanks. God bless you with more fruitful years!!

  4. Kevin says:

    I have always had doubts about my salvation. I know Bible verses and I know God doesn't lie but I never felt a change in me after I asked Jesus to save me. I meant it when I asked Him to save me but I'm just not sure. I know I could just assume I'm saved but I know that many people will think they're saved only to find out when they face Jesus that they're not, and I don't want to be one of those people. I talked to my pastor about this a long time ago and he said as long as I meant it then I'm saved. But, I still have doubts constantly and I ask almost every night for Jesus to save me and I imagine him wondering what on earth am I doing that for. I don't know what else to do.

  5. Nell says:

    Franklin you are a blessing to the people of this world because you explain the simple truth of how to become a Christian. God made us for himself. He desires for us to live for him. He does not allow sin in heaven so he sent Jesus to earth to show us the way. He died on the cross for our sins, willingly and lovingly – a free gift. But, we must accept that gift of salvation by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Saviour; we must repent of our sins, turn from our sinful nature and turn to Jesus. We must study the Bible, God's Holy Word, to learn how to live daily, to tell others the Good News, and most importantly to live so everyone can see Jesus through us. Thank you for allowing me to share my love for Jesus.

  6. Charlotte says:

    Thank you Lord, Thank you Jesus Christ , and Thank you Holy Spirit of God!! I am a changed person when I let the LORD in my life. I pray often and GOD does answer prayers in his on time which is always right on time!!! I am still a sinner but I do repent often I ask the Lord to teach me knowledge and wisdom and to guide my every footstep and I rebuke Satan often. I just love the Lord and am learning day by day! Thank you for your encouraging letters, may God BLESS YOU and your family!!! Pray, Pray, Pray and Pray More, God will hear your prayers!

  7. memeL says:


  8. Faith, Orlando Fl says:

    This morning my husband and I read from I John 2 where it reminds us that if we deny that Jesus is the Christ we are liars. Franklin, continue to preach the gospel that your father believed in and that which will honor and glorify our Father in heaven. Jesus is indeed the truth and the life.

  9. Internet@BGEA says:

    Dear Helga, We want to help you with the questions you have at this time in your life. Please call 1-877-247-2426 to talk and pray with someone. There are people here who care. Or, you can send a private email to help@bgea.org. We will continue to keep you in prayer. The BGEA Internet team.

  10. Helga says:

    I love Jesus Christ, of Nazareth. I believed that I was “saved” in 1961, and baptized in a lake, in Orlando, Florida. It is, what I believe, my earnest desire to obey the commandments of God. Most of them seem clear enough and of course the Lord Jesus was clear in His Sermon on the Mount. But the commandment that says, Keep Holy the Lord's Day seems to puzzle me. I understand about which day, etc. BUT How does one KEEP the Lord's Day really HOLY? The Roman Catholic church says that I am going to Hell because I do not go to the Mass anymore.I am 73 and I want so very, very much to go to Heaven, to be with Jesus, and possible friends of past years, and come to know the angels, and such heavenly thing . . .But, TRY as I may, I can't get into the Mass again . . .It's just not in me.I love and watch and listen to Sunday Morning Preaching weekly from 5 a.m. through noon . . .Help me understand, please?