The grace of God in bestowing this gift is most free. It was what God was under no obligation to bestow. He might have rejected fallen man, as he did the fallen angels. It was what we never did anything to merit; it was given while we were yet enemies, and before we had so much as repented. It was from the love of God who saw no excellency in us two attract; and it was without expectation of ever being requited for it. And it is from your grace of the benefits of Christ or applied to such and such and such particular persons. – Jonathan Edwards
We are not sinners who struggle with being Christians, but Christians who struggle with sin. The victory is in Jesus! (See Rom. 7:24).
What would you do if a friend who was not a Christian asked you to define what a Christian is?
1) You might point out that you are a Christian, but he or she wouldn’t accept your answer at first. They may have known you before you became a Christian, and therefore have difficulty accepting this change.
2) You could point to your denomination (such as Baptist) or church, but that wouldn’t work. It excludes other Christians from different churches or denominations.
3) You could mention Christian organizations (I.e. World Vision, Samaritans Purse), evangelists (Billy Graham, Paul Washer), or your Pastor(s). The problem is that they don’t know these people personally, only from a distance. They might see morally-upright people who have an optimistic spirit (i.e. a “good” human being).
4) Another option is explaining that not everyone who claims to be a Christian is a Christian, but that would mean you and your friend first knew what a Christian was. This means that pointing out a Christian isn’t as important as explaining what makes a Christian- in order to look for a Christian, you need criteria. So, what is it?
The dilemma here is this: We have become too comfortable with claiming to be Christians based on what we do (specific actions) like feed the homeless or volunteer at school, the name of our denomination (“Baptist” “Presbyterian” “Pentecostal”), associating with other people who go by the same title (well-known Pastors, musicians, friends, family), or treat it like a nickname. Therefore, we often miss the mark ourselves in understanding who we are as Christians. If we use the word in so many different ways, which one is correct?
Let me ask you another question:
How often do you find yourself questioning whether you are a Christian? It’s that thought that sometimes won’t go away, in fact, it gets worse the more you sin. Sometimes, you get so lost in the struggle with sin, that you find yourself feeling guilty, “falling short” and not “being a Christian.” If your friends struggle with seeing you as a Christian (other than a nickname), then how can you know for sure if you are one?
1) Do you hate sin, and love righteousness? (Matthew 5:6; Proverbs 21:21)
2) Have you repented of all known sin?
3) Do you know the gospel? (Romans 10:9ff)
4) Do you love God’s people? (1 John 3)
Here is something to consider: You are a Christian. You are not becoming one if you’ve already trusted in Christ, you are one! It’s not something you have to achieve, it’s who you are. So, why do I not always feel like it?
Too often we Christians think of ourselves more as unsaved sinners than as saints who are being sanctified and renewed; we see ourselves as “flawed” humans rather than children of God; as beggars (in need) and wretches (who are helpless), but not blessed in Christ (Eph. 1:3) and helped by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26). This plays out in our actions; we end up thinking of ourselves as bad because God’s word says we’re sinners, but have no positive sense of what the gospel means for us because of our sinfulness. We don’t see the hope and life that we have that frees us from the hopelessness and death of sin.. To validate our sense of the “good” we feel is inside of us, we turn to idols: to be desired by another person, the “wisdom” of popular experts, cheesy sayings we find on Facebook, etc. That way, we know we’re sinners, but so-and-so says that’s a part of being human: you mess up, feel free to make mistakes and learn from them.
How does Jesus fit into all of this?
We more often run to our experiences and our past record of obedience and failure to validate our faith instead of running to God’s promises in the Bible. Our experiences will teach us ultimately that we need a Savior- that you can’t be your own Master. You’re a slave and need to be set free. However, the gap hasn’t been bridged in our understanding to help us realize that once we are saved, we become new people. We are slaves to sin no longer, we are bought with a price and owned by the triune God for eternity. We are new people. So, everything you associate with your life, is turned upside down. You start from scratch with how you think, feel, and live your life.
The Christian life is not something we have to achieve, but a status given to us by God. Believing in Jesus and obeying the Bible are a part of being a Christian, but few of us ever get to the heart of what it means to be a Christian.
You can’t be a bad Christian- sure, you sin, every day. You may lie, get angry, cut off people in traffic, cuss at your spouse, see an inappropriate movie, and top it off with one drink too many. That doesn’t make you a bad Christian, but it does mean you’ve sinned; sin is not something we can live in without it being evidence of unbelief and being unsaved (Romans 6). So, is sin horrible? Absolutely. You shouldn’t do those things, but none of them causes you to lose God’s favor. Why? God’s favor is not based on the condition of who you are, but on the condition of God’s faithfulness and Christ’s righteousness to seal it (Hebrews 6; 2 Cor. 5:17-21). If you are a genuine believer, conviction sets in. You repent. You recognize that you committed an act against God and people made in God’s image. You reconcile with others. You change because God has sealed your salvation with His Holy Spirit to help you as you seek to let go of who you were and grasp onto who you are in Christ (1 Cor. 1).You are being transformed (Rom. 8:29-38).
Being a bad Christian is impossible, but being a false believer is not.
Therefore, the Bible says your identity can never be altered based on your performance- instead, it’s based on Christ’s performance for you.What He did for you drives what you do to live for Him.
Faith is a gift of God, only He can strengthen it (Eph. 2:8-10, Mark 8). Need faith? Go to Him (Rom. 11:32-33). There’s only one kind of Christian: that is, a person who been forgiven of their sins (1 Jn. 1:9-10), trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation (Acts 4:12), been given a new heart that hungers for obedience (Ezekiel 36:26), and the Holy Spirit Who completes that work (1 Jn. 2, Jn. 14-15). You have a new identity and it’s about time you discovered it (2 Cor. 5:17). All the “special features” (i.e. the obedience of faith) that comes with being a Christian begins with a right relationship with God- and, if you’re saved, that relationship will never change. God will never change His mind about you (Heb. 6).
We are not sinners who struggle with being Christians, but Christians who struggle with sin. The victory is in Jesus! (See Rom. 7:24). The Judge of all the earth has cast His verdict and has declared you innocent and righteous (Rom. 3:21-27), therefore live as you are declared to be.