The simplest answer to this question is that a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ. This of course brings up two critical questions: who was Jesus Christ, and what does it mean to follow Him?
From a historical point of view, Jesus was a man who was born in Bethlehem, Palestine in about 4 B.C. His parents were Mary, a young girl, and her husband Joseph who was a carpenter, and they were from the town of Nazareth in the Roman province of Galilee. At the age of about 30 he gathered a core group of 12 disciples and began a 3 ½ year public ministry of teaching and performing miracles.
His teachings often brought Him into conflict with the religious authorities who eventually paid one of his disciples to betray Him. He was turned Him over to the Roman authorities who executed him by hanging him on a wooden cross.
Jesus himself said that He was the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies of the Old Testament (the part of the Bible written before Jesus) that predicted a Messiah (savior). These prophecies, as well as Jesus’ teachings and the teachings of His disciples that are found in the New Testament of the Bible, form the basis of the Christian religion.
So, what do Christians believe? While it is true that there are many different churches, there are some basic beliefs that most have in common:
- Christians believe that there is one God who has existed from eternity, who created the universe, the world and humans. There is a mysterious division of God into three within the unity of one God which Christians call the “Trinity”, consisting of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. .
- God the son (Jesus) existed before He was born. All three “persons” of the Trinity were involved in the creation of the world.
- Jesus came into the world in a miraculous way, being born to Mary when she was still a Virgin.
- Jesus lived a life totally free from “sin”. Sin is one of the most important themes of the Christian religion. It is the breaking of God’s law, and the prescribed punishment for sin is death.
- The Bible teaches that the first humans that God created sinned, and that every human except for Jesus has sinned and thus is sentenced to die.
- There are two kinds of death described in the Bible. The first death of the body is called “sleep” in the Bible. The Bible teaches that at the end of time everyone will come back to life (the resurrection), that there will be a judgment, and that anyone who is guilty of sin will die a second time, with no further hope of life.
- When Jesus died on the Cross, he died both the first death and the second death. Since He had not sinned and He was God, His second death can be credited to the account of those who “believe” so that they are no longer guilty of sin.
- People who believe in Jesus’ death for their sins have the gift of eternal life and will be declared innocent in the judgment.
- Jesus came back to life on the third day after His death and remained on earth for 40 days. His disciples and many other people were eyewitnesses, and their stories are in the Bible.
- At the end of the forty days Jesus ascended into Heaven (the “place” where God and angels live). Since then He has been directing efforts to save humans from the second death.
- God sent the Holy Spirit (who is also God) to be with humans and to try to influence them to believe. If He is invited the Holy Spirit will live in the believer and make them more like God.
- At the end of “this age” Jesus will return to earth a second time to rescue the people who believe in Him and to put an end to the reign of sin. Believers will live forever with Him in a perfect universe.
Being a Christian and believing does not just mean believing certain facts about the existence of God and the ministry of Jesus as outlined above. The following beliefs and responses are ones that God can give you as a gift. If you recognize that you do not have them yet you can ask Him to help you believe and do these things:
- I begin the process by agreeing with God that my life is out of control and I need help from God.
- I believe God when He says that I am my own biggest problem because I personally have broken God’s law. Although I may have been influenced by my upbringing or by other people, I must accept the fact that I have sinned, that I am responsible for my sin, and that the just penalty for sin is eternal death.
- I am sorry for the sins I have committed, not because I will be punished, but because of the damage they have done to other people, and to God.
- I recognize that I am unable to live a life pleasing to God because of my human weakness, and unless He saves me I will continue to sin and harm others and myself.
- I believe that Jesus suffered and died for my sins, and that His perfect life and His death are credited to me so that God considers me to be as if I had never sinned.
- I ask God to be my “Lord” (the ruler of my life) and I dedicate my life to following Him and living a life pleasing to Him by His power.
- I publicly express my new life and belief by being baptized—I symbolically “die” to my old life, am “buried” by being dipped under water, and “rise again” to a new life as I come out of the water.
- I ask for and receive God’s presence (the Holy Spirit) in my life.
- I become a part of a Christian community (a church) which has the purpose of supporting one another in the Christian life and sharing the things we believe with others who do not yet believe.
- I “feed” my Christian belief by praying, reading the Bible, meeting with other believers and telling others about my beliefs.
- I try to learn as much as I can about how God wants me to live and to seek His power to live in harmony with His will. This includes making amends to the people I have hurt with my sinful behavior.
There are other important things about being a Christian, but these are the basic ones. The article, How Can I Become a Christian can help you to know in greater detail how to apply these beliefs in a practical way. You can also contact us if you would like to know someone who could help you become a Christian.